How To Socialize When You Have Social Anxiety Disorder
Armeen Poor, MD, is a board-certified pulmonologist and intensivist. He specializes in pulmonary health, critical care, and sleep medicine.
Knowing how to talk to people when you have social anxiety disorder can be difficult. Even after getting treatment, you may find that you lack some of the social skills needed to connect with people effectively. It is a hurdle that many people with SAD face but one which can be overcome with a little patience, practice, and insight.
Overcome Social Anxiety With Joyables Online Cbt Program
Weve talked about how common social anxiety is, and how theres a proven solution to treat it . However, the shocking truth is 85 percent of Americans who struggle with social anxiety each year dont get help. Why? Sometimes its a lack of awareness that prevents people from seeking help. Sometimes, sadly, its stigma. But even for those who know they have social anxiety and want help, huge cost and access barriers prevent them from getting treatment. The average cost of a single 45-minute session with a U.S. therapist is $180. Even if you can afford that, you might not be able to find an available therapist nearby. There arent even close to enough therapists to treat the number of people struggling with social anxiety about a third of the U.S. population lives in a mental health desert, with more than half of mental health sufferers not receiving treatment.
Overcoming social anxiety is hard work. With Joyable, you dont have to do it alone. When you start the program, youre paired with a personal coach. Your coach is your advocate and accountability partner. Theyre trained in CBT and help guide you if you have a hard time challenging your negative thoughts. They also give you an extra push when you need it to face situations you fear.
Tip : Focus On Others Not Yourself
When were in a social situation that makes us nervous, many of us tend to get caught up in our anxious thoughts and feelings. You may be convinced that everyone is looking at you and judging you. Your focus is on your bodily sensations, hoping that by paying extra close attention you can better control them. But this excessive self-focus just makes you more aware of how nervous youre feeling, triggering even more anxiety! It also prevents you from fully concentrating on the conversations around you or the performance youre giving.
Switching from an internal to an external focus can go a long way toward reducing social anxiety. This is easier said than done, but you cant pay attention to two things at once. The more you concentrate on whats happening around you, the less youll be affected by anxiety.
Focus your attention on other people, but not on what theyre thinking of you! Instead, do your best to engage them and make a genuine connection.
Remember that anxiety isnt as visible as you think. And even if someone notices that youre nervous, that doesnt mean theyll think badly of you. Chances are other people are feeling just as nervous as youor have done in the past.
Really listen to what is being said not to your own negative thoughts.
Focus on the present moment, rather than worrying about what youre going to say or beating yourself up for a flub thats already passed.
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Not Being Present In Conversations Because Youre Lost In Worries
One of the most common ways I hear social anxiety described is that it makes it difficult to be truly present in conversations. For example, youre in an important meeting with a potential client. And try as you might to stay focused on what theyre saying, you repeatedly find yourself distracted by a swarm of worries like:
- She thinks Im not intelligent enough
- Im getting way too anxious How could she trust me with her business if I cant even control myself?!
Unfortunately, even if your worries arent true, they can become a self-fulfilling prophecy: All the time and attention youre giving your worries means you have less mental energy and resources to spend thinking about and contributing to the actual conversation. And the more you feel like youre not contributing to the conversation, the more anxious you get, to the point where you actually do start making mistakes or having trouble articulating your thoughts because your mind is so consumed with anxiety and worry now.
Expert Tips On How To Overcome Social Anxiety
As a psychologist who specializes in anxiety, I get asked all the time about how to overcome social anxiety.
And while I know what a struggle social anxiety can be, I have good news
With the right mindset shifts and some new habits, you can overcome social anxiety.
And thats exactly what Im going to show you how to do in this guide.
- What social anxiety is exactly
- Some specific examples of what social anxiety looks like
- Where social anxiety comes from and what causes it
- A collection of practical tips to help you work through your social anxiety in a healthy way
Okay, lets dive in!
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Signs And Symptoms Of Social Anxiety Disorder
Just because you occasionally get nervous in social situations doesnt mean you have social anxiety disorder or social phobia. Many people feel shy or self-conscious on occasion, yet it doesnt get in the way of their everyday functioning. Social anxiety disorder, on the other hand, does interfere with your normal routine and causes tremendous distress.
For example, its perfectly normal to get the jitters before giving a speech. But if you have social anxiety, you might worry for weeks ahead of time, call in sick to get out of it, or start shaking so bad during the speech that you can hardly speak.
