Everyone struggles with social anxiety from time to time. We don’t like to be in uncomfortable situations in which we are forced to interact with people we may otherwise not interact with. Weddings, parties, lunches, and neighborhood barbecues can all make us feel a bit apprehensive. We typically tend to calm down once we arrive and discover that the anticipation of an event is not as bad as the reality. Yet, when social anxiety becomes a regular part of your life and prevents you from doing things you love, it’s time to seek help. Here’s some insight into social anxiety along with best practices to overcome it.
Understanding Social Anxiety and the Brain
Social anxiety is not just an imagined phenomenon that only impacts those who are “shy.” Studies show that people with social anxiety experience a certain amount of hyperactivity in the part of the brain, which is referred to as the amygdala. The amygdala is associated with the fight of flight syndrome, which occurs when we perceive a threat. This forces the body to release cortisol and adrenaline, which results in feelings of panic and fear.
While the physiological effects of social anxiety are real, the perception of a situation is of our own making. The fight or flight phenomenon is meant for real physical threats, such as a robbery or car accident. It is our body’s way to help us survive in dire situations, not when you are going to lunch with an old friend.
Social anxiety has many different causes. Family history, trauma, or memories of feeling uncomfortable are all factors that contribute to social anxiety. It is true that many with social anxiety tend to be on the introverted side, but not always. Extroverted individuals begin experiencing social anxiety after a traumatic situation or series of events that lead one to believe a situation may be fearful. What-if thinking and negative self-dialogue contribute to this fear, along with the fear of embarrassing oneself. This may lead a person to stop attending social events, which creates more symptoms of anxiety and even depression.
Best Practices to Overcome Social Anxiety
Here are some best practices to overcome social anxiety –
· Know Your Triggers – Know what is making you nervous and why you feel that way. This will help prepare you for the next social situation.
· Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway – The only fear is fear itself. Once we go through the symptoms of panic and survive a social situation, it provides the confidence we need to do it again next time.
· Remember What’s Valuable – Maintaining friendships and experiencing life to the fullest are valuable. You deserve to overcome your social anxiety.
· Practice Meditation – Meditation before a social event will help you be present and stay in the current moment. It will also help get you out of the “what-if” catastrophic way of thinking.
· Focus on the Positives – Social events exist for a reason – to have fun. Don’t worry so much about what you are going to say or how you are going to handle a situation. Find one or two people to mingle with and focus on the conversation rather than your feelings.
· Consider Honesty – Many times, our social anxiety stems from feeling we have to hide it. Consider telling your close friends and family about your anxiety so they understand why you are uncomfortable at social events. This will help take the pressure off of you to “perform.”
· Use the 5 Minute Rule – Choose to stay for just 5 more minutes. Continue doing this until you can no longer bear staying. Before you realize it, you will have stayed an hour or two. And next time, you won’t have to count the clock.
· Make an Exit Plan – So much of social anxiety is about feeling out of control. Find ways to remain in control when you are overcoming your fears. Drive yourself, meet for a certain length of time, and leave when you want to leave.
· Consider Therapy – Therapy can provide tools to lessen the symptoms of social anxiety so you can do the things you love.
Do you struggle with social anxiety? If so, please contact Straight Talk Counseling at 714-828-2000 or visit our website at straighttalkcounseling.org. One of our professional counselors will be happy to speak with you.