Going to a crowded office party, a wedding or even a large family gathering can be fun for most people, but a scary feat to overcome if you have social anxiety.
Social anxiety can be crippling. Defined by the fear of social situations that involve interaction with other people, this disorder ignites a sense of unease and a fear of being negatively judged by people in almost all areas of your life.
Though it can seem counterproductive at first, committing to doing activities that trigger your social anxiety challenges the disorder and helps you to overcome it. Here, we have compiled some self-help strategies to help you conquer your social anxiety.
1. Get yourself out there
While it’s tempting to avoid social and performance situations, it’s also important to get yourself out there and do things that make you uncomfortable.
Go to those office parties you’d typically avoid, or pluck up the courage and start a conversation with your co-worker.
In a social situation, arm yourself with a strategy. While you can’t control the situation, you can control how you react towards it.
For example, you can try identifying places and people that make you feel the most comfortable. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, retreat to these places or people. That way, you will feel more at ease and can calm down quickly.
Or you could stay within an area and let the people come to you so that you won’t feel bombarded by a large crowd.
You can also start small and work your way up by organising small gatherings before moving on to bigger crowds.
Here’s a list of things you can do to get yourself out there:
- Start a conversation with a co-worker
- Ask a stranger for directions
- Accept a party invitation
- Ask a friend out for dinner
- Wear something you’d normally avoid or something that attracts attention
- Say hi to a stranger
- Keep a bank of conversation topics to bring up in a social situation
2. Give yourself a calming mantra
In a stressful social situation, reciting a mantra can give you a sense of control. Calming mantras help you to shift your attention from unwanted, anxious thoughts by focusing on reciting these mantras instead.
Calming mantras don’t need to be complicated or long sentences that you struggle to remember. A single word like “calm” or “you’re cool” does wonders in encouraging positive thoughts and self-talk.
When the wave of negative thoughts come, calm down and think these thoughts through. Think about whether these statements you make in your head are true or not, and turn it into a calming mantra for yourself.
|Mantra||How it helps|
|With every breath, I feel myself relaxing.||Great for when you need to release physical or emotional tension and evoke feelings of relaxation in your body.|
|I have control over how I feel, and I choose to feel at peace.||Reminds you that you don’t have control of everything in life, but you can control how you feel and react towards it.|
|All experiences are helping me grow.||When you’re faced with a difficult obstacle, you acknowledge that it’s challenging, giving you the strength to take it on and grow.|
|I give myself permission to let go of what no longer serves me.||Take inventory of the thoughts, feelings and situations that have been good for you, and what has not. Chuck out the bad, leave the good in.|
When your thoughts are everywhere, keeping a journal to pen down these thoughts and experiences may help. Before attending a social event, write down exactly what’s making you nervous about the experience.
If you’re thinking about what could happen in the worst-case scenario, go the extra mile and write down what you could do about it. Go deeper by asking yourself if what you said or thought is true, and think about the likelihood of that scenario happening in real life.
Seeing your thoughts clearly written down in your journal will help you to cope with them better while psyching yourself up for that nerve-racking event.
Journaling the experience after that event will also help you to reflect on it and identify what you could’ve done better. For instance, you could note down situations or conversations that you think could have been handled better.
When you continue writing down these little anecdotes, you’re able to recognise when you’re falling back into old habits and negative thinking patterns, helping you see how far you’ve come.
4. Burn off the adrenaline before an event
When you get nervous, adrenaline, also known as the “fight-or-flight” hormone, gets released in your body. This causes you to become tense and overly stressed, triggering an unwanted adrenaline rush and leading to troubled sleep, concentration problems, changes in eating patterns and more.
Try to release as much of this unwanted stress as possible before attending your social event. Work out or tire yourself out with a household activity. Try doing chores before attending an event.
Burning off the excess adrenaline keeps your nervous system more regulated, helping you to focus better and keep your cool when you’re about to lose it.
