6 Ways to Overcome Social Anxiety – Cleveland Clinic

If you’re not used to socializing after the last few years of social distancing, you’re not alone. If you feel more anxious than usual when you leave the house to socialize, this is also quite normal, as it does sometimes when you feel overwhelmed or out of your element in large crowds.

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However, when these nervous feelings persist – and cause you great anxiety – you could have social anxiety disorder.

“Social anxiety is one of those disorders whose name is precise enough to describe what it is,” explains psychologist Dawn Potter, PsyD. “It’s the anxiety that arises in a social situation. If you have anxiety that comes up regularly in social situations that cause you distress or prevent you from doing the things you want to do, then we might start to see this as a disorder. A person suffering from social anxiety disorder would have frequent anxieties, panic or discomfort in a social situation. Then they would like to avoid this situation, or would enter this situation with great distress. “

Dr Potter adds that there are different types of social anxiety. Although one involves being uncomfortable or avoiding social situations – whether they are large or small groups of people you may not know well, whether in public or private – there is also a specific type of social anxiety around public speaking.

“It’s just performance-based,” says Dr Potter. “You would be afraid to speak in public, but not necessarily going to a party, ordering at a restaurant, or talking on the phone to a stranger. “

Contrary to popular belief, being silent in social situations or preferring to socialize in small groups doesn’t mean you have social anxiety – and it doesn’t mean you are introverted. “Although extroverts are generally extroverts and talkative, and enjoy meeting new people, they can also feel nervous, anxious or nervous when meeting new people and performing in front of groups,” says Dr Potter.

How to overcome social anxiety

Dr Potter stresses that it is important to manage your social anxiety, no matter how difficult it seems, as it can have a major impact on your life. “It can have subtle negative effects on your career, friendships, love life, or even family relationships,” she says. “It can affect you so widely when you miss out on opportunities. When a person is isolated, it can lead to depression because you miss out on opportunities to have a good time or have fun and feel connected to others.

Fortunately, Dr. Potter notes that social anxiety is very treatable, although strategies for overcoming social anxiety depend on both your individual personality and the impact of the disorder on your life. For example, if you have panic attacks when going out in public because you are so overwhelmed, you can go for medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of the two. Less severe anxiety might be better served by a different treatment option.

Here are some other ways to approach social anxiety management.

Practice public speaking

For those with mild to moderate social anxiety disorder – for example, it might not cause you panic attacks – finding ways to practice public speaking is a good approach. Dr Potter suggests joining a group like Toastmasters, which is specially designed for practicing public speaking and rehearsing.

Try cognitive behavioral therapy

Among the different types of psychotherapy available, cognitive behavioral therapy – which involves changing the way you think and feel about a situation, which, in turn, can help you change your behavior – is a useful way to approach social anxiety. “With social anxiety in particular, you want to identify thought patterns that cause you to avoid social situations – like if a person always expects the worst outcome, or if a person is obsessed with someone being might see her blush, sweat or stutter, “said Dr Potter. “You want to help them learn to challenge those expectations and adopt a more positive rather than negative self-talk. “

Present yourself gradually to anxiety-provoking situations

Dr. Potter recommends what she calls “situational exposure”. Identify some social situations that scare you and move on from the easiest to the most difficult scenarios while practicing relaxation techniques so that you can tolerate anxiety. “For example, if you are afraid of large groups and mainly avoid group activities, start by going out with a friend one-on-one,” she explains. “Then work your way up to going out with a small group of friends. »Repeat as needed until you feel more comfortable before trying to go to a more crowded restaurant, bar, or party. You can also work on situational exposure with the help of a therapist, says Dr Potter. “Like cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure therapy is a type of treatment that a trained psychologist can provide.”

Get help from your assistance system

It can be embarrassing or demeaning to admit to those around you that you are anxious in social situations and that you might need help. However, letting a friend or loved one know that you might need extra support can be a big plus. “Often times, people will feel more comfortable if they are in a social situation with someone they are close to,” says Dr Potter. “Especially if someone has been quite isolated lately, it can be helpful at first to have a boyfriend when you return to a social situation.”

