Social anxiety is a problem plaguing millions of Americans. If you have social anxiety, you might feel dread and fear about the idea of meeting new people or spending time in social situations. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to help yourself to manage it.
Strategies to Beat Social Anxiety
1. Challenge your own perceptions.
Most people with social anxiety have a long list of perceptions regarding what they think other people are thinking. You might think that people are judging you negatively or that people won’t like you. Because you believe that people will have a negative opinion of you, you are more likely to avoid situations so that you don’t get hurt.
Instead of assuming the worst, go into social settings expecting a neutral or even positive outcome. Let people get to know you so they have the chance to form their own impressions.
2. Expose yourself to your fears.
Maybe your social anxiety makes you feel worried about something as simple as ordering a pizza by phone. Most people with intense social phobias set up elaborate ways to avoid confronting their fears. In the pizza example, you might choose to order pizza online and never have to talk to anyone. But, when you challenge yourself to face up to your fears and do what you’re afraid of, the sense of accomplishment you gain will give you the confidence to try other things you fear.
Make lots of social commitments that you’ll have to keep. This will give you more opportunities to see that being around people is not as scary as you think it will be. Each interaction will help you see that is true, and soon you’ll feel unstoppable!
3. Relabel your thoughts.
It’s common for people with social anxiety to experience racing thoughts that feel out of control. When you notice that your thoughts are starting to spiral into a destructive pattern, consciously choose to relabel them. Instead of telling yourself you’re anxious or that you can’t handle what’s happening, tell yourself that you’re feeling excitable and you can deal with the situation.
4. Breathe it away.
When you’re in the midst of an anxiety attack, you’ll notice that your breathing changes and becomes faster and shallower. The fast, shallow breathing can itself increase your feelings of panic because it seems like you’re not able to get enough air into your lungs.
First, you should definitely get a check-up from a doctor to reassure you that you’re healthy. But assuming a doctor has given you a clear bill of health, it’s important to change your breathing. During an anxiety attack, the shallow breathing actually causes you to take in too much air. Try meditation or other techniques that help you to make your breathing slower and more deliberate.
You can consciously change your breath, deliberately making it slower and calmer when you’re faced with anxiety. Slowing your breath actually lowers your heart rate as well, which helps reduce some of the negative health impacts of stress.
5. Turn your focus outward.
People with social anxiety are more likely to focus on what’s happening inside their head. The problem with this approach? What’s happening inside your head is scary and doesn’t necessarily reflect reality. Instead, focus on your external surroundings.
Pay attention to the walls and the furnishings in the physical space where you are. Really notice what other people are wearing—down to their accessories. The more you step outside of yourself, the broader your focus will become and the less intense your anxiety will feel.
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