Do you become overwhelmed or anxious in social situations? You’re not alone. According to The National Institute of Mental Health, 12.1% of U.S. adults experience some kind of social anxiety at some point in their life. Of those who are affected, an estimated 29.9% had serious impairment, 38.8% had moderate impairment, and 31.3% had mild impairment.
The NIMH says that social anxiety is characterized by “persistent fear of one or more social or performance situations in which the person is exposed to unfamiliar people or to possible scrutiny by others. The individual fears that he or she will act in a way (or show anxiety symptoms) that will be embarrassing and humiliating.” Though we have a general definition of social anxiety, the causes of and solutions to it can vary vastly by individual. So how can you cope with and even overcome your social anxiety?
1. Identify the Cause of Your Social Anxiety
As with any problem that you’re trying to solve, the best place to start is identifying the exact issue. Have you ever sat down and thought about exactly what it is that gives you anxiety in social situations?
Try relaxing in a safe space with a piece of paper and explore past socially anxious situations in your mind. Can you identify any common factors? Do you fear speaking in front of a large group? Does your anxiety always kick in when speaking with a member of the opposite gender? Do certain public spaces give you anxiety more than others?
Once you understand what these situations have in common, you can work toward identifying the real cause of your social anxiety. Understanding your situation fully can help you confront your fears and combat your social anxiety.
2. Dissect Each Social Situation
There are many parts to each social situation, and some may cause more social anxiety than others. Once you’ve identified the overall situations that bother you, think of the separate parts of each and rate them according to which parts cause you the least and most anxiety.
For example, if a man gets social anxiety from interacting with women, he might rate the parts of his experience differently. Thinking about speaking to a woman might cause moderate anxiety, while actually beginning the conversation causes severe anxiety. This man may also have anxiety from the other people in the room watching him interact with the woman or from crossing the distance in the room to speak to the woman.
Acknowledging the anxiety you’ve felt in the past during certain situations can help prepare you for what to expect in your next social situation. Sometimes, you may not even feel as anxious as you expect once you’ve identified your fears.
3. Understand How You Use Crutches
Once you understand the situations that cause your social anxiety, you can also identify any unhealthy crutches you might use to cope. For instance, many people use alcohol or drugs to slow the mind and help them deal with their anxiety. Some people don’t make eye contact, rehearse certain scripts for certain social situations, or keep their hands in their pockets to disguise shaking or sweating.
One of the biggest crutches in modern society is technology. Younger generations, especially Millennials, hide behind the screens of their computers or phones as a safer alternative than face-to-face interaction. Using social media in moderation is one thing, but it can become an addictive crutch just like drinking.
These crutches are also called “safety behaviors.” Many people with social anxiety believe they can only get through a social situation by using their safety behaviors. However, to truly overcome your social anxiety, it’s essential to make an effort to eliminate these safety behaviors and get through social situations without them.
4. Confront Your Negative Thoughts
Now that you understand your social anxiety and its causes, you’re ready to start the journey toward overcoming it. A big part of this is confronting your negative thoughts. For instance, if you’re headed to a party and have severe anxiety that you’re going to embarrass yourself, take a moment to walk yourself through the situation rationally.
First, lay out the parts of the situation, how anxious you are about them, and why you’re anxious about them. Then think deeply about past social situations that you’ve feared being embarrassed in. Chances are, you didn’t embarrass yourself in the past, and you won’t embarrass yourself this time either. Knowing that you will most likely get through the situation will help you ease your anxiety.
5. Practice, Practice, Practice
Be gentle with yourself. Overcoming your social anxiety isn’t going to happen overnight. Like anything worth doing, it takes practice to master your fears. With each new social situation, practice leaving your safety behaviors behind a little bit at a time. Little steps will get you there in the end.
Dive Deeper Into Your Social Anxiety
Want a more detailed and personalized approach for overcoming your social anxiety? Future Image Group is here to help. We know that sometimes it’s easier to send a text or email rather than communicate openly with another human being face-to-face. However, avoiding these situations will only lead to further social isolation. With FIG, you’ll explore self-doubt, vulnerabilities, and the fear of being exposed. Then, we’ll help you understand your specific brand of social anxiety, which situations cause it, and how you can develop tools to navigate those fears. To get started, get in touch with us today!