Disclaimer. This article is for educational purposes. If you experience overwhelming social anxiety, please seek professional help.
Humans tend to overestimate how much people really pay attention to our actions, both negative and positive. You might believe that others are watching and judging you, but in reality, they are not. Most of us are too wrapped up in our own thoughts to notice what someone else is doing. In fact, researchers at Cornell University proved this point.
Professor Thomas Gilovich conducted an experiment with his students. He divided most of them into groups, and from those groups, he randomly selected a few students to prove his point. The students that were singled out underwent a situation that was meant to replicate an embarrassing event. When asked how many of their peers vividly noticed them entering the room late, the selected students estimated that about half of their peers had noticed. In reality, it was less than ten percent.
The fear that others are judging you causes social anxiety. Social anxiety symptoms vary and can look like sweating, trembling, and irritability. Severe social anxiety can lead you to avoid social situations or going out altogether. So, how do you overcome it?
- Create awareness
Create a habit of becoming mindful of your thoughts. As you become aware of the thoughts running through your mind, you will notice that most of them are about you. They will often be about present and future events. Only a handful of those thoughts are about other people. Knowing that most people are also thinking about themselves will help you be more at ease in social situations.
Also, being mindful of your thoughts will help you notice which ones trigger social anxiety. This knowledge will help you challenge and disarm these intrusive thoughts.
- Engage in relaxation techniques
Relaxation techniques are incredibly helpful, especially when you feel like your anxiety is overwhelming. However, note that these techniques are not meant to substitute treatment for an anxiety disorder.
One strategy that you can try is diaphragmatic breathing, also known as deep breathing. Deep breathing engages the diaphragm and allows you to take in more air. Notice how your stomach rises and falls with each breath. Engaging in relaxation techniques will help better prepare you for moments of extreme anxiety.
- Try yoga.
Yes, I know. Yoga is often used as a cure-all for mental health issues, but it can be useful. Because social anxiety involves cognitive, physical, emotional, and habitual sensations, yoga can help. Yoga primarily deals with the connection between the mind and the body. Hence, it will help you recognize anxiety symptoms sooner. Some poses have been said to engage with your mind and reduce anxiety. Yoga is an exercise that demands you to shift your drishti or focus. It helps you become aware of when you are reacting to things and helps you mindfully choose how to respond.
- Set goals.
If you choose to work on your social anxiety on your own, set some goals. Having goals will help you figure out where you want to go and guide you on how to get there. But, make sure these goals are realistic and quantifiable. There are online quizzes, like this one, that can help you gauge your degree of anxiety. These quizzes will give you something to work towards. Make sure that your goals are realistic so that you will be motivated to continue. When you meet one of your goals, reward yourself.
However, if your social anxiety is severe, please seek professional help.
- Make something
Art therapy can also be beneficial for reducing social anxiety. Most social anxiety comes from the fear of being judged which can often produce perfectionism. Engaging in art therapy can help you accept imperfections and even make something beautiful out of them.
Additionally, social anxiety is regulated in the amygdala, an area responsible for emotions and sensory input from your environment. Art therapy can help you verbalize what you are feeling without needing to use words. Being creative or engaging in a creative process helps you stay in the present moment and focus on what is in front of you instead of running off with ruminating thoughts.
Some great outlets are painting, journaling, or guided imagery.
The most common treatment for anxiety is CBT. CBT stands for cognitive behavioral therapy. It is a technique that therapists often use to address many mental health conditions like depression, PTSD, and anxiety. CBT treats anxiety disorders because it helps you identify negative thought patterns and gives you tools to change them. Although CBT is usually done with a therapist, there are online workbooks that you can use to guide you.
Another technique is systematic guided exposure. This technique involves slowly exposing yourself to the scary or anxiety-inducing things until you are not so scared anymore. Systematic guided exposure is a way of taking baby-steps to overcome your anxiety. If you wish to do guided exposure therapy, please do it with a mental health professional. Doing so will help you get and analyze the feedback of how certain social situations make you feel.
Social anxiety does not need to feel debilitating. It is something you can overcome with the right guidance and support. But, remember, you are doing this for yourself. Never change an aspect of who you are for anyone else.
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Good luck and take care!
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Cassaday, Tonia. “How to Cure Social Anxiety Using These 5 Tips.” Betterhelp, BetterHelp, 1 June 2020, www.betterhelp.com/advice/anxiety/how-to-cure-social-anxiety-using-these-5-tips/.
Cuncic, Arlin. “How Art Therapy and Yoga Treat SAD.” Verywell Mind, 13 Nov. 2020, www.verywellmind.com/art-therapy-yoga-sad-3024956.
Morton, Kati. “3 Ways to Beat Social Anxiety! .” YouTube, YouTube, 23 Apr. 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=P8HoDPgZcak.
NHS. “Social Anxiety (Social Phobia).” NHS Choices, NHS, 13 Mar. 2020, www.nhs.uk/conditions/social-anxiety/.
Smith, Melinda, et al. “Social Anxiety Disorder.” HelpGuide.org, Sept. 2020, www.helpguide.org/articles/anxiety/social-anxiety-disorder.htm.