Social anxiety refers to a person who finds social interactions very difficult. A person who has social anxiety will have problems reaching out, communicating, and interacting with others because of an overwhelming fear or anxiety.
Self Help Strategies
Self help methods have been found to be an effective way to overcome social anxiety and the effectiveness of many techniques has been demonstrated in research.
Change Thought Patterns
Unproductive thought patterns perpetuate the cycle of social anxiety. Identifying thought processes that fuel social anxiety is the first step in overcoming them and replacing them with productive thoughts.
Some examples of these types of thought patterns are:
- Catastrophizing - thinking that the worst scenario with dire consequences will always happen
- Internalizing External Events - thinking that everything is your fault when it might have a cause outside of you
- Jumping to Conclusions - assuming the worst when it might not be the case (such as thinking you must be an uninteresting person when another person yawns)
- Thinking in Extremes - thinking in terms of black and white with no shades of gray
- Shoulding and Musting - negatively thinking about yourself when the ideal doesn't work out, which puts unnecessary stress upon you
Usually thoughts where you think you're not good enough, you put yourself down, and statements that sound judgmental, such as "I sounded like such an idiot; I should never speak in public again," are extreme statements that are not true for anyone.
Once you have identified the unproductive thought pattern, write down in what situation you thought it and how you felt afterward. Writing down your thoughts and feelings helps your learning process.
Replace the thought with a positive one. If you do this together with other self help strategies, with practice, you can start identifying these thoughts and replacing them with new, positive ones.
Thoughts and Feelings
Thoughts and feelings are interconnected. If you think negatively about social situations or if you think negatively about how you act in social situations, you will feel negatively too.
People with social anxiety don't always have less social skills. They merely think they have less social skills.
This means that if you change your perception about yourself and recognize where your feelings come from (most likely a bad past experience), this is helpful in changing your extreme thoughts and feelings towards the positive.
Change Your Beliefs
It's not enough to change your thoughts and feelings. You need to change your beliefs about yourself. Usually, people with social anxiety have extreme negative thoughts and feelings toward themselves. However, these negative feelings do not match your real capabilities and potential. They are often distorted.
The Centre for Clinical Interventions has a series of modules for you to work through to help you challenge your belief system, your thoughts, and your feelings so you can learn to not be your own worst critic.
Deep, Slow Breathing
When you get stressed about social situations, your body has physiological reactions. Your breath rate increases and can make you feel lightheaded and dizzy.
If you concentrate on slowing down your breaths and breathing from your diaphragm, you can control your physical reactions. Also, the slower and deeper you breathe, the more relaxed you become.
Create an "Exposure Hierarchy"
To create an exposure hierarchy, you make a list of all the social situations that terrify you the most, such as public speaking, then work your way down to the social situations that terrify you the least or not at all. Rate all of these situations according to how terrifying they are, then work your way up from the bottom of the list.
For example, you might find that smiling at someone is less scary than saying hello, and you might find saying hello to someone less scary than starting a conversation. When you work on your list every day, you start with a smile. When you have mastered that, you can move on to saying hello to someone. Then when you feel comfortable saying hello, you can try a short conversation. Keep going until you've reached the top of the list.
Practice Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness meditation has been shown to be effective for the treatment of social anxiety. You can use some simple techniques to practice mindfulness meditation.
- Sit in a comfortable chair with your back straight and your hands placed on your legs.
- Begin by counting to five and inhaling your breath for the duration of the count. Exhale for a count of five.
- After three minutes, just observe your breathing. If your mind strays, simply lead it back to concentrating on your breathing process.
The combination of the deep breathing and training your mind to concentrate, you gain control over the anxiety as well as an improved outlook about yourself.
A study in the British Journal of Psychiatry found that people with social anxiety can experience relief simply by educating themselves. While they found that Internet-based self help programs coupled with therapy were effective, "unguided" internet learning (meaning doing an internet program on your own) yielded clinically significant results.
Practicing new ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving can take some time. Self help techniques, fortunately, have been proven in studies to be an effective way to help you overcome the symptoms of social anxiety.
However, there are some instances where you will need to reach out to a mental health professional. Seek help for social anxiety if you:
- Are having trouble implementing your strategies
- Are drinking to calm your nerves
- Are feeling depressed, lethargic, or despondent
- Are feeling anxiety almost all the time
These feelings could be an indication that you have other issues that need to be addressed beyond social anxiety. Often, anxiety disorder and depression go hand in hand, and people with either or both might be more susceptible to substance abuse.
If you feel that you have other issues going on, a mental help professional will be able to help you discover what issues you have going on and help you overcome them.