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For those of you who experience social anxiety, you know firsthand the isolation that follows. Being uncomfortable at social events, parties, and other gatherings, can affect your friendships or intimate relationships.
And relationships, both platonic and romantic, are one of the pillars of happiness. In fact, research has shown that positive relationships could be the single most determining factor to happiness.
So, having social anxiety can disrupt much more than your social life. Fortunately, you don’t have to suffer for a lifetime because there are many ways to treat the disorder.
One way of reducing anxiety is the habit of mindfulness. If you're interested to learn more, check out the book Declutter Your Mind that teaches you several mindfulness techniques to make space for happiness and peace in your life.
Before providing ways on how to deal with social anxiety, let us explore the definition of this disorder.
What is Social Anxiety?
Social anxiety disorder is a strong fear of being judged, watched, or critically evaluated during a social situation. It is the third most common mental health disorder in America.
People suffering from this disorder worry that others will notice their anxiety. This can include blushing, fumbling over words, or having shaky hands.
If the disorder is not treated, it can impede with your everyday life. Graduating college, applying for a job, building friendships and finding a life partner can be difficult to impossible.
So, what options are there for people struggling with this disorder?
Thankfully, there are many effective treatments available. Help is within your reach. Here are 6 ways you can deal with and overcome social anxiety in any situation.
6 Ways to Overcome Social Anxiety
1. Work with a Therapist Who Specializes in CBT
One of the most effective approaches on how to deal with social anxiety is Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
It has also been the most studied method, outside of pharmacology, to treat social anxiety. Many scientific studies prove the effectiveness of this treatment.
CBT helps you change thinking patterns that are faulty or unhelpful. The strategies involved in CBT can relieve the unwanted symptoms of social anxiety, so you can lead a happier life.
Here are some examples of strategies used in CBT.
- Learn to recognize that unhelpful thoughts create problems, and then learn how to reevaluate those thoughts.
- Learn how to apply problem-solving skills when facing difficult situations.
- Learn how to build confidence in your abilities.
After several sessions of CBT treatment, a therapist will teach you ways to apply these strategies in your life, such as:
- Facing your fear rather than avoiding it.
- Role playing to prepare for interactions with other people.
- Learning to calm your mind and relax your body.
In the long-term, CBT can be effective because you learn how to be your own therapist. Various in-session and take home exercises teach you coping skills that you can apply throughout your life.
Here are several CBT techniques used in the treatment of social anxiety disorder.
- Exposure techniques
- Relaxation training
- Social skills training
Exposure techniques help patients face their fears head on. Through exposure and psychological engagement, patients undergo a process to help reduce their fear.
To start, the therapist and patient create a list of anxiety-provoking situations. Each situation gets ranked.
Then the therapist works on the least feared situation with the patient. When the lesser feared situation becomes mastered, the patient moves on to the more difficult ones.
Some methods used to reduce the anxiety-provoking situation include role playing, live confrontation, or visualization.
In each method, the patient engages with the situation until the anxiety starts to diminish.
During relaxation training, the therapist teaches the patient how to relax through various exercises with different muscle groups. Patients start by tensing a specific muscle for 5 to 10 seconds, and then allow the muscle to relax.
By observing both tension and relaxation, patients can recall the pleasant feelings of relaxation, like warmth and heaviness.
When anxiety arises, patients can identify where tension is being stored, and then relax those muscles.
Social Skills Training
The tools taught during social skills training include therapist modeling, corrective feedback, behavioral rehearsal, and social reinforcement.
Many have found this technique helpful because of the training, exposure, and cognitive elements. Training involves the repetitious practice of feared social behaviors.
During the exposure element, the patient confronts their fears. And the cognitive element involves corrective feedback of the patient’s social behavior.
To find a local therapist specializing in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, search here.
Links to Related Articles & Research
- [PDF] Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Social anxiety Disorder: Current Status And Future Directions
- Cognitive behavioral therapy in the treatment of social phobia
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Social Anxiety Disorder: Supporting Evidence and Future Directions
- What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?
2. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness can be a powerful tool in coping with and overcoming social anxiety.
Being mindful helps you detach from your thoughts and feelings. Rather than seeing yourself as those thoughts and feelings, you learn to view them as an observer.
You allow anxious thoughts and feelings to pass, instead of letting them become stuck.
Furthermore, mindfulness activates the prefrontal cortex of the brain. This activation helps control the emotional brain structures. It can also help reduce or prevent anxiety symptoms.
After practicing mindfulness for a while, it’s possible that your brain can rewire itself. Meaning, the experience of being mindful can become more natural.
Tips for Practicing Mindfulness:
- Remember that anxieties and fears in social settings, will come and go. They are only temporary, they won’t last forever.
- If you are shy and introverted, embrace those qualities, rather than fighting them. Getting nervous in social situations is OK. Learning to accept who you are and appreciating yourself can be very liberating.
- View the experience in its entirety. Rather than scrutinizing your own actions, take in all your surroundings, the conversations, the people around you. Focus on the whole.
- Realize that you’re not alone; about 7% of the U.S. population has social anxiety.
