Do you constantly get intense fear whenever you find yourself in a social situation? Do you have this constant worry that you will do or say something that will embarrass you? By social situations, I am referring to instances such as; holding conversations with new people at an event, taking part in class presentations, going for job interviews, or even eating at a restaurant all by yourself.
If your answer to the questions above is yes, then you should find comfort in the fact that you're not alone because this happens to the best of us. Social anxiety disorder aka social phobia is outlined in the Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.) as one of the types of anxiety disorders.
In this article, we are going to explore effective self-help tips on how to deal with social anxiety.
1. Stop and take deep, slow breaths
With social anxiety, you tend to experience shortness of breath and hyperventilation due to stimulation of the fight-or-flight response. To counter this effect, you should take deep, conscious breaths. Dr. Andrew Weil recommends the 4-7-8 breathing technique which involves;
Closing your mouth and inhaling through your nose up to the mental count of 4.
Holding your breath up to the mental count of 7
Exhaling through your mouth by making a whoosh sound, up to the mental count of 8
This technique has been proven to be effective in bringing about a calming effect. Find more about it here.
2. Get out of your head and focus on the people around you
Social anxiety is a vicious cycle of fear of judgement, overthinking about the fear, and being too self-conscious. You should take a pause and try to engage the people around you, to distract yourself from your counterproductive thoughts.
Learn more about tips to stop overthinking here.
3. Affirm yourself
Whenever you feel anxious, take a moment and remind yourself of the following;
The areas you excel in and your achievements
Your experience with a similar situation in the past and how you overcame it
Now go ahead and recite words of affirmation in your head as you cheer yourself up and remind yourself how powerful you are.
4. Incorporate physical activity into your daily routine
Physical activity has proven beneficial in preventing and modifying most diseases. This also applies to social anxiety, as outlined in a review done by Aaron Kandola and colleagues. Their findings indicated that physical activity reduced the symptoms of anxiety and conferred better outcomes.
You should strive to engage in physical activity for at least 30 minutes every day. Examples of physical activities include;
Taking a walk
Going to the gym
5. Limit your caffeine intake
Caffeine is a stimulant that worsens your anxiety symptoms. Gradually reduce your caffeine intake and if possible, cut it out entirely. Here’s a list of some of the most common sources of caffeine;
Dealing with social anxiety is no mean feat, but with self-help techniques coupled with medical intervention, the journey becomes easier. Always remember to adopt healthy living practices, practice self-love and kindness as you undertake your healing journey.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Anxiety disorders. In Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.).
Kandola, A., Vancampfort, D., Herring, M. et al. Moving to Beat Anxiety: Epidemiology and Therapeutic Issues with Physical Activity for Anxiety. Curr Psychiatry Rep 20, 63 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11920-018-0923-x