Home Mental Health & Well-Being How to Conquer Your Social Stress and Anxiety

How to Conquer Your Social Stress and Anxiety

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Anxiety is the leading mental health concern today, with stress not far behind. According to a recent survey, almost 40% of respondents said they had to take time off work due to stress.

Underpinning both feelings is a heightened sense of fear. Stress and, arguably, anxiety are natural responses that we all feel at some point; they’re embedded in our DNA with our “fight or flight” instinct.

Yet these emotions become a major problem when they disrupt our performance, as revealed in a recent study indicating stress leads to poor cognitive function. Society is unfortunately known to often seem quite unforgiving, particularly when we’re bombarded with worst-case scenarios on social media when making mistakes.

Moreover, societies with limited resources often have stricter social hierarchies, where many may struggle to access education, professional, and social opportunities. Mistakes become more consequential when there’s less room for error. It’s therefore no surprise that many individuals struggle with the pressure to please in social situations and wind up feeling anxious or stressed.

To prevent the strains of life from dictating your mental health, it’s essential to break down your emotions and assess your triggers so you can control how you respond to circumstances as they arise. Let’s find out how.

Anxiety or stress?

These sister feelings manifest similarly, making it difficult to distinguish between them. Tuning into your emotions and physiology, such as heart rate and muscle tension, are crucial first steps to managing stress or anxiety (or sometimes both) in a given situation.

One tip to spot the difference between stress and anxiety is to figure out the duration of time you have felt a certain way. Anxiety tends to be a longer-running or chronic state of response to a possibly unperceived cause, appearing more indefinite in nature yet persistent in the continuous tension and stress you may be feeling.

Conversely, stress is usually triggered as an immediate response to a specific event, situation, or person. Hans Selye, a pioneering researcher, defined stress as the body’s general response to any demands made by the external environment.

Both anxiety and stress are fuelled by specific fears. Understanding what’s causing either emotional response and pinpointing which of the two you’re feeling will help you understand how you can manage these negative emotions.

Understand the “why” of these negative feelings 

The next step is to figure out what exactly is causing your feelings of anxiety or stress. Some triggers may be physical, like lack of sleep, or sensory; a common culprit for stress is processing an overwhelming amount of information. At an event, for example, that could be the influx of sounds, sights, or even trying to remember people’s names.

Other sources are more abstract. For example, anxious feelings may stem from the intrinsic pressure you place on yourself to succeed and appear successful to others. This is particularly the case when professionally networking, where individuals are more keenly aware of the importance of credentials and reputation. That uncertainty about how others may perceive you can be a recurring anxiety-fueling factor that drives spikes in stress when you encounter those particular scenarios.

Identifying the root of that anxiety, such as poor self-esteem and diminishing thoughts about how you come across to others, is a stepping stone to building resilience in tackling the issue long-term. Techniques to handle the stress you feel on each occasion include reiterating self-affirmations of your professional capabilities and track record before networking events.

Build long-term resilience through adaptability

Easier said than done is accepting that some things are simply beyond your control. Instead, focus your attention on what you can control and recognise that life is mainly how you react to it, not what comes your way.

These adages are pivotal to building your ability to adapt. Notably, they fuel a growth mindset – an attitude that embraces challenge rather than shirking away from it. The power of this mindset lies in its capacity to build emotional and mental resilience in the long run.

As part of honing your adaptability and long-term resilience, try approaching situations with a solution-oriented attitude. Having the perspective that there’s always a constructive way to work through even the most stressful of situations will empower you to not let your stress take the wheel.

For wider-spread feelings of anxiety, try adopting the 80/20 rule. Addressing even 20% of identified stress-inducing situations can resolve 80% of the overall problem by clarifying reactions and understanding causality.

For instance, if making introductions to new people is a daunting stress for you, find ways to help overcome this fear. Practice interesting conversation-starters to help you overcome awkwardness and feel more comfortable over time. Gradually, you’ll find that as you feel more at ease starting conversations, your broader anxiety around meeting new people will begin to dissipate.

These are foundational stepping stones to help you manage your social stress and anxiety so that you can live your best life. Tuning into what you’re feeling and identifying where your anxiety or stress is stemming from is vital to constructively moving through these issues. Moreover, adopting a growth mindset that embraces solutions will help you work through your fears as opportunities to improve rather than impossible hurdles to overcome.

Elina Landman is a cognitive behavioural therapist, public speaker, and author, known for her insightful 10-step method aimed at helping individuals discover their true calling and unlock their potential. With a focus on emotional intelligence and personal values, she offers guidance to clients worldwide.

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