- Develop compassion for yourself. Having social anxiety doesn’t lessen your self-worth.
Key Points to Remember
- Try not to stop any unwanted and stressful thoughts.
- By trying to silence or stop thoughts, it only leads to more of those kind of unwanted thoughts.
- Gently place those thoughts in the background, as if they are background music. Don’t give them life.
- Direct your attention to what’s happening outside of yourself.
When you find yourself distracted by unhelpful thoughts, try saying something like “be mindful, “stay present,” or “breathe.”
An affirmation, or saying, can help bring you back to the current conversation or situation.
Creating a mindfulness habit takes practice. If you’d like to learn how to incorporate mindfulness into your life, then take a few minutes to watch this video:
Links to Related Articles & Research
- 71 Mindfulness Exercises for Living in the Present Moment
- LOST IN THOUGHT (part 1): MINDFULNESS FOR SOCIAL ANXIETY
- Treating Social Anxiety with Meditation and Mindfulness Training
- Blogs to Learn Mindfulness Ideas
- Mindfulness Meditation Training and Self-Referential Processing in Social Anxiety Disorder: Behavioral and Neural Effects
- Mindfulness-Based Therapy for Social Anxiety Disorder
- Living With Social Anxiety Disorder
3. Bring Awareness to Your Breath
When we deal with stress it not only affects our mood, it also affects our breathing. Luckily, we can learn to control our breathing to help us feel calm and relaxed.
More so, learning how to breathe properly can prevent symptoms brought on from social anxiety. Many studies have shown how deep breathing can relieve physiological tension caused by social anxiety.
When you over breathe, there is less carbon dioxide than oxygen in your body. The body then attempts to maintain balance, to prevent the following symptoms from occurring.
- Shortness of breath
- Blurred vision
- Increased heart rate
- Numbness or tingling in the extremities
- Stiffness in the muscles
- Cold clammy hands
- Yawning or sighing often
- Feeling hot, sweaty or flushed
- Exhausted and fatigued
Types of Breathing
There are two general types of breathing – chest and stomach breathing. When you experience anxiety often, you’re most likely breathing from your chest.
Breathing from your chest results in shallow, irregular and rapid breaths.
During feelings of anxiousness, you may hold your breath, have shortness of breath, or fear that you’ll faint.
But, when you breathe from your stomach, the breath is calm and rhythmic. As such, anxiety is not an issue.
Watch a newborn baby sleep. You’ll notice their stomach rising and falling with each breath. This is how we should breath as adults.
Are You a Chest or Stomach Breather?
- See how you breathe by completing this breathing exercise.
- Sit up straight or lay down on the floor or a yoga mat.
- Place one hand on your stomach, right above your belly button.
- Place the other hand right below your collarbones.
- Take a deep inhale.
- Which hand moved the most?
- Did you breathe in through your nose or mouth?
If the hand laying on your stomach moved the most, you likely inhaled through your nose. And you created this breath using your stomach. Breathing this way can keep your anxiety at bay.
If you are a chest breather, practice this simple stomach breathing exercise to help you stay calm.
- As before, you can sit with your back straight or lay down in a comfortable position. Make sure to keep your entire body relaxed.
- Place one hand on your stomach and the other hand on your chest.
- Exhale all the remaining breath from your lungs.
- On your inhale, take a deep breath through your nose for a count of four seconds.
- The hand placed on your stomach should rise and the hand on your chest shouldn’t move very much.
- Then, hold your breath in for two seconds.
- After the two seconds, exhale through your mouth for a count of six seconds. Exhale as much air out as possible.
- During your exhale, the hand on your stomach should move. The hand on your chest should only move a little.
Continue this breathing pattern for a few minutes, or until you feel relaxed.
As a yoga teacher and student, I constantly pay attention to my breath. When I’m feeling anxious, I immediately notice how constricted and labored my breath feels.
So, I follow the advice I am giving you. I go back to stomach breathing and do several breathing exercises until I am calm.
4. Adopt a Healthy Lifestyle
The food we eat, the drinks we consume, and the thoughts we have can impact our anxiety levels.
Research suggests that a poor lifestyle can impact your ability to manage anxiety symptoms. It can also hurt your self-confidence.
So, adopting a healthy lifestyle is one way to deal with social anxiety. By making a few of the following changes, you can begin to see improvements in your health and anxiety levels.
- Reduce or stay away from caffeine. Drinks that contain caffeine, such as coffee, tea, soda, and energy drinks are stimulating. As such, they can increase your anxiety symptoms.
- Become more active. A sedentary lifestyle can contribute to your anxiety levels. So, making physical activity a priority is very important. To start, make a commitment to move your body at least 30 minutes a day. Some of us hate exercising. Luckily, there are many fun ways to move your body without having to visit the gym. Walking is a great way to get fresh air, sunlight, take it nature, and get your heart pumping. Or you can turn on some music and start dancing.
- Consume more foods with omega-3 fats. Omega-3 fatty acids can improve your mood, support brain health, and reduce anxiety symptoms. Some of the best sources of omega-3’s are: salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, cod liver oil, ghee, chia seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts and egg yolks.
