Getting To The Roots Of Your Social Anxiety
The first step is to understand exactly what causes your social anxiety. Where does it stem from? Licensed Psychotherapist Christine Scott-Hudson delves into anxiety as a biological response to perceived threats. When you struggle with anxiety, your amygdala gets hijacked and your bodys natural defenses are employed, whether there is actual danger present or not. Your brain and your body are just trying to keep you safe. However, the ways in which they attempt to keep you safe are also designed to help you fight, flight, or freeze to escape the danger, she says.
In the case of social anxiety, your body is as terrified of the public speaking event as it would be if you were being chased by a mountain lion, she continues. And your natural bodily defenses against these stressors are largely biologically hardwired. There is some matter of choice if we address the fear using bottom-up practices, meaning beginning with the lower, more primitive brain on up to the higher cortical functions. Many clients with ongoing anxiety create a small bag of useful items to help them ground when they start to feel that amygdala dysregulation happen. You can think ahead and carry a few items with you that serve to remind this older, reptilian part of your brain that you are actually okay and safe.
Tips For Managing Social Anxiety When Giving A Public Speech Or Performance
Lets say you are thinking about a presentation you have coming up. You become increasingly anxious. Try to identify the specific thoughts that make you nervous. In other words, what are you telling yourself could happen that makes you feel anxious?
You could be afraid that:
You will forget what you plan to say while speaking.
You will trip as you walk to the microphone.
Other people will think you sound stupid.
The audience will laugh at you.
You will pass out while everyone is watching you.
You will get sick in public.
All of these thoughts have unwanted outcomes. To change negative beliefs, you want to look for contrary evidence. This is evidence that suggests that your fears might not be entirely accurate.
Heres how you can look for new evidence. Begin by asking yourself:
Have I gotten sick in public before?
Would people be compassionate toward me if something did go wrong?
What is the worst thing that could happen if I forget what I plan to say?
Is it possible that other people also forget what they were supposed to say when theyre nervous?
What makes me think I will sound stupid?
Do my friends usually say I sound silly?
Is it possible that I dont sound ridiculous?
How would I treat someone else who is nervous about public speaking?
What advice would I give to a friend who was in my position?
There is a good chance that you have something worthwhile to say. It is likely that you wont trip walking up to speak. But if you do, people will probably be sympathetic.
Remember Baby Steps Are Still Steps
You dont need to make huge strides every step of the way. Something as small as committing to yourself that youll attend an event and following through is a huge sign of progress. It doesnt even have to be a formal event. it can be something as small as ordering a coffee if thats something that would normally trigger your anxiety.
You dont need to commit to doing something as huge as giving a speech to hundreds of people or throwing a party on your own keep in mind that any progress is progress to be proud of.
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The Danger Of Asking This Question
Let me ask you something
WHY do you want to overcome your social anxiety on your own to begin with?
- Is it because youre afraid of picking up the phone to set an appointment?
- Are you afraid to share your deepest problems, shortcomings and secrets with a stranger?
- Are you scared of how anxious going to see a professional about your problem will make you?
If the answer to these questions is yes, then youre already heading in the wrong direction.
Now, I can understand your fear.
Back when I had really bad social anxiety, even getting a haircut where I had to make small talk with the hairdresser for 15 minutes was excruciatingly painful and awkward. I couldnt even imagine talking to someone about my feelings, insecurities and social anxiety for an hour or more.
So I know how scary the IDEA of talking to someone about your social anxiety is. Thats the craziest part of this problem: your social anxiety itself makes it extremely hard to get help for it!
But here is a reality check:
Try Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Among the different kinds of psychotherapy available, cognitive behavioral therapy which involves making changes to the way you think and feel about a situation, which, in turn, can help you modify your behavior is a helpful way to approach social anxiety. With social anxiety specifically, you want to identify patterns of thinking that cause you to avoid social situations like if a persons always expecting the worst outcome, or a person is fixated on the fact that someone might see them blushing, or sweating or stammering, says Dr. Potter. You want to help them learn to challenge those expectations and adopt more positive self-talk rather than negative self-talk.
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When To Get Help For Social Anxiety
It’s a good idea to see a GP if you think you have social anxiety, especially if it’s having a big impact on your life.
It’s a common problem and there are treatments that can help.