Emotional signs and symptoms of social anxiety disorder:
- Excessive self-consciousness and anxiety in everyday social situations
- Intense worry for days, weeks, or even months before an upcoming social situation
- Extreme fear of being watched or judged by others, especially people you dont know
- Fear that youll act in ways that will embarrass or humiliate yourself
- Fear that others will notice that youre nervous
Physical signs and symptoms:
- Avoiding social situations to a degree that limits your activities or disrupts your life
- Staying quiet or hiding in the background in order to escape notice and embarrassment
- A need to always bring a buddy along with you wherever you go
- Drinking before social situations in order to soothe your nerves
Get Yourself Out There
If you suffer from mild to moderate social anxiety, you might just feel like you are in a rut most of the time. What is the best way to get out of a rut? Do something.
Although it can be tempting to avoid social and performance situations if you suffer from social anxiety disorder , it is important to get yourself out there. That means accepting invitations to go places and do things that make you uncomfortable. At the same time, you need to prepare yourself to properly handle being out there.
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Challenge Negative Thought Patterns
People with social anxiety often spend an exorbitant amount of time worrying about what could happen. Often, these worries are over every little thing that might go wrong in a social setting.
Maybe you worry about:
- Laughing at the wrong time or inappropriately
- Sneezing or coughing
- Falling ill in front of others
While, yes, there is always the potential for these things to happen, and its true they might be a little bit embarrassing, try to keep things in perspective. We all make mistakes, and everybody understands this. Most times, any mistake you could make in a social setting or at a social event would be in front of people who wouldnt judge you. Just because you make a mistake doesnt mean someone is going to think differently about you or look down on you.
If you find that you have negative thoughts about an upcoming event, challenge yourself by trying to replace them with more helpful, positive ones. Try using a technique known as realistic thinking ask yourself questions about the scenarios youre worried about, and then answer in an honest and fair way. When you catch yourself imagining the social situation ending in disaster, you can ask yourself what is the worst that could happen? The best? And whats the most likely? Running through these kinds of scenarios with the help of your therapist can help you refocus your mind away from disaster scenarios.
Some questions you could ask yourself might include:
Dealing With Social Phobia
People with social phobia can learn to manage fear, develop confidence and coping skills, and stop avoiding things that make them anxious. But it’s not always easy. Overcoming social phobia means getting up the courage it takes to go beyond what’s comfortable, little by little.
Here’s who can support and guide people in overcoming social phobia:
- Therapists can help people recognize the physical sensations caused by fightflight and teach them to interpret these sensations more accurately. Therapists can help people create a plan for facing social fears one by one, and help them build the skills and confidence to do it. This includes practicing new behaviors. Sometimes, but not always, medications that reduce anxiety are used as part of the treatment for social phobia.
- Family or friends are especially important for people who are dealing with social phobia. The right support from a few key people can help those with social phobia gather the courage to go outside their comfort zone and try something new. Putdowns, lectures, criticisms, and demands to change don’t help and just make a person feel bad. Having social phobia isn’t a person’s fault and isn’t something anyone chooses. Instead, friends and family can encourage people with social phobia to pick a small goal to aim for, remind them to go for it, and be there when they might feel discouraged. Good friends and family are there to celebrate each small success along the way.
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How Can It Affect Your Life
Social anxiety disorder prevents you from living your life. YouÃ¢ll avoid situations that most people consider Ã¢normal.Ã¢ You might even have a hard time understanding how others can handle them so easily.
When you avoid all or most social situations, it affects your personal relationships. It can also lead to:
- Low self-esteem
- Poor social skills that donÃ¢t improve
What Social Anxiety Feels Like And Where It Comes From
Do you often dread parties, anxiously fearing awkward conversations that expose the contents of your mind for all to see?
Do you cringe at the thought of meeting people?
Around others, do you find yourself spinning with worry about what they think of you or how you measure up?
These are just a few of the manifestations of social anxiety.
Social anxiety can be a paralyzing, frustrating, and chaotic experience. Its a very out-of-control feeling that can leave you very torn: torn between the human need to be social and connected to others and the feeling of wanting to run away and hide from what feels like an oppressive, all-consuming monster. It can feel as though you have no clothes and no skinas if people can see right inside you.
And when youre alone again, away from the social scene, you may notice your immediate relief being slowly replaced by feelings of isolation, disappointment with yourself, and hopelessness.
Social anxiety can derive from many sources: early traumatic experiences, generalized anxiety expressing itself in particular ways, and a more sensitive disposition interacting with a highly stimulating world, among others.
In the paragraphs that follow, I want to address one aspect of social anxiety and offer some tips for how to think about and work with it. Specifically, I want to discuss how social anxiety can be a reflection of what is happening for you on the inside.