- Limit your consumption of alcohol. It can be very tempting to drink before a social event to feel relaxed. Yet, alcohol can increase the chance of having an anxiety attack.
- Quit smoking. Nicotine in cigarettes is a powerful stimulant. Over time, smoking can actually lead to higher levels of anxiety. If you’ve thought about quitting, here are some resources that can help you.
- Get quality sleep. Being sleep deprived can make you vulnerable to anxiety. Getting quality sleep each night will help level your anxiety in social settings.
5. Consider Meditation
Meditation techniques have been described by many practictioners as effortless and recharging for the mind and body. It can help create a more positive state of mind.
Many studies have been conducted on meditation techniques. Results show they can be an effective tool for reducing anxiety and improving brain function.
One study with young adults as the participants, found that Meditation resulted in improved mental health. The most remarkable improvements were in the areas of anxiety.
In another study, researchers suggest TM is more effective for the treatment of social anxiety than other types of meditation. This suggestion followed the observance of EEG changes and certain physiological findings.
I’m always looking for ways to create more inner peace. Meditation is definitely at the core of my regimen.
Since I’ve never been a fan of crowds or socializing in big groups, I now use meditation as preparation.
Science supports Transcendental Meditation as a technique for how to deal with social anxiety. But, in my personal experience, finding a technique that calls to you can also have benefit.
So, if TM doesn't sit right, don't give up on meditation all together. Try a meditation app, go to a meditation meetup, or buy an affordable meditation course on Udemy.
Calming the mind is one of the most powerful modalities for any ailment, and in particular social anxiety.
Links to Related Articles & Research
6. Use Visualization Techniques
Visualization is a cognitive tool used in psychological practice to mentally picture an action, an outcome, or even help the body relax.
As described by Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a Harvard professor, “a vision is not just a picture of what could be; it is an appeal to our better selves, a call to become something more.” She further states that visualization can help control an uncontrollable situation.
If you have social anxiety, a therapist will use visualization to help you imagine a calm and comforting place. When you become anxious in a social situation, recall that image to help curb your anxiety.
Another visualization option, is to image a social gathering you’ll be attending before it takes place. During your visualization, imagine what you want to happen. Here is a step-by-step example.
How to Visualize:
- To start, find a place that’s quiet and comfortable.
- Become as relaxed as you can.
- Practice some deep breathing exercises.
- Gently close your eyes and notice the sounds around you.
- Keep breathing slowly and deeply.
- Imagine the upcoming social event that you’re planning to attend.
- Visualize the entire event, include as many details as possible.
- Begin the visualization at the very beginning, when you are getting ready.
- See the clothes you are picking out, the way you are styling your hair.
- See yourself in the outfit you selected and smiling at how good you feel.
- Image arriving at the event and then notice everything around you. Including the colors, smells, sounds, and other people who will be there.
- Make the visualization real and vivid in your mind.
Continue to visualize each day up until the event. Repeat it again and again. Soon, the process will become natural. You’ll start to remove any doubts or fears by reinforcing a positive result.
- Visualize every situation in a positive light.
- Picture yourself smiling, calm and relaxed. Place this image in your mind and see it over and over again.
- Don’t allow negative thoughts in, let them pass if they start to form and continue to visualize positive, helpful thoughts.
- Enjoy the process of visualizing.
- Make your visualizations vivid; see colors and hear sounds.
- Hear laughter, see yourself smiling and happy.
- Keep visualizing, make it part of your day. Become great at visualizing positive experiences and social situations.
Once you understand the detrimental effects of negative thoughts, you become more aware and can shift those thoughts to positive visualizations.
Final Thoughts on Overcoming Social Anxiety
In the words of Woodrow T. Wilson, “Friendship is the only cement that will ever hold the world together.” At various points in my life, I have experienced the truth and realness behind this quote.
Friends and life partners are there during the most challenging times in our lives. Even when we feel on the verge of breaking, they somehow manage to hold us together. And on the flip side, they make all the happier moments in our life much brighter.
Our relationships make us feel empowered, and we are happier people because of them.
Social anxiety removes us from this blessing. It can even cripple our happiness in the long term if we don’t seek the treatment we need.
By exploring one of these six authentic ways to deal with social anxiety, you can return to your real self. Return to your relationships, achieve your full potential, and be happy once more!
If you want to read some encouraging words to help deal with your social anxiety, check out these posts:
- 165 Anxiety Quotes to Keep You Calm When You Feel Stressed Out
- 45 Positive Affirmations for Anxiety Relief and Stress Reduction
- 41 Bible Verses about Living with Anxiety & Fear
Lastly, if you're interested to learn mindfulness techniques for reducing anxiety and reclaiming happiness, I recommend you check out Declutter Your Mind that features specific mindfulness activities that promote peace of mind and make you happier.
Finally, if you want a simple way to reduce your stress and anxiety, then try writing these 35 mindfulness journaling prompts to live more in the present moment.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Allie Murphy is an avid traveler, seeker of the unknown, and lover of paperback books. She loves spending time with her beloved pup and fiance. When she’s not practicing her sun salutations, she’s writing poetry and enjoying her favorite drink, masala chai.