Social Anxiety is one of the most prevalent forms of anxiety affecting people today. So what is the difference between social anxiety and just being shy? With social anxiety, meeting new people or just any situation where there are a lot of people present can give rise to an excessive fear of saying something “awkward or embarrassing”. New situations can be uncomfortable for anyone but with a person who is socially anxious, the feeling can be all-encompassing and may lead to avoidant behaviors such as skipping a friend’s party or a job interview out of fear of how others will perceive you. Socially anxious people still have a desire to connect with others yet the fear of being perceived in a negative light overrides the desire for connection. The anxiety about the situation is disproportionate to the actual situation. It can lead to an increase in negative thoughts both before and after (such as replaying a situation over and over in your mind even after it has ended). The following are some tips for helping to cope with social anxiety.
- Sometimes going towards the fear and looking at the worst-case scenario can be helpful. For example, if you are going to a party, what is the worst possible thing that can happen? Would you be able to survive that? Sometimes we might do something embarrassing but are the consequences really as long term as you are imagining? Ask yourself how much this will matter in a year from now or even a month. On the same hand, you can also think about what the best-case scenario of going to the party would be, such as meeting a new friend. Looking at the actual evidence is also a valid tool. Do you have proof that others are perceiving you in a negative light or laughing at you? Even telling yourself a mantra such as “this is uncomfortable but I can handle it” can be useful. It may also be helpful to look at the past and think of how you have managed to get through these situations before.
- Another helpful tool is mindfulness. Mindfulness keeps you focused on the here and now instead of being lost in your thoughts or projecting into the future. Much of anxiety tends to be future-focused and persists of an intense preoccupation with what could go wrong. You can practice mindfulness in social situations just by taking a deep breath and focusing on what is actually going on in this present moment. If feeling overwhelmed you can always step away from the crowd and take a few deep breaths, returning when you feel a little calmer. If you are visual you can think of your thoughts like leaves floating down a river where the leaves are your thoughts. See them, observe them, and let them pass by without being entangled in them and accepting them as the absolute truth.
- Like with anything, the more you do something the easier it becomes. It may be tempting to stay home where it is comfortable and you don’t have to put yourself in an anxiety-provoking situation but the more you avoid it, the harder it becomes. The fear won’t completely leave you, but the more you do it, the more you will find ways of handling it. You will learn to sit with the uncomfortable feelings and realize that is it is manageable and you can handle it. Also, the more you go out and meet people, the more you might start to have positive associations with these experiences. If you find you are struggling with social anxiety these tips can be helpful, but it may be most beneficial to talk to a licensed therapist to get help.
If you would like to discuss social anxiety with a skilled therapist, contact Symmetry Counseling today. We offer a range of counseling services in Chicago to help support your mental health and well-being.