The nature of social anxiety tends to be very complex and agonizing, and this socially crippling psychological ailment is extremely prevalent in our society. When suffering from social anxiety, individuals find their social communications skills inhibited in a wide range of social settings, which involves addressing a group of people, communicating with new people, eating out in public or even using public restrooms.
The fear tends to be so poignant and expressive that many people can see the anxiety experienced by the afflicted individual, who seems to be drowning in humiliation when presented with an anxiety-inducing social situation. Several people suffering from this psychological ailment tend to avoid social settings and situations where they think they will have to face their fears.
Many patients tend to deal with this problem by depending on alcohol and substance use in order to self-medicate themselves and arouse confidence before entering these social situations.
Research reveals that social anxiety is directly linked to increased risk factors for depression, reduced occupational advancements, alcohol abuse, substance abuse, decreased chances of being in a relationship and loneliness. Depression, stress, and anxiety are one of the most recurring symptoms experienced by patients with social anxiety.
Fortunately, psychology has made tremendous progress in dealing with social anxiety issues, and cognitive behavioral therapists have devised several drug-free methods to deal with the anxiety and stress induced by social settings.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is widely considered the most effective treatment to help patients with social anxiety, as it focuses on the behavior and cognition of the person, and helps them overcome their social anxiety by dealing with the anxious thoughts.
There are countless methods in which you can manage the symptoms of social anxiety, and in this article, we will walk you through several comprehensive and powerful approaches to deal with stress-inducing social settings.
Here’s everything you need to understand about overcoming social anxiety:
What do you seek to Avoid?
The first and foremost approach is to identify all the stress-triggering situations that you tend to avoid. Individuals with social anxiety tend to harbor the behavioral issue of avoiding certain situations that trigger their anxiety.
For instance, when a person suffering from social anxiety attends a dinner or a party, they tend to become extremely anxious to avoid it entirely or leave early by escaping quietly.
When they leave this stressful situation, their behavioral strategy of avoidance is reinforced by the reward of eliminating the stress, and this makes the fear of negative social evaluation a recurring reality, even if that person could have easily enjoyed the party without experiencing any kind of humiliation.
Similarly, when a person with social anxiety thinks about approaching a person and it makes them anxious, avoiding approaching that person helps eliminate this anxiety, and this instant drop in anxiety teaches them to avoid these situations that trigger stress.
Therefore, in order to overcome your social anxiety, it is essential to highlight all the situations that you tend to avoid so you can approach these situations and overcome the stress you experience.
This is the approach taken by cognitive behavioral therapy, it exposes the individual to the social situations that trigger stress and by forcing them to stay within these situations, it makes them realize that nothing harmful or humiliating could possibly happen to make their anxiety disappear.
Confront your Fears
Once you have identified all the aspects and situations that you tend to avoid in order to escape your social anxiety, the very next step is to face your fears with the willingness and courage to improve your social communications skills.
You truly have to believe in your ability to experience all the situations that trigger your anxiety, and for that, you need to make a list of all the things and situations you feel anxious about.
For instance, if you are anxious about using a public restroom because you feel people will notice you and make fun of you, start using public restrooms and negate your fear of public humiliation.
Similarly, if you feel anxious and awkward while meeting new people at parties, make a habit of attending a party each week and make a list of all the new people you meet so you can feel like you’ve made achievements.
If you feel anxious while speaking to women or addressing large gatherings or meetings, start overcoming your fears one by one. It’s okay to start small as long as you remain steadfast and build up your goals.
Create a Hierarchy of Fears
In order to successfully face all your fears, it is essential to create a hierarchy of fears, starting from the situations that make you least anxious and going onto the fears that make you so anxious that you are forced to avoid the situation entirely.
For every situation that triggers your anxiety, you need to rate it on the basis of the anxiety level it induces along with rating all the anticipated behaviors that these situations induce.
For instance, if going to a party is triggering your anxiety, create a list of hierarchy to identify all your greatest and smallest fears about dealing with this situation. For instance, going to the party, walking into a room full of people, being noticed by people, having to start a conversation, talking to a beautiful woman, and so on.
When you write down the hierarchy of your fears and your predictions before entering a situation, you will find yourself less anxious while dealing with these situations.
Rationalise your Predictions
Social anxiety persists only because we completely forget our own ability to cope and perform in certain situations, and this causes the fear to spread through our mind and inhibit our social interaction skills.
If you start testing and rationalizing all your predictions about these stressful situations, you can see that they are completely devoid of reasoning and baseless.
For this, you must make a habit of writing down all the anxiety and stress you feel about entering each situation that triggers anxiety.