Asking for help can be difficult, but a GP will be aware that many people struggle with social anxiety and will try to put you at ease.
They’ll ask you about your feelings, behaviours and symptoms to find out about your anxiety in social situations.
If they think you could have social anxiety, you’ll be referred to a mental health specialist to have a full assessment and talk about treatments.
You can also refer yourself directly to an NHS psychological therapies service without a referral from a GP.
What Is Social Anxiety Disorder
Social anxiety disorder is a common type of anxiety disorder. A person with social anxiety disorder feels symptoms of anxiety or fear in situations where they may be scrutinized, evaluated, or judged by others, such as speaking in public, meeting new people, dating, being on a job interview, answering a question in class, or having to talk to a cashier in a store. Doing everyday things, such as eating or drinking in front of others or using a public restroom, also may cause anxiety or fear due to concerns about being humiliated, judged, and rejected.
The fear that people with social anxiety disorder have in social situations is so intense that they feel it is beyond their control. For some people, this fear may get in the way of going to work, attending school, or doing everyday things. Other people may be able to accomplish these activities but experience a great deal of fear or anxiety when they do. People with social anxiety disorder may worry about engaging in social situations for weeks before they happen. Sometimes, they end up avoiding places or events that cause distress or generate feelings of embarrassment.
Some people with the disorder do not have anxiety related to social interactions but have it during performances instead. They feel symptoms of anxiety in situations such as giving a speech, competing in a sports game, or playing a musical instrument on stage.
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Normal Anxiety Vs Social Anxiety Disorder
Social anxiety disorder is only diagnosed when a persons symptoms are frequent and severe enough to lower their quality of life or when it becomes crippling or debilitating. Some of the differences between normal social anxiety and social anxiety disorder are outlined below.
|Normal social anxiety|
|Level of anxiety makes sense for the situation||Fears are excessive or disproportionate|
|Does not interfere with routine/ability to function||Limits routine or impairs functioning|
|Does not prevent social interactions||Leads to avoidance of social interactions|
|Causes minimal distress or problems in life||Causes a lot of distress or problems in life|
Tips For Managing Social Anxiety When Meeting New People
You may get nervous about meeting new people. Many people feel this way when meeting people they dont know. The good news is that there are ways to feel calmer and more prepared.
Sometimes, just thinking about meeting new people can cause physical symptoms of anxiety. Focusing on these symptoms can worsen them. By helping your body to relax, you can lessen your anxiety.
One way to relax is by practicing calm breathing exercises that help you focus on your breathing, rather than allowing your thoughts to race.
Try this breathing exercise:
Sit down in a quiet place, and picture a peaceful setting. It may be a beach on a warm summer day, or you may be sitting by a brook in the woods.
Imagine that youre really there listen to the sounds. Feel the sunshine on your skin and the sand between your toes.
Bring your focus to your breathing. Slowly take a deep breath in through your nose as you count to five.
Feel the air filling your lungs and belly.
Then, slowly exhale through your mouth.
Focus on the air leaving your stomach.
Then, feel the air leaving your lungs.
Repeat this exercise a few times.
Each time you exhale, feel the tension leaving your body.
There are other ways you can prepare ahead of time to help you feel more confident. Plan a list of two or three questions or topics to bring up with new people you meet. You can even write these down so you have a reminder.
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What Is Social Anxiety Disorder Or Social Phobia
Many people get nervous or self-conscious on occasion, like when giving a speech or interviewing for a new job. But social anxiety disorder, or social phobia, is more than just shyness or occasional nerves. Social anxiety disorder involves intense fear of certain social situationsespecially situations that are unfamiliar or in which you feel youll be watched or evaluated by others. These situations may be so frightening that you get anxious just thinking about them or go to great lengths to avoid them, disrupting your life in the process.
Underlying social anxiety disorder is the fear of being scrutinized, judged, or embarrassed in public. You may be afraid that people will think badly of you or that you wont measure up in comparison to others. And even though you probably realize that your fears of being judged are at least somewhat irrational and overblown, you still cant help feeling anxious. But no matter how painfully shy you may be and no matter how bad the butterflies, you can learn to be comfortable in social situations and reclaim your life.
