When I first tell someone that I have social anxiety the majority of people believe that this means that I am just shy in social situations. I have even been told that it is just a phase that I will eventually grow out of and I wish it were that easy. When someone experiences social phobia, or social anxiety, it means they have a fear of interacting with other people which can cause them a lot of emotional distress.
Social anxiety is a pain in the butt if you want me to be honest! Its not like I can just turn it off when it is convenient for me. I have been suffering from it ever since I was in high school and let me tell you it made class presentations a living nightmare. Instead of being able to talk in front of the class about my amazing project on the American Revolution I would call in sick and not go to school that day all because I was too afraid to speak in front of others. (I now speak in front of 300+ people and am fearless but more on that later!)
Because I have been living with social anxiety for so many years I have picked a few tips up along the way to help cope with it. I hope something I say helps you in your recovery journey!
What is Social Anxiety Anyway?
Having social anxiety is not just being shy around new people but it is the constant thought that you said, did, or will do something wrong and that others will judge, mock, or evaluate you. It is the feeling of being scared to enter a conversation because you fear that you will have nothing to say. It is the fear of calling the doctors office to make an appointment because you are scared of the way your voice sounds. People with social anxiety disorder or SAD get emotionally distressed in a number of situations including:
- meeting new people
- being the center of attention
- fearing judged or criticized
- being watched while they are doing a task
- speaking their opinions
Some physical symptoms of this disorder could be increased heart rate, sweaty palms, blushing, dry mouth, shaking, etc. Everyone experiences symptoms differently and what one person experiences can be completely different than someone else. For me personally I get really sweaty, my palms shake, and I have fumble my words. No fun!
SAD is the third largest psychological problem in the United States. Millions of people are suffering in silence and don’t wanna feel this way and I am here to tell you that there is hope.
How Can I Cope with This?
If you are suffering with SAD I want you to know that you are not alone. There are people all around you that are feeling the same way that you are but just like you they are afraid to talk about it. Over the past few years there have been a few things that have really helped me cope with my anxieties.
Talk About It
One of the main things that helped me with my social anxiety was talking about how I was feeling. The more I talked about my anxieties with friends, family, support groups, or my people online the better I felt and the more people I found people who understood what I was going through. Sometimes all we need is a good friend by our side to listen!
This past semester in college I joined an on-campus support group and it really changed my life. Sitting in a room of people who understood exactly how I felt was so amazingly comforting. I got to discuss my concerns, support others with what they were going through, and share personal experiences. This experience made me feel like I was not alone.
Breathe Away Anxiety
My therapist and I have been practicing breathing and mindfulness techniques for when I start feeling anxious. Breathing slowly and deeply from your abdomen eases anxiety. To practice, find a comfy place and breathe deeply through your nose for four and let your abdomen rise. Then exhale through your mouth for four and let your chest fall. There are some amazing apps that I recommend for guided breathing techniques including Headspace and Calm.
Create Recovery Goals
Anxiety is not just going to go away in a day but we can work on it everyday by creating recovery goals for ourselves. For example, thinking about going to the gym gives me a lot of anxiety because I feel everyone would be looking at me and judging me. Some short-term goals to help me work on this fear could be:
- Buy cute gym clothes so I feel confident when I go to the gym
- Go to the gym for 15 minutes, 20 minutes, and then 30 minutes
- Bring a supportive friend with me to distract me from my anxious thoughts
Try to break your long-term recovery goals into small step-by-step goals that are easier to achieve and that will help you conquer your fears!
Take Attention Away From Anxiety
Most of the time when we are experiencing anxiety it is being focused on our inward emotions. The more we start worrying about our inward thoughts our physical symptoms will get worse (hand shakes, sweaty palms, rapid heart rate…) Instead, focus your mind on the task that you are doing currently whether that be walking down a crowded street or being at a friend’s party. If you are talking to someone, focus on what they are saying to you instead of the feelings that you are experiencing inside.
If focusing on the task at hand does not help relieve your anxiety, focus on something else in your environment. Count the number of white cars passing by, focus on different objects in the room, or the texture of the paper in your pocket (I usually tear up a napkin when I start getting anxious at parties or family gatherings.)
What helps you when you are experiencing anxiety? I would love to know in the comments down below because what helps you could help someone else!