I am certain, at some point in time, everyone has felt anxious or flustered in a social situation. However, if you have ever been diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD), then this is probably a recurring nightmare for you. This was something I experienced before I was diagnosed.
If the idea of interacting with other people on any level frightens you, it can often seem like you are doomed to experience this forever. However, this doesn’t have to be the case. Several tactics can help improve your situation drastically. Here are the 6 strategies that I found to be most effective.
1. Getting Help
Even when social anxiety is visibly affecting your life and crushing your dreams, it can be difficult to reach out and get help. This is something that I faced when I was younger. Even at the worst point of my SAD, I still couldn’t make an appointment with a doctor. Perhaps it was a combination of the stigma attached to mental illness as well as my perceived notion that I couldn’t be helped.
Eventually, though, I did get professional help – guided by my family. And I can honestly say that it was the best thing for me. It was in therapy that I learned various Cognitive Behavioral techniques that allowed me to overcome many of my fears and move on with my life. So, the first step that you should take is to reach out to a mental health professional.
2. Talk About Your Diagnosis
As anyone with a mental illness diagnosis will agree, telling others about your condition can be daunting. Once again, it is mostly due to the stigma attached to these labels. However, talking about your social anxiety is actually a good thing.
For one thing, it tells your friends and family that there is a reason you have trouble with social situations. Once they are aware that there is a medical diagnosis behind your behavior, they may find it easier to accept. Not to mention, they can be instrumental in your treatment process as well.
3. Learn Deep Breathing Techniques
Perhaps you may have realized that when you start to feel anxious, the first thing that happens is your breathing speeds up. Short, shallow breaths are all-too-common with disorders like this. This, however, isn’t a good thing as it can often cause you to feel more upset. It can also lead to a full-blown anxiety attack.
So, to avoid such situations, you should start practicing your deep breathing. It is important to do this before you get anxious as it does take a while to get used to it. Once you have the strategy down, it becomes easier to focus on your breathing in difficult situations.
Here is what you can do:
Step 1: Place your hand on your stomach and breathe in. If you are breathing deeply enough, then you should be able to feel your stomach move upwards. If it is only your chest that moves, you are breathing in too shallowly.
Step 2: Follow the 4-7-8 breathing method. Inhale for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, and then release it for 8 seconds.
Step 3: Repeat this for about three to four minutes.
Deep breathing is so effective because it does more than help you breathe normally again. When you are focused on your breathing and nothing else, it becomes a lot easier to calm yourself down.
4. Interrupt Your Negative Thoughts
One of the biggest issues with social anxiety is a stream of never-ending negative thoughts. This becomes even more evident when you are in the presence of others. Every look on their face and every gesture can seem like it is directed at you. When you have social anxiety, it is easy to see someone raise an eyebrow in your direction and immediately think, “Oh, he thinks I’m stupid!”
Well, this internal negative monologue isn’t going to get you anywhere so it is important to focus on changing it. The first thing you will need to do is to identify when such thoughts are going through your head. Then, stop and examine them for a moment. Try to figure out if what you are saying is reasonable or if you are overreacting to the situation.
Take the above example, for instance. Why would that person be raising their eyebrow? Is it possible that they were impressed by what you said? Even if they are having a negative reaction, that is beyond your control. Don’t worry about what you can’t control and focus on what you can, instead.
5. Try an Emotional Support Animal
Social anxiety can make it difficult for you to form relationships with others. Thus, it is natural to feel lonely sometimes. This feeling is worsened when you are going through a particularly rough patch. In times such as these, an emotional support animal can really help ease your mood.
Unlike traditional service animals, emotional support pets aren’t there to help you with a physical disability. Instead, they are there to give you a sense of calmness and peace of mind when you are at a low point. They also make a really good buddy! While your ESA can be anything that you would like, make sure to get the proper certification so that you can take your furry friend along with you wherever you go.
6. Work On Step-by-Step Exposure
Last but certainly not least, it is the exposure that is going to help alleviate your social anxiety issues. At the end of the day, you won’t get better if you hide from your fears. To do this, start by making a list of all the things you are scared to do in social situations.
At the very top, place the items that scare you to a lesser degree. For example, placing an order in a restaurant. Then, gradually move your way down to the significant things. It is up to you to decide what these should be.
There is no denying that this will be a tricky thing to do, but it is for the best. As you overcome each obstacle, you will realize that you do have it in you to keep your social anxiety in check. This will make all future situations and interactions a great deal easier.
These are the most effective ways that you can curb your social anxiety. Initially, you might have some difficulty following these tactics but in the end, they will help lead you in the right direction.