How to Cope with Social Anxiety
Social anxiety is a pervasive and often debilitating feeling that you’re being judged by other people. You might fear public speaking or being in a group, and your stomach may churn and heart beat faster if you’re around people who seem intimidating. It can be hard to know what to do about this, but here are some tips on how to cope with social anxiety:
Think realistically about your anxiety.
The first step to coping with social anxiety is to understand that it's a real thing, just like any other medical condition. It may feel like your fault or something you can control, but the truth is that social anxiety is often the result of an imbalance in your brain chemistry. It's not something you can stop being anxious about just because you want to—you have to take active steps toward improvement.
On top of this, remember that even if people react negatively when they see your anxiety symptoms, it doesn't mean they're acting out of malice; they may be reacting unconsciously or even subconsciously because they aren't aware of the disorder.
Challenge yourself by doing something mildly uncomfortable, then reward yourself for it.
If you're struggling with social anxiety, one of the best things you can do is challenge yourself by taking on activities that make you feel anxious. To do this, start with something that is mildly uncomfortable, then reward yourself for doing it. For example:
If you're afraid of public speaking, sign up for a Toastmasters meeting. Reward yourself with a small treat after each meeting.
If getting dressed in clothes from the other side of your closet makes you nervous, wear something from that side once per week and reward yourself with something small. Repeat until it's no longer scary and/or rewarding enough to keep doing the activity more—this could take months!
Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present moment. It isn’t easy to do this while you’re feeling anxious, but it can be helpful in training your brain to focus on the present instead of worrying about the past or future. Try focusing on your breathing for several minutes at a time—it will help you get into the habit of being mindful and stay there when it counts. (See my blog about mindfulness to learn more.)
Eat right, exercise, and get enough sleep.
You can't completely eliminate anxiety, but you can make it easier to cope with by eating right, exercising, and getting enough sleep.
Start by cutting out sugar from your diet. Sugar is one of the worst things for your health and mental health and it's in everything these days! Try to limit yourself to fruits for sweetness if you're having a hard time quitting cold turkey.
Limit or eliminate caffeine consumption as well--it's another stimulant that can make it harder for you to relax and get good sleep at night. And I would not recommend even thinking about reaching for energy drinks! They're filled with artificial ingredients that aren't good for anyone's health (or emotional state). If you want something warm and soothing on a cold day, try herbal tea instead; those are healthy alternatives that won't upset your stomach or cause jitters like coffee does.
Eat right: eat plenty of fresh fruits and veggies (and don't forget the greens!), whole grains like quinoa or brown rice cooked in coconut oil (it adds richness without adding calories), lean protein such as chicken breast without skin or extra fat added back on after cooking (avoid fried foods!). These foods will help keep blood sugar levels stable so there are fewer spikes throughout the day--which means fewer mood swings too!
Keep a diary of your triggers and symptoms.
What are triggers?
Triggers are anything that sets off a social anxiety episode. It could be an overheard conversation, a certain song playing on the radio, or a particular scent in the air (like someone's cologne). Once you've identified all of your triggers, try to avoid them as much as possible. If you can't avoid them all together—and it's OK if you can't!—remind yourself that they're harmless and don't mean anything about your worth as a person.
What are symptoms?
The physical effects of social anxiety include sweating, blushing and trembling hands or legs. You might also feel nauseous or lightheaded when faced with something triggering for you—something like having to ask for directions from someone at work if you're lost would likely trigger this feeling of nausea because asking for help makes some people anxious! If one of these things happens during an episode then take time away from what triggered it so that everything calms down again before continuing whatever task/activity was causing problems in the first place.
Be aware of body language and use it in your favor.
Being aware of the signals your body is sending and using them in your favor goes a long way towards helping you to cope with social anxiety. Here are some things to keep in mind:
Smiling is contagious, so use it! Studies show that people who smile often feel happier and less anxious than those who don’t. Research also indicates that we tend to treat people nicer when they're smiling at us, which can help break down barriers between strangers or co-workers.
Eye contact helps people feel more connected and confident in their interactions, so don't avoid it! You may feel like looking away from someone else's gaze makes you seem less intimidating or threatening, but this is actually a sign of insecurity or submissiveness—which isn't what most people look for when they're trying to make friends (or find dates) at work meetings or social events. So don't be afraid to look someone directly in the eyes as they speak; doing so shows them that you're engaged with their words.
Keep your posture relaxed but upright so as not appear stiff or uptight around other people (this doesn't mean slouching).
You can't eliminate social anxiety, but you can learn to cope with it successfully.
Social anxiety is a normal human emotion. It's not something to feel ashamed of, and it doesn't mean you're weak in any way. Social anxiety can be managed with help from family and friends, but if you have severe symptoms that prevent you from living your life as fully as possible, it's important to seek out the help of a professional therapist who can teach you how to cope with the condition.
It's also important to remember that no one has control over everything that goes on in their lives—and this includes things like social situations. You may experience some level of fear about what other people might think about you for whatever reason (e.g., because they don't look like they belong at an event), but this doesn't mean that everyone else is thinking those exact same thoughts all at once!
I know it can be hard to take these steps, especially when you feel like they won’t make a difference. But I hope that by seeing the different ways in which people have dealt with their social anxiety, and knowing they all turned out okay, you can feel confident that your life will still be good even if you experience social anxiety once in a while. And remember: there are many of us who have gone through this before! You are not alone!