Social anxiety is still a primarily misunderstood mental health issue affecting thousands of people, most of whom suffer in silence.
Social anxiety and shyness are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same thing. People with social anxiety have a debilitating condition that prevents them getting out and enjoying their everyday lives.
If you have social anxiety, here are some helpful strategies to work towards overcoming it:
1. Learn Mindfulness
Mindfulness and mindful meditation help you focus on the present. When you practice mindful meditation, you become aware of thoughts and feelings without judgment. Research has revealed that meditation has a positive influence on the brain. Studies have shown that anxiety levels significantly decrease after just four 20-minute mindfulness sessions.
2. Visit a Coffee Shop
Try participating in an activity you enjoy by yourself and feel comfortable in, but do it in an outside social setting that feels uncomfortable. For example, if you usually get coffee from the drive-thru, instead go inside the coffee shop and sip your coffee sitting at a table. This is a great way to start to expand your comfort zone.
3. Stop Focusing on Yourself
When you are in an uncomfortable situation, the negative internal dialogue can put you on edge. When we are anxious our thoughts can turn inward, and we may worry about how we think others will view us in an unfavorable way. An example would be walking into a room full of people and immediately feeling like everyone is looking at you and judging you. In reality, people are not judging you and this is only your own internal chatter. Try instead to focus your attention outward. Notice what is around you by utilizing your five senses.
4. Take A Breather
Social anxiety can manifest physical symptoms, such as shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, muscle tension, and dizziness. Taking a moment to compose yourself and breathe can give you back some control. Try some slow, deep breaths to regain your center.
5. Act Confident
You’ve heard the saying, “fake it until you make it.” Even when you don’t feel like it, putting a smile on your face can make you feel happier. The same thing happens when you act confident. Pretend you are confident, and your internal self may start to resemble your outward appearance.
6. Engage in Social Situations
When you’re trying to reduce the impact of social anxiety on your life, hiding away won’t help. Make an effort to be more socially engaging. Start off small by finding supportive social environments to help you practice, such as spending time talking with family and friends. Then, start practicing in other situations. When you go to the store, set a goal to make eye contact and smile at someone who seems friendly.
7. Give Yourself a Break
Becoming more socially engaging won’t happen overnight, and you will likely have an occasional setback or two. It’s important to congratulate yourself on your successes and forgive yourself on those occasions when you slip back into old habits. These are not failures! Give yourself credit every time you take a step to move out of your comfort zone.
Studies have revealed positive results from exposure therapy and facing your fears when treating anxiety disorders. However, the best results are achieved when you take baby steps. Working with a professional therapist trained in dealing with anxiety disorders can help immensely.
Social anxiety can be deeply embedded and will not go away overnight. Your brain will need time to adjust as it builds new neural pathways associated with social interactions. If your social anxiety makes it challenging for you to live a normal life, consulting with a therapist is highly recommended.
Many different treatment options are available to you, so you can choose to work with whatever you feel most comfortable with. To learn more, visit this page: Anxiety Treatment