For many people who suffer from a social anxiety disorder (SAD), the condition pervades every aspect of their lives. Their condition only becomes obvious in specific situations. Having to speak in public, for example, is one situation where those with SAD may struggle. Other elements of daily life that prove challenging include using public restrooms, eating with other people, and chatting with strangers. The unease and worry that arise in these situations can keep sufferers from going out in public at all. Others will practice covert avoidance – they’ll attend parties or go to events but avoid mingling.
Social anxiety is a misunderstood condition. It mostly centers around the anxiety that the sufferer has when he or she anticipates an upcoming social event. However, sufferers also experience anxiety during the event itself and even afterward. The cause of this condition lies in the fear of being evaluated by others.
People who have social anxiety often perceive a negative consequence arising from a situation regardless of how well they do. For example, a person who is successful at work will worry about his or her colleagues’ reactions. Put simply, those who suffer from this condition are desperate to fly under the radar and remain inconspicuous.
Anyone who suffers from social anxiety will inevitably find that it affects his or her life. For some people, it will only have a major impact on certain areas. For others, it will affect everything. You find that you’re unable to get a job or go to college because you’re too afraid to have an interview. Finding someone you can have a relationship with can be a problem if you’re afraid of rejection. When social anxiety disorder interferes with professional or personal goals, you need to address.
The good news is it is possible to overcome social anxiety. Here are six helpful tips to try.
#1. Breathing Techniques
The first thing to try to overcome your SAD is to learn how to control your breathing. Breathing exercises can help you to stay calm if you’re becoming sweaty and nervous. When you master the art of breathing properly, your body will calm, your heartbeat will slow, and you’ll feel relaxed. You can practice breathing by following these steps:
- Sit down with your shoulders relaxed and your back straight.
- Put a hand on your chest and place the other on your stomach.
- Breathe slowly through your nose for four seconds.
- Hold for two seconds.
- Exhale slowly through your mouth for six seconds.
- Repeat as you focus on breathing deeply and slowly.
When you’ve practiced this at home, you’ll be able to adopt the techniques in social situations.
#2. Learn Conversation Techniques
The next step is to improve your conversational techniques. This will give you greater confidence. It can be hard to talk to somebody when you’re afraid of making a fool of yourself. Here are some ways to improve the way you talk to other people:
- Let someone else do the hard work. If you ask lots of open-ended questions, the person you’re conversing with will have to think hard. He or she won’t be able to give a single-word answer. Instead, the person will need to give you details. This will reduce the number of questions you have to ask.
- Single-word questions. These are perfect if you want the other person to go on talking but don’t want to talk yourself. Questions, such as “why?” or “what?,” will give you more time to think of something to say.
- Ask personal questions. These help to take any conversation to a new level. It helps the other person to feel important while also releasing you from the responsibility of talking.
#3. Switch Your Imagination Off
You need to acknowledge your belief that everyone around you thinks you’re boring, ugly or stupid isn’t real. Those thoughts are only in your head. You need to stop looking for evidence that supports those thoughts. Before you allow yourself to misinterpret comments, gestures or signs, challenge those thoughts. Do you have any proof the thoughts you have are true? Distance yourself from those negative thoughts. There are several ways of thinking you must avoid if you suffer from SAD. These include:
- Reading minds. Avoid assuming you already know what other people think about you.
- Personalizing. Stop assuming everyone is watching you and that everyone’s comments are negative toward you.
- Fortune telling. Stop predicting what negative things might happen before you even arrive at an event.
- Catastrophizing. Avoid imagining that everything will go disastrously wrong.
- Avoid undue pressure. Thinking “I should” or “I must” will put you under unnecessary pressure and give you expectations that are too high.
- Emotional reasoning. Just because you’re feeling anxious doesn’t mean that anything dangerous will happen. It also doesn’t mean everything will go wrong.
- Exaggeration. Don’t exaggerate the risk of negative things happening while minimizing positive things.
- Good/Bad. Stop thinking of yourself only in terms of black or white. Look for the gray areas – you’re just fine.
- Don’t hold a post-mortem. It’s easy to obsess over your performance after an event. Instead, describe the situation. Stop focusing on what went wrong.
#4. Face Your Fear
It’s impossible to get over your SAD if you never become exposed to social situations. Avoidance isn’t a cure. In fact, it makes your condition worse by increasing your anxiety with time. Take steps to increase your confidence so that you can face tricky situations. Write down situations that you find challenging. Begin with the easiest and end with the hardest. Think about what you’d like to achieve but don’t overestimate your abilities. Start small. Perhaps your goal is simply to sit next to a stranger or to smile at someone at a party. Praise yourself once you accomplish that goal.
#5. Change Your Lifestyle
There are several changes to your life you can make to reduce your anxiety:
- Stop drinking alcohol in moderation. Alcohol may not make you feel relaxed and it could increase your chances of experiencing anxiety attacks.
- Reduce caffeine intake. Coffee, tea, and other caffeine sources increase anxiety symptoms.
- Stop smoking. Smoking cigarettes won’t calm you down. It’ll just increase your symptoms.
- Stop taking tranquilizers or other drugs.
- Sleep more. If you’re sleep deprived, you’ll just feel more anxious.
#6. Get Professional Help
If you suffer from social anxiety disorder, you should seriously consider seeking professional help. Counseling has been shown to be highly effective in treating SAD. CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) is especially helpful. This form of treatment will focus on reducing and controlling the symptoms of SAD while replacing negative ways of thinking. By introducing positive thoughts, as well as exposing yourself gradually to difficult social situations, you’ll eventually overcome the problem.
Sometimes, it’s too difficult to tackle your mental health problems on your own. In those cases, professional help is the best solution. They can help you to overcome your difficulties and move on to a happy, fulfilled, and healthy life.