Since the pandemic hit, we have been constantly listening about social distancing. Now, as we approach the ‘normalcy’ of social interactions and gatherings, we hear more and more about social anxiety.
Social anxiety has existed even before the pandemic, but nowadays a greater number of people experience it when they have to leave the house. So in this text, you will find an explanation of what social anxiety is and how to overcome it.
Social anxiety, or less commonly known as social phobia, is an intense fear of social situations and social interactions. The term is pretty self-explanatory. The majority of people report being overwhelmed by interactions with others or they dread the mere thought of it.
In some cases, it goes away as people age and grow accustomed to social situations. Others find that it is tolerable and manageable up to a certain level. And in the most extreme cases, people need therapy and professional help to even be able to function properly on a daily basis.
Some symptoms of social anxiety include worrying about social situations or interactions with other people, avoiding social activities, finding it difficult to do/accomplish things when others are watching, and fear of being criticised. You may also experience excess sweating, rapid heartbeats, nausea, and trembling when in social situations. The most extreme cases even have panic attacks when in public.
Overcoming social anxiety isn’t easy. Here are some general tips, but if you feel unable to function on an everyday basis because of it, you should seek professional help.
- Some relaxation techniques can help. Breathing and relaxation techniques can help you combat various types of anxiety, and that includes social. The 4-7-8 breathing technique is one of the effective ones. And it is simple to do. Inhale slowly through your nose while counting to 4. Then hold your breath for 7 seconds. Exhale through your mouth and count to 8. Another relaxation technique that helps is progressive muscle relaxation. This will take you some practice to do properly, but it is also perfect for social situations. Focus on the muscles in your body and tense them as you inhale. Start with your toes and work your way up. Hold the tension for 5 seconds and, as you exhale, release the tension. Focus on the sensation of your muscles relaxing and count to 10. Then move to the next muscle group.
- Ask friends for help. Typically, even people with social anxiety have a small circle of friends and close family where they feel relaxed. So ask them to accompany you to the next social gathering. Keep it brief and small. Don’t start with a party of 200 people. Begin with an afternoon tea with one or two unknown individuals. If at any point you feel overwhelmed, your friends can jump in and help you.
- Having routines can help. A recent study in the UK revealed that gym routines help combat post-covid anxiety. Routines can help socially anxious people too. Weekly book clubs, group gym sessions, game nights with friends, etc. can gradually reduce the anxiety you feel. It will not make it go away completely, but routines provide a sense of certainty. This will help you, especially during the phase where you try and go out of your comfort zone.
- Gradually step out of your comfort zone. When you feel ready, go out with a group of friends and some unknown people. Don’t go too big too soon. Any progress you have made will be undone and you will need to start all over again. Start with a simple and short gathering, like a game night or a tea party. After that, you may go to a house party and meet some friends of friends. Later, when you feel comfortable enough, you can attend an office get-together.
- Try therapy. The most extreme cases may suffer from anxiety and/or panic attacks. To stop anxiety attacks, you will need therapy. At this point, seeking professional help will allow you to combat behavioral patterns that are negatively affecting you. You will build the self-esteem you need and change your patterns to the ones that are beneficial for your mental health. You may not be aware that in more severe cases of anxiety disorder, treatment is available at some rehab centers (which are better known for things like treating alcohol abuse). This approach can involve counseling, psychotherapy, and support groups and is often available on an outpatient basis.
Rushing to any decisions and outcomes will leave you dissatisfied. Remember that combating any type of anxiety is a long game. Brace yourself with patience and work every day on it, but not all day.
Be kind to yourself and allow yourself days when it is ok not to feel OK. Gently remind yourself that you are trying and doing your best every day. On some days, that will just have to be enough.
Tommy Williamson did his degree in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. He is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.
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