Social anxiety disorder is a subgroup of anxiety disorders. People with social anxiety may feel overly nervous, overwhelmed and uncomfortable in social situations and this may especially be the case when meeting new people. Another common occurrence is when one has to perform or do something in front of other people.
Usually, those with social anxiety of a recurring fear that they will say or do something wrong in front of others and will be negatively judged for it. Some people may even have panic attacks or experience physical symptoms of anxiety when part of a social situation. These symptoms include stomach aches, sweating, hot flashes, shallow breathing, heart racing, tightness of chest, shaky, tense, and flushed face. Approaches to handling social anxiety depend on the severity of the symptoms, but here are 6 ways you can push back against it:
- Consult a self-help book. On its own or combined with therapy, they can provide effective strategies that can be practiced at home or at work.
- Contact a therapist. If you haven’t had much success with self-help, seek out a therapist who specializes in anxiety disorders.
- Practice deep breathing every day, especially before an anxiety-provoking social situation. Regular daily practice of this technique is required so that it becomes second nature for you.
- Create an exposure hierarchy, which is a list of situations that cause you to be anxious. Starting with the easiest situation, develop strategies for managing your anxiety (e.g., visualize the situation in your mind and create different scenarios for how to successfully deal with it).
- Create objective goals. Because people tend to downplay the importance of the things that they do well when they feel anxious, it is helpful to create objective behavioral goals that anyone in the room would be able to observe (e.g., if you’re attending a staff meeting, the objective behavior would be to make three comments, regardless of whether or not you feel anxious.) Creating objective goals also gives you a good barometer for judging your progress. Again, don’t focus on whether you felt nervous. Success is measured based on whether you achieved your goal.
- Keep a rational outlook. Avoid thinking in terms of absolutes – absolute disaster or absolute success. Focus on what is reasonable instead of worst or best case scenarios. For example, if you have to do a presentation at work, your anxious mind may tell you that you will do a terrible job. Confront this thought by recalling past presentations were you had done well. If you take the time to prepare properly the thought that you will be terrible this time then this isn’t a rational or realistic perspective. Having a competing narrative that you can use to counter negative self-talk is an important strategy for overcoming many types of social anxiety.