3 Easy Steps to Manage Social Anxiety
Social anxiety. It’s a thing.
I have an irrational fear of calling people other than friends or family. I have to pep-talk myself into calling the dentist to make an appointment. Sometimes I purposely wait until after hours so that I can leave a message instead of talking to a live person.
At work, I always let the phone go to voicemail so that I have a chance to listen to the message before I call back. This gives me time to prepare what I am going to say.
I have to my thoughts and use deep breathing exercises before walking into social situations because, in my head, I am sure that the invite I got was a mistake (read, imposter syndrome).
At conferences, I will find the seat in the back of the room closest to the door. I need an exit, and I also need to see everyone in front of me. Sitting in the front of the room is unsettling because I mean, what if the back of my head looks bad?
What is Social Anxiety?
Social anxiety is just as it sounds. It is the fear of social situations that involve other people. Social anxiety is the cousin of general anxiety. Instead of feeling anxious in all situations, it is limited to the ones that involve more than one other person.
Many who experience social anxiety also experience generalized anxiety, but not everybody. Some people are fine in all other areas except when exposed to people.
Fear of People
When you think about it, social anxiety is the fear of people. Mainly people that we don’t know. But more than that, it is the fear of the unknown. After all, anxiety is always the fear of the unknown. That’s why it comes with the need to control our environment.
So why does social anxiety makes us afraid of going into situations where we may or may not ever see these people again?
Fear of Judgment
The biggest anxiety producer for those who struggle with social anxiety is the fear of judgment.
- Will people think I’m stupid?
- Will people criticize my clothes?
- Will people think I’m boring?
Many social anxiety sufferers get labeled as shy, withdrawn, stuck up, aloof, unfriendly or disinterested.
None of this is true.
In fact, most crave connections. They want to be part of a group, engage with other people, and be involved in social interactions.
But they are stuck behind an iron curtain of fear that prevents them from being the person that they want to be and often labels them as someone they are not.
Because it is near impossible to avoid social interaction, people suffering from social anxiety have to find a way to cope with the inevitable.
Everybody has their own way of managing their particular shade of social anxiety. These might include things like:
- Preparing a script in your head of every detail of an upcoming conversation
- Talking really fast so that you can get out of the conversation as soon as possible.
- Laughing at the end of your sentences.
- Letting phone calls go to voicemail so that you are not caught off guard
- Drinking before entering a social situation
The methods used to cope with the anxiety felt upon entering social situations do not do much to address the cause. Instead, it is an attempt to control the symptom.
3 Steps to Manage Social Anxiety
Whenever I prepare to speak in front of people I use the model of “what, so what, now what.”
We know what social anxiety is.
We know the so what of understanding why and how it affects people.
It’s time for the now what.
While there is a need to dig deeper into the underlying thoughts you are having about what will happen in a social situation, these three steps of tweaking your behavior will help to provide you with evidence that you can handle situations that you fear.
Step 1: Stop it
The first step involves getting rid of a safety measure that you use to control the anxiety.
- If you find that you talk really fast so that you don’t have to talk for too long, try slowing down your rate of speech.
- If you rehearse the entire script before having a conversation, try going in unrehearsed.
- If you laugh at the end of all of your sentences, consciously pause at the end.
- If you drink a glass of wine to calm yourself before going into a social situation, try not doing that.
All of these things will feel scary at first. They will take you outside of your comfort zone. But you have to be outside of your comfort zone if you want to make progress. Just start small. Try one thing at a time.
Step 2: Get Over Yourself
Social anxiety stems from a fear of judgment. When we fear we are being judged, we are hyper-aware of everything that we are doing.
- Our body language
- Our eye contact
- Our words
- Our attire
- Our hair and make-up
We basically spend all of our time making sure that we are doing all of the things right. So much so that we don’t spend any time actually being present in the situation.
The next time you are in a social situation, try not paying so much attention to what your body is doing and what you are thinking and instead, place your focus on what other people are saying and doing.
You might find that putting your focus on external events gets you out of your own head for a little while. And you might even find that you are enjoying yourself.
Step 3: Do the Opposite Thing
Social anxiety keeps us stuck in our heads. We start to spiral into a world of what-ifs. All of this thought rumination, worst-case scenarios, and fear feed our self-defeating beliefs and exacerbate our anxiety.
So here’s what you can do the next time you feel anxiety monster creeping up.
Do the opposite thing.
- If you feel like avoiding, engage
- If you feel like being silent, speak
- If you feel like avoiding eye contact, make eye contact
Pickin’ up what I’m layin’ down?
By doing the opposite of what we are inclined to do, we force ourselves to do what we wish we could do. And in doing these things, we collect evidence that it’s not so bad. This evidence starts to help us build confidence, which in turn helps us to reframe our internal story.
Yes, You Can
I know, I know. It’s too hard. There is no way that this is ever going to work. Maybe for someone else, but not for you.
Yes it will.
We want to be less anxious so that we can live our lives, but we have to live our lives to be less anxious
The first time you try something new is always the hardest. It gets easier and easier the more you do it.
Exposure therapy is one of the best ways to manage social anxiety because while retraining your brain to challenge your negative thoughts is essential, sometimes you just need proof.
Changing behavior will give you the proof you need to move toward changing your thoughts.
We so often think that we need to be less anxious so that we can live our lives. But the truth is that we need to live our lives in order to be less anxious.
I know you have trepidations. I know you don’t feel confident.
You don’t need to feel confident. You just need to do the action.
By putting action before confidence, you will find that the action creates confidence.
Go to that party
Make that phone call
Give that presentation.
Not because you have to, but because you can.
Remember, you are worth the effort it takes to live an empowered life.
For more information on social anxiety, click here.
For resources and programs to help manage your anxiety, click here