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Practice Acts Of Kindness
In a 2015 study of 115 college students living with social anxiety, performing small acts of kindness for 4 weeks helped reduce the desire to avoid social situations.
The link between kindness and social anxiety may not be immediately clear, but it makes sense, when you think about it.
Social anxiety generally involves some fear of rejection or disapproval. But if youve just done something kind and thoughtful, like bringing a sick co-worker their favorite soup or offering to pick up your neighbors grocery order, the person you help is far more likely to have positive feelings toward you than negative ones.
Earning this approval on a regular basis can help decrease your fears around social situations, so you might find that interacting with others gradually becomes easier.
Ask Your Support System For A Helping Hand
It can be embarrassing or humbling to admit to people in your life that youre anxious in social situations and might need help. However, letting a friend or loved one know you might need some extra support can be a major boost. Many times, people are going to feel more comfortable if theyre in a social situation with somebody that theyre close to, Dr. Potter says. Especially if somebody has been fairly isolated in recent times, it can be helpful at first to have a buddy when you go back into a social situation.
The key to this support is helping an anxious person become more independent over time. Eventually, people with more generalized social anxiety will find it uncomfortable to go shopping or order food by themselves, Dr. Potter explains. You want to balance supporting a person and encouraging them to do it themselves.
If youre a friend or family member of somebody anxious in social situations, one way to offer support is to bring them into the conversation. You might be like, Oh, I think Sara has something she would probably like to say on that subject. Shes really interested in that, Dr. Potter says. You can support them by bringing them out of their shells. Before doing that, however, be sure to ask the person if thats OK. If youre a person with social anxiety, you may not like being put on the spot to say something. Talk to that person in advance about how they want to handle certain things.
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Initial Vs Maintaining Causes Of Social Anxiety
One of the biggest mistakes I see people make as they try to overcome social anxiety is getting fixated on the initial causes of their anxiety, and as a result, ignoring the maintaining causes.
But before we go on, let me clarify what I mean by initial vs maintaining causes
- Initial cause. The initial cause of social anxiety is one or more events in the past that initially set you on the path toward social anxiety. Its your social anxietys origin story. For example: some kind of childhood trauma or bullying as a kid may have been the thing that initially set your social anxiety in motion.
- Maintaining cause. The maintaining cause of social anxiety are your habits in the present that are feeding your social anxiety and causing it to stick around or even grow. Avoiding social situations with new people gives you temporary relief from your anxiety, but ultimately makes the social anxiety worse because it reinforces your brains mistaken belief that being judged by new people is dangerous.
I bring this distinction up because while it can be interesting and validating to understand the initial cause or origin of your social anxiety, it typically has relatively little value when it comes to overcoming your anxiety now.
In other words
Whatever caused your social anxiety in the past, its your habits and behaviors in the present that are keeping it alive.
Here are some of the most common maintaining causes of social anxiety:
Pinpoint Specific Situations That Trigger Your Anxiety
Social anxiety doesnt manifest itself in the same way for everyone. You may feel anxious about situations where others may judge you, from ordering food to going to the restroom during class. On the other hand, you may feel perfectly comfortable being in the presence of others as long as you dont have to speak. Pinpointing the things that aggravate your symptoms can help you take the first steps towards overcoming social anxiety. You can start this process by sitting down and listing things that cause you the most discomfort, such as ordering food at a restaurant or introducing yourself to a stranger. As time goes on, you may notice some more instances that make you uncomfortable that you can jot down. This is a great way to build self-awareness and prepare yourself for certain situations that make you anxious.
Also, pay attention to your bodys reactions in certain situations. If youre feeling lightheaded or dizzy, ask yourself why. If youre worried about whether people will notice that your hands are shaking or your heart is pounding, try a grounding technique, such as savoring food or drink or holding a piece of ice. These will help you ground your thoughts.
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Practice Socializing With People You Trust
All those negative outcomes youre worried about? Practicing them with people you trust and are comfortable with can help you feel more prepared to handle them if they occur. Ask a trusted friend, spouse, or family member to role-play some conversations with you. For instance, you can role-play a scenario in which youre searching for an item at a store and need to ask an employee for help. Practice having a professor or boss ask you a question in front of others, and you give the wrong answer. Additionally, you can also ask whoever is helping you to give positive, neutral, and negative reactions.
At Banyan Pompano, role-playing is actually a common technique we use in some of our therapy programs to help patients better understand their emotions and behaviors and how they relate to certain scenarios. Role-play is surprisingly one of the most helpful things to help with social anxiety that you can do if youre experiencing this condition or want to help someone who is.