The key to this support is to help an anxious person become more independent over time. “Eventually, people with more generalized social anxiety will find it uncomfortable to go shopping or order food on their own,” says Dr Potter. “You want to find a balance between supporting someone and encouraging them to do it themselves. “

If you are a friend or family member of someone who is anxious in social situations, one way to offer support is to involve them in the conversation. “You might be like, ‘Oh, I think Sara has something she probably would like to say about it. She’s really interested in it, ”says Dr Potter. “You can support them by getting them out of their shells. Before doing this, however, be sure to ask the person if this is right for you. “If you’re someone with social anxiety, you might not like to be put on the spot to say something. Talk to this person in advance about how they want to handle certain things.

Check with yourself

When you’re in public and you start to feel anxious, it’s easy to go around in circles and become obsessed with anything that seems to go wrong, even if you’re the only one feeling it. “At the moment, you have to focus outside of yourself and remind yourself, ‘It’s probably anxiety. I can’t read their minds. I don’t know what they really think of me, ”Dr Potter said.

This is of course easier said than done, which is why she suggests using a technique called ‘five senses’ which can help you step back and stay in the moment. “Check in with yourself with all of your five senses to focus more on the outdoors. Distract yourself from unpleasant internal sensations and negative thoughts, ”says Dr Potter. “Then you can try to refocus on, ‘What are they actually telling me? What else is going on right now? What can I see? What can I hear? What can I feel? ‘ “

Look for the silver liners – and be kind to yourself

If your social anxiety isn’t going away as quickly as you would like, that’s okay. “You may have moved too fast and need to spend more time practicing other social gatherings before you’re ready for the one you’re stuck on, or you need to work more on relaxation techniques.” and distraction techniques so that you can tolerate it. situation next time, ”said Dr Potter.

Analyzing after the fact what triggered a reaction, whether it was a panic attack or something else, can also help. “Try to ask yourself, ‘How can I think of this differently? Or ‘How can I change the situation next time?’ Suggests Dr Potter. “Let’s say you go to a concert and you start having a panic attack because you’re around a lot of people. Maybe next time you could sit in the back or in an aisle, or stay somewhere where you feel like there’s a way out if you’re feeling anxious or locked in.

Dr Potter adds that others are generally much more focused on themselves than on others. “They probably don’t scrutinize your behavior in social situations because they’re busy thinking about what they’re going to say or do next,” she says. “Your anxiety usually magnifies the negative and downplays the positive – so things that you are fully aware of about yourself may not be particularly noticeable to others. “

When to worry about the physical symptoms of anxiety

Social anxiety disorders can also lead to physical symptoms. “You might experience redness, sweating, or a subjective feeling of sudden feeling cold or hot,” says Dr. Potter. “You might also have physical tension, which could cause pain, such as a stomachache. ”

You may also experience symptoms associated with panic even if you are not having a true panic attack. “The symptoms of panic are your fast beating heart, shortness of breath, a subjective feeling of loss of control, or fear of sudden and impending doom,” says Dr Potter. “People with social anxiety will generally experience some of these symptoms, including at a lower threshold as well.”

It can be difficult to determine if these symptoms are due to anxiety or a more serious medical problem. “If the pain goes away quickly after the anxiety-provoking situation is over and you have the subjective feeling of knowing that you are currently afraid of something, it is more likely that what you are feeling is anxiety,” says Dr. Potter. . “But if you’re in doubt, you should definitely talk to a doctor and get advice on specific signs to look out for and your risk factors. ”

If you have known heart disease, this advice is even more important. “You want to be a lot more careful when seeking medical attention for any of these types of symptoms,” she says. “And if you have heart problems and you suffer from anxiety, you should discuss with your doctor how to tell the two apart.”

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