Avoiding social situations is a short-term solution for coping with Social Anxiety. How do we face our fears and break the cycle? Follow these tips to lowering your social anxiety:

No one particularly enjoys speaking in front of a large crowd of people. Maybe even the thought of going to a job interview, or meeting a new person creates feelings of anxiety, tension, or discomfort. It is totally normal to have nerves when all eyes are on you. Unfortunately, when it comes to social anxiety, many folks feel this intensity of anxiety, if not more, when performing simple tasks, such as going to the grocery store, or walking into the coffee shop.

Signs of Social Anxiety

Social anxiety goes far beyond feeling shy, or introverted. The fear of any kind of social situation is crippling, and often very frustrating to possess. Whether you believe you may have social anxiety, or know someone close to you who does, the following symptoms outlined below may be signs:

  • Feeling overly judged by others, believing you are unworthy, or less than
  • Rehearsing what you desire to say in a social situation before speaking
  • Avoiding eye contact with others
  • Envisioning horribly embarrassing scenarios when leaving the home
  • Being unable to engage in activities alone
  • Experiencing heightened anxiety when speaking to others over the telephone, or when eating in front of others
  • Worrying that others may recognize how anxious you feel, or are behaving
  • Having a physical impact on your body when speaking to others, such as sweating, redness, increased heart rate, or shallowing breathing

You may find yourself feeling very comfortable with only a handful of people, and engaging in social interactions outside of your safe group may feel daunting and altogether impossible. However, avoiding social situations all together may only work for so long.

The cycle of anxiety can be very difficult to break. You may be aware of what might trigger an anxiety-producing situation that will bring about feelings of worry, fear, or a racing heart. In turn, you might experience avoidance, and believe that by avoiding the anxiety itself, the anxiety will go away. Common examples of what avoidance looks like are watching Netflix, using substances, or procrastinating on challenging tasks. Avoidance works well in the sense that it provides us with short-term relief from what was causing the anxious feelings, but the downside is, it is temporary and will only last for so long. The final part of the cycle of anxiety is long-term anxiety growth, meaning the fear that initially lead to the act of avoidance eventually worsens, and your symptoms of anxiety worsen, as well.

Tips to lowering your social anxiety

Now that we know avoiding social situations is only a short-term solution, how do we face our fears? What can we do to break the cycle of anxiety?

  1. Talk about it. Social anxiety can feel heavy, and isolating. By suppressing your fears and anxieties and keeping these all to yourself, you are only creating more anxiety as a result. Reach out to a friend, or family member who you can really trust, or feel very safe with. Anxiety is not a weakness, and there is no reason to feel shame when living with social anxiety.   
  2. You are not your thoughts. Anxiety does not have to be your reality. You may find yourself feeling overwhelmed and consumed by negative thoughts about yourself, others, and the world. Start talking back to these thoughts. Separate these thoughts out from who you are. Catch yourself the next time you call yourself stupid, or a loser, and start producing thoughts that either start to correct, or criticize that other way of thinking.
  3. Ground yourself. Social anxiety has a way of taking you out of the present moment. Whether this looks like you’re living in your head, the past, or the future, the one thing that is the hardest is to be in the here and now. Social anxiety often makes you question your own behavior and outward appearance, potentially creating a rapid heart rate and redness in your face during this process, and once again, taking you out of the present moment. The next time this happens, shift your attention toward your five sense and begin to notice your surroundings, what you see in front of you, what the clothes on your body feel like to touch, what sounds you hear, what smells are nearby, and what you are able to taste.
  4. Breathe. There are many different breathing exercises you may find resonate with you, but the end goal is all the same- slow down your breath to help control your anxiety. Slowing down your breath will ultimately slow down your overall heart rate, and slow down your anxious thoughts, too.
  5. Say yes. When it comes to social anxiety, you can get really good at saying no. Saying no provides that temporary relief outlined above in the cycle of anxiety. It is another way to engage in avoidance. To really challenge yourself, try saying yes to an invitation to a social outing that may feel out of your comfort zone. You can even start out by bringing a friend with you.

As hard as it is to remember, no one is perfect in this world. Making mistakes makes us human. Facing your fears in smaller steps ultimately breaks down social anxiety a little at a time, and allows for you to start working toward increasing your coping skills. Therapy can ultimately provide a safe space and assist in exploring more tools to lower symptoms of social anxiety.

Therapy can assist you in finding tools to lower your stress and anxiety, and can help you feel more in the driver’s seat when it comes to your anxiety.

Rachel Frank, MA, LMHC