These are all your predictions about what might happen when you confront a woman you like or enter a party. Once you have written down all the fortunes you predict for yourself, it’s time to test these future predictions with a rational mind.
For instance, if you are considering approaching a woman at a party, and you are overcome by social anxiety, you will naturally predict yourself suffering from bouts of stress, lack of thoughts, a blank mind, and feeling so anxious that you would have no choice but to leave before you embarrass yourself.
You might even predict that the said woman walks away from you or insults you for approaching her.
Now, once you have written down your predictions, the only way to test them is by putting yourself in that situation and actually talking to that woman you fear. You will find yourself anxious while initiating the conversation but once you start talking, you will find yourself immersed in the conversation, which will allow you to open up and face your fears.
So, start by clearly comprehending the fears in your predictions about what might happen should you chose to face an anxiety-inducing social situation, and then test this prediction by actually putting it into practice. You are bound to realize that you are anticipating fear by channeling your social anxiety onto your thoughts.
Safety Behaviours & the Need to Get Rid of them
Many individuals who suffer from anxiety tend to harbor certain thoughts that ignite superstition and this causes them to adopt certain safety behaviors to avoid humiliation, embarrassment, and anxiety.
These safety behaviors could be anything, stiff body movements, indulging in drugs or alcohol, hold objects too tightly to avoid showing people that your hands are shaking, wiping away sweaty hands, rehearsing what you will say to people at a party, and talking too fast.
All these safety behaviors do little to solve our problems of overcoming social anxiety, but in fact, they make you feel that the only way you can escape your anxiety is by using this set pattern of avoidance.
The more you adopt and practice these safety behaviors, the more powerful your social anxiety will become. Instead, try approaching anxiety-inducing situations without the help of these safety behaviors, for instance, stop rehearsing what you’re going to say to people, or champion a stressful situation without the help of alcohol or drugs.
Suppress Thoughts that Trigger Anxiety
Individuals suffering from social anxiety are constantly obsessing over negative outcomes and they wholeheartedly believe that things will go badly, which reinforces their social anxiety.
For instance, if you predict that attending a party will lead to embarrassment and humiliation because people will notice your shaking hands or sweaty palms and gossip about you, start challenging this anxious thought with rational explanations.
For instance, you can ask yourself whether you can actually embarrassing yourself or are just predicting a fearful outcome because of your anxiety. Consider explanations that make you feel less anxious, and look for evidence of humiliation that you fear most. Is there any evidence that people notice your shaking hands, sweaty palms or discuss your social anxiety problems?
Then, ask yourself, why would anyone truly care about your anxiousness and how is your fear-relevant to them in any way? Think about instances where people have caused you embarrassment and rationalize your negative thoughts with evidence and realistic arguments backed up by evidence.
Practice Makes Perfect
Remember, you can only overcome your anxiety by practicing all the encounters that make you anxious. So, once you have identified all the social situations along with placing them on the hierarchy to identify which make you least and most anxious, you need to confront these situations head-on.
Imagining each and every step of the situation with a positive outlook will help you work your way through the hierarchy of stressors in a certain social setting. For instance, imagine yourself thinking about attending a social gathering, and allow your imagination to lead you to the point where your anxiety starts to ignite.
This is the point where you need to repress your negative thoughts with evidence-backed rational arguments, and then, move on to the imagining the next step within your hierarchy of fears.
For instance, when you walk into the room and everyone starts taking notice of your anxiousness and nervousness. Here, you need to remind yourself that no one is capable of processing our international feelings unless we tell them ourselves, and besides, everyone has their own anxieties and concerns to deal with.
Imagine this and allow all the anxiety to leave your body and immerse yourself in thoughts of enjoyment and relaxation.
Now, after imagining the entire situation, you need to practice what you fear most by exposing yourself to the anxiety-inducing situation. Avoid relying on alcohol or drugs and instead, just walk into the room, acknowledge your anxiety and will yourself to overcome it by engaging with people and actually doing things that you see others doing.
A Self-Help Manual
Keeping a self-help manual or a journal will help boost the results of your therapy, allowing you to work on your progress yourself. By keeping a manual or a journal, you can record your progress, and face your fears by writing them down and identifying them closely.
Consult a Therapist
If your social anxiety is hindering you from championing the career you’ve always dreamt of, preventing you from engaging in activities you need to perform or stopping you from achieving any kind of success, seeking professional help is essential.
We always tend to believe that seeking out help for psychological ailments is a sign of weakness, but the truth is that psychological issues tend to be so intense that self-help can only bring about a limited set of benefits. Once you have identified your problem, seek the help of a therapist who specializes in social anxiety and anxiety disorders to help you out and resume a happy and fulfilling life.