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Stop Complaining And Blaming
Perhaps you were dealt a bad hand in life. Maybe you had a controlling mother or a father who put you down. Although these life experiences may have contributed to your social anxiety, you don’t need to let them continue to influence the course of your life. Start taking responsibility for your actions and behavior.
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Social Anxiety Disorder In Children And Teenagers
Some of the normal stages of social and emotional development may be confused as signs or symptoms of social anxiety disorder. For example, its normal for pre-teens and teens to be highly self-conscious, overly concerned about what their peers think, and anxious about rejection. Parents and caregivers should be concerned if these issues cause their child or teen to withdraw or isolate themselves, develop mood or behavior problems, or begin to interrupt their normal routine.
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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Congratulate Yourself For Social Achievements
When you start to feel anxious or experience other symptoms of social anxiety, stop and pat yourself on the back. Yes, instead of reviewing all of the reasons you feel uncomfortable, consider all of the steps youve taken to overcome social anxiety disorder.
Many people with social anxiety focus too much on their imperfections and mistakes. Take a moment to focus on your social achievements and truly, sincerely congratulate yourself on all of the hard work youve been doing.
Summary & Extra Resources
Social anxiety is excessive and persistent fear of what other people think of you.
And when it comes to the question of how to overcome social anxiety, the most important distinction to keep in mind is this:
Whatever caused your social anxiety originally is not necessarily the thing maintaining it now.
This means that in order to effectively overcome your social anxiety, you need to identify the habits in the present that are keeping your anxiety strongor even making it worseand work to eliminate them.
To review, here are the 10 tips I recommended to get you started:
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Taking A Different Perspective
Try to see things from this perspective remember a time when a friend or loved one was supportive of you. Remember when they told you Youre awesome! whenever you were having doubts before an interview? Or Youre so much better than him! after a breakup? They meant every word, so dont forget- many people like, love, and appreciate you for being you. Not everyone will like you, and thats ok. But some people are going to think youre freakin awesome, and its worth being you just for them.
Heres another thing Ive noticed about social anxiety. Sometimes people think youre being rude and unfriendly. I used to be thought of as standoffish when the reality was I was just shy.
I know that might be hard to hear especially as you may desperately want friends or you think of yourself as a friendly person- but its true. When youre shy, a person of few words, or subdued this can send a message to the other person that youre not interested in them. This might sound like strange advice, but if you have social anxiety, its important that your voice sounds friendly. Smile. Give some energy to your voice rather than allowing your voice to be monotone or trail off. People like friendly people and people who like them so try to be your best energy in conversations .
Work With Your Strengths
In order to get yourself out of a social anxiety rut, you don’t need to have an end goal of becoming a stand-up comedian or accomplished concert pianist.
If you love books, maybe joining a book club or even leading a book club would be your thing. Think about your interests and talents, and how you can bring more sociability into those areas in your life.
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Show Genuine Interest In Other People
Think about the people you enjoy the most. Do they brag about their accomplishments or are they interested in what’s going on with you? Chances are, it’s the latter. Horn uses three questions to get people talking about themselves:
- What are you most excited about?
- What are you struggling with at the moment?
- What’s next?
The subject matter can be about business or life, just as long as you’re getting at the things that are most important to whomever you’re interacting with. “You give them a chance to talk about something that they probably don’t get to talk about very often but that’s very real for them,” he says. “And you also give yourself a relevant opportunity to contribute your own story–potentially some insight or advice that you might have.”
Check In With Yourself
When youre out in public and start feeling anxious, its easy to spiral and become fixated on everything that appears to be going wrong, even if youre the only one feeling that way. In the moment, you need to focus outside of yourself and remind yourself, This is probably anxiety. I cant read their mind. I do not know what theyre actually thinking of me, Dr. Potter says.
This is easier said than done, of course, so she suggests using a technique called five senses that can help you regain perspective and stay in the moment. Do a check-in with yourself of all of your five senses to get yourself more externally focused. Distract yourself from unpleasant internal sensations and negative thoughts, says Dr. Potter. Then you can try to refocus on: What are they actually saying to me? What else is going on right now? What can I see? What can I hear? What can I feel?
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Surround Yourself With Positive People
If at all possible, try to spend more time with positive people people who love you, believe in you, and see the beauty in who you are despite your social anxiety.
Spending time with these people will make you feel good and help you to weather any rough times as you try to make changes in your life.