These cardio exercises can also help to raise your heart rate and release all that pre-event stress:
|Location||Type of activity|
|Outdoors||– Brisk walking|
|At the gym||– Running on the treadmill|
– Stationary bike
– Rowing machine
|At home||– High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)|
– Jump rope
5. Practice slow breathing
When you tense up, your breathing is the first thing to go. Anxiety tends to make your breath speed up, and you don’t realise you’re taking rapid, shallow breaths.
Slow breathing helps to induce tranquillity. Overcome tension by becoming more conscious of how you’re breathing. Make it a point to slow down your breathing wherever you are and whenever it’s happening. Slow breathing helps you to focus on the task at hand and be present in the moment.
While this is great when you find yourself tensing up, try to practice slow and deep breathing every day. Work it into your routine. This way, if you tense up or stress out in the middle of a conversation, you don’t hyperfocus on slow breathing, as it has already become second nature to you.
Here are some ways to practice slow breathing:
- Inhale for eight counts through your nose and exhale for eight counts through your nose.
- Take in a deep breath through your nose and retain that breath for five counts, exhaling slowly through the nose.
- Relax your neck and shoulders and inhale slowly through your nose for two counts, exhale by blowing through pursed lips for four counts.
- Use the 4-7-8 breathing technique. Empty your lungs of air, inhale for four counts through the nose, hold your breath for seven counts, and forcefully exhale through pursed lips for eight counts.
6. Spend time in nature
Spending time in the great outdoors can help to improve your mental health. It’s no surprise that being outdoors has a naturally calming effect when you’re taking in the sights and sounds of Mother Nature. Listening to nature sounds or even being still in outdoor silence can calm your body’s fight-or-flight response.
Learning to soak in nature and be away from your screen for just 10-15 minutes can help to clear your mind and get you ready for that next social event.
Your daily school or work routine can seem monotonous and mundane, which may heighten your social anxiety. Take the time out of this daily routine and spend some time taking a walk in the park.
Make that walk in the park a part of your routine. Do it two to three times a week, so you can intentionally walk away from the stressfulness of your social anxiety and into the calmness of nature.
7. Improve your diet
Keep a daily balanced diet. A poor diet can cause you to become sluggish and worn out, rewiring your brain chemistry.
You should also avoid food and drinks that are high in caffeine or sugar. That extra cup of coffee-with-two-sugars may be what’s been causing your increased feelings of anxiety.
Having a balanced diet also means that you’re eating all the necessary dietary nutrients like carbohydrates, proteins and fats. These nutrients help to keep your body functioning properly. If you can, try to avoid alcohol and sugar as much as possible.
If you’re reaching for that second or third glass of beer, think again. While it may seem to help you relax, alcohol can often make you feel more anxious and nervous in your surroundings. This is especially possible when you’re drinking at a party or a social event.
While these may seem like tough lifestyle choices, here are some ways to maintain a balanced diet:
Eat a variety of foods every day
Include foods like fruits, vegetables, cereals, dairy products, lean meat, poultry, fish, legumes and fats and sugars in your diet. Eat them in moderation or in the suggested serving size for your gender, age and weight.
Include more cereals and whole grains
Try to incorporate more cereals and whole grains into every meal, as they are your primary source of energy, carbohydrates, and fibre.
Whole grains are higher in nutritional value as well as vitamins and minerals compared to other grains. Some examples include brown rice, wholemeal bread, whole oats and quinoa.
Eat your fruits and veggies
We all know the benefits of these nutrition-packed foods. Fruits and vegetables are an excellent source of potassium, folate, Vitamins C and A, which help to maintain our bodily functions.
Go by the 2+2 rule and eat two servings of fruits and two servings of vegetables each day. Starchy vegetables like potatoes are not counted as they contain a higher concentration of carbohydrates.
Drink plenty of water
Drinking your recommended eight cups per day can go a long way. Water keeps your energy levels in shape and maintains your overall health.
