4 Simple Tips to Manage Social Anxiety
Anxiety has many faces, and one of its ugliest ones is social anxiety. This condition forces us into isolation and robs us of the benefits of active social life. In fact, social anxiety can also ruin our professional life. When you avoid going to meetings because you’re too afraid that others will criticize your ideas, or you can’t muster the courage to hold a product presentation, chances are you might lose your job.
According to a recent report released by The World Health Organization, worldwide, that are 264 million people living with anxiety disorders. Furthermore, in the U.S. alone around 15 million adults are living with social anxiety.
Over the last few decades, this subject has received a lot of attention from the scientific community. Both researchers and mental health professionals have studied anxiety disorders extensively in hopes of developing new ways to help people cope with this ever-growing problem.
Anxiety Isn’t Something You Can ‘Cure’
In essence, anxiety is a perfectly normal reaction. This ‘prehistoric’ mechanism has helped our ancestors stay clear of potential dangers. Nowadays, anxiety can prompt us to avoid not just physical harm but emotional harm as well.
When you believe you’re at risk of being criticized or humiliated the first thing you might experience is a visceral sensation of fear that ‘tells’ you to back out of the situation. As a result, you miss out on what could have been a pleasant night out, a successful presentation, or whatever social situation your mind labels as threatening.
But the same mechanism prompts you to avoid a dark alleyway where you could be assaulted or mugged. It’s also anxiety that prevents you from making risky financial investments or driving your car at 100 mph through a residential area.
In other words, anxiety in itself is not a disease, but an alarm system. And like any other alarm systems, it could be oversensitive to specific stimuli.
Since this mechanism is deeply embedded in our brain – there are specific brain structures responsible for ‘primal’ emotions such as fear – it’s impossible to eliminate it altogether. But you can tweak and adjust it so that it doesn’t ruin your job and social life.
Long story short, you don’t cure anxiety, you learn to manage it.
What Is Social Anxiety?
Social anxiety disorder is a mental health problem that involves an irrational fear of situations and activities where individuals think others will evaluate their performance, notice their shortcomings, and criticize their flaws.
Those who struggle with social anxiety feel uncertain, tensed, restless, or even terrified in specific social contexts (specific form) or most social contexts (generalized form).
For those who struggle with this condition, activities such as hanging out at a new restaurant, giving a presentation at work, or going on dates can pose serious difficulties. In its severe form, social anxiety can even make shopping for groceries seem like an impossible task.
But its most common form is perhaps the fear of public speaking. In fact, a 2012 study revealed that public speaking is more feared than death. In the words of Jerry Seinfeld:
“If you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
To manage social anxiety, first, you must zero-in on the beliefs you hold about yourself, others, and the world in general. You must challenge the way you interpret criticism, negative feedback, and
Here’s How You Can Manage Social Anxiety:
1. Challenge your beliefs
As a rule of thumb, it’s not the situation that makes you feel anxious but the way you interpret it. In other words, social anxiety is the result of our catastrophic interpretations, irrational beliefs, and worry-filled thoughts.
What if they criticize me?
What if they think my ideas are stupid?
What if I make a mistake and they laugh at me?
But what if they don’t? What if your presentation turns out to be ok? What if the criticism that scares you to death is, in fact, a piece of constructive feedback?
And if they do ridicule you, is that the worst thing that could happen? Is it worth sacrificing valuable networking opportunities, to remain in your comfort zone?
Over the last decades, meditation has gained a lot of popularity. From reducing anxiety and stress to boosting our immune system and helping us sleep better, this practice seems to have a positive impact on our physical and mental health.
A study published in Behavior Research and Therapy revealed that a mix of cognitive-behavioral group therapy and mindfulness meditation could be an ideal option for those who struggle with social anxiety.
By helping us focus on the present moment – and set aside any worries that might ruin our mood – mindfulness meditation can help us deal with social situations better.
Luckily, the Internet is bristling with videos, blogs, and apps on how to meditate and develop a mindful attitude that will keep anxiety in check.
3. Get excited
In an experiment conducted almost five years ago, Alison Wood Brooks from Harvard Business School discovered that reframing anxiety as excitement could help us deal with public speaking situations better.
By replacing “I am anxious” with “I am excited,” participants were able to manage pre-performance anxiety and achieve better outcomes at tasks such as karaoke singing and public speaking.
Next time you’re in a social context that makes you feel anxious, try telling yourself “I am excited.”
4. Take a leap of faith
Most mental health experts agree that exposure therapy is hands down the most effective strategy against not only social anxiety but specific phobias as well.
Start by making a list of all the social contexts that trigger your anxiety. Make sure to rate each situation on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the least frightening situation and 10 being the most frightening situation.
After making a list, use your imagination to place yourself in each one of those situations. It’s essential to remain in that scenario long enough for your anxiety to drop. It’s called in vitro exposure, and it should prepare you for the ‘real’ exposure exercise.
Once you’ve placed yourself (mentally) in all those situations – and realized that anxiety is not that impossible to cope with – it’s time for in vivo exposure. Choose a situation from the list (perhaps you can start with a 5) and take a leap of faith.
In the end, the best way to deal with anxiety is by facing it head-on.
Professional support is often required to help face mental health challenges such as anxiety disorder. If you feel that you need help, organisations such as Counselling in Melbourne can offer services to assist your recovery. To connect with a psychologist or counsellor, visit www.counsellinginmelbourne.com.au.
By Greg Redmond, Director Counselling in Melbourne, 2018
This article is for general educational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioural problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional
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