How to manage social anxiety
Individual’s who suffer from social anxiety or social phobia fear negative evaluations from others. Due to this preoccupation with how others perceive them, they tend to focus excessively on themselves. The more we focus on ourselves, the more anxious we actually become. Sadly, avoidance of social situations often results in the social phobia being maintained.
It perfectly normal to feel somewhat nervous and tense when we find ourselves in an unfamiliar social situations. Everyone thinks at times “how am I doing?”. However, if you have social anxiety, these thoughts are magnified. The possibility of embarrassing yourself may seem like a full-blown catastrophe. The fear is so great that you start to isolate yourself and withdraw from others.
For every 50 people at a party, there is a good chance that at least 20 of them are feeling at least some discomfort and perhaps five people are feeling intense levels of anxiety.
Social anxiety involves worrying ahead of time -this is called the anticipatory phase. During social exposure, underlying negative beliefs about yourself and other people are activated. If you’re socially anxious, you automatically think other people notice your anxiety and that they are making negative judgements about your behaviour and wondering what is wrong with you. This leads to a lot of self focus.
What to do about social anxiety
Learn to correct the negative thoughts and beliefs in the anticipatory phase. Catastrophizing about a future event only makes matters worse. This type of exaggerated thinking causes intense anxiety and will make you feel defeated even before you begin.
Make an effort to face your fear and socialise more often. Start small and work your way up. The more you avoid, the more the fear will persist. When you are socialising it is important to focus externally. This takes practice but it reduces anxiety enormously. Focus on a person who looks interested in what you have to say.
Eliminate safety behaviours, by this I mean find out what behaviours you engage in to make you feel less anxious. Good examples are: looking down, mumbling, having a drink, repeatedly clearing your throat or making regular trips to the bathroom. These safety behaviours only increase self focus and end up maintaining anxiety. Work towards reducing these safety behaviours, one at a time…baby steps.
Overcoming social anxiety will take time and the main thing to focus on is less avoidance and more external focus. Throughout this process, be kind to yourself and give yourself credit when you make progress. Connecting with others doesn’t have to be a fearful experience, it can also be incredibly fulfilling and rewarding.