The next time you reach for that soft drink or fruit juice, think again and grab some water instead.
8. Join a support group or Toastmasters
When you find yourself in the company of others who understand what you’re going through, you feel a sense of belonging and comfort. Reach out to a friend or family member who’s part of a support group and go from there, or take a leap of faith and join one near you.
Sometimes, some of the people in support groups have already overcome their social anxiety. They know exactly what it feels like to be overwhelmed by the disorder and want to help you too. They may share their own practical steps in getting better and overcoming their anxiety, and you could learn a thing or two.
Whether it’s online or in-person, staying connected in a support group helps you realise that you’re not in this alone.
If you can, find ways to give back and do the same for those who are struggling too. Look for ways to help others in their journey to overcome social anxiety and encourage them.
This can help to boost your confidence as you approach them first.
These types of groups aim to help members improve their public speaking skills. Their ethos of assisting people to become more confident speakers, communicators and leaders can also help you to upgrade yourself and step out of your comfort zone.
A Toastmasters club meeting revolves around its members giving speeches and taking on meeting roles.
Being part of this club helps to build your self-confidence and awareness as you practice writing speeches and giving them in a group setting. You even get to train your leadership skills when you take on new roles and meet new people.
9. Applaud your efforts
Sufferers of social anxiety tend to be very hard on themselves. There may be words you shouldn’t have said or circumstances you wished you could’ve changed and forgotten about.
Stop trying to make everything perfect, or envision an ideal social situation as they’re rarely the case. Instead, allow some room for mistakes and learn from them.
Rather than critiquing, try some self-compassion and give yourself some props for the wins you achieved. This way, you know you did your best with what you had.
Ignite some positive self-talk and thinking! Congratulate yourself for attending that social event or even for starting up a conversation with a stranger. Instead of avoiding it entirely, you took a step forward to overcome your anxiety. That’s something to celebrate.
Also, remind yourself of all those times you felt unsure or afraid of entering a social situation. Looking back, it didn’t turn out as bad as you thought. These experiences will drive you to be more confident to face similar events in future.
10. Set objective goals
Set realistic and measurable goals that will help you in the long run. Don’t dream too big just yet, but start small, for a little goes a long way.
For example, if you’re working in a group setting, a measurable goal could be to start a conversation with the person next to you. It doesn’t matter how it went, as long as you did it.
Once you pass that first barrier, work your way up towards your goals — like sharing your feedback in a meeting of three people, five people and then 10 people.
Don’t focus on what people say or how they react, as you can’t control them. What matters is that you spoke up and accomplished your objective goal.
Another goal you can set — when you agree to attend a party — is to give yourself a goal to stay for an hour, rather than try to cross that hurdle of staying for the whole night. Once again, when you set these realistic and measurable goals, it’s easier to achieve them and track your progress.
11. Seek treatment with a doctor
If social anxiety is overwhelming you to the point that it’s interfering significantly with your daily life and routine, or self-help just isn’t doing it, seek professional help.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to a doctor. Social anxiety can seem like a very private battle, but once you start opening up, these issues may not be as scary as they seem. After all, the doctors are here to help you, and won’t judge you.
Doctors are more than capable of helping you take the necessary steps to overcome your social anxiety. Their diagnosis and treatment will depend on how severe your emotional and physical symptoms are. Another deciding factor is how much the social anxiety is interfering with your daily life.
Don’t worry; social anxiety is treatable. Doctors prescribe a combination of medication and therapy, but therapy alone can be enough for some.
While the tips and tricks we’ve shared can help you deal with your social anxiety, sometimes, seeking medical help can be the best way to help yourself. Once you take that first step, you can trust that you’re on the road to recovery.
If you’re struggling with social anxiety, speak to a doctor and take control of your mental wellness. With MyDoc, you can see a doctor in a matter of minutes, from the comfort of your home.