It’s natural to sometimes feel nervous in social situations, but social anxiety is more than just feeling shy. Social anxiety, or social phobia, can be so severe that it’s almost crippling. It can prevent you from moving ahead in your career or having successful relationships.
Social anxiety can have both emotional and physical symptoms.
Emotional symptoms might include:
- Intense feelings of fear when interacting with people you don’t know
- Fear that you’ll be judged by others
- Difficulty making eye contact
- Worrying about doing something that might be embarrassing or humiliating
Physical symptoms of social anxiety often include:
- A rapid heartbeat
- Muscle tension
Do you experience any of these symptoms when you are in social situations, or do you find yourself trying to avoid situations in an attempt to escape feelings of nervousness or inadequacy?
Try some of these techniques to cope:
1. Learn to control your breathing. When people get nervous, it’s very common for their breathing and heart rate to increase. Consider trying this breathing exercise:
- Find a comfortable chair to sit in. With your shoulders relaxed and your back straight, place one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest.
- Take a slow, deep breath in through your nose and hold it for several seconds. When you breathe deeply the hand on your chest will move very little, while the hand on your stomach rises.
- Exhale slowly, letting the breath out of your mouth and pushing out as much air as you can.
- Repeat this process until your heart rate drops and feelings of nervousness subside.
2. Challenge negative thoughts. Learn to recognize when negative thoughts are creeping up. Think things through logically and avoid giving into overly critical thoughts.
- For example, perhaps you get very nervous when meeting someone new. You might think that you’ll look foolish or say something to humiliate yourself.
- When this happens, stop and think it through logically. If you say “hello” to someone and ask them a few questions to get to know them, are they really going to think that’s foolish? People will probably find you articulate and intelligent.
- Think about what you want to say to someone before you say it.
3. Learn to face your fears. Putting yourself in a social situation forces you to deal with your anxiety and allows you to find ways to cope.
- For example, consider doing some volunteer work. Although you’d be working side-by-side with strangers, they’d be like-minded individuals with a common goal. This would make it easier to interact with them.
4. Make some positive lifestyle changes. Making certain lifestyle changes can help you deal with anxiety more effectively. Check out these examples:
- Quit smoking. Not only is smoking very dangerous to your overall health, but the nicotine in cigarette smoke is a stimulant that can increase anxiety.
- Limit your caffeine intake. Caffeine is also a stimulant. Avoid drinking too much coffee, soda, or energy drinks to help you keep your anxiety under control.
- Monitor the amount of alcohol you drink. Many people like to have a drink to help calm their nerves before entering a social situation. However, alcohol can actually increase the risk of an anxiety attack.
5. Seek professional help. If you’ve tried these strategies, but you’re still having issues with anxiety, it may be time to see a therapist or medical doctor. This is especially true if your anxiety is having a negative impact on your life.
- A therapist can give you additional strategies for dealing with anxiety and a doctor can prescribe medication that can help.
For many people, the way to deal with social anxiety is to simply avoid situations that make them anxious. However, this can prevent you from going after the job you want, dating someone you’re attracted to, or making new friends. Instead, find ways to cope with your anxiety so you can live a happy and fulfilling life.