It’s safe to say that many of us feel uncomfortable in certain social situations. Say, at a party with 100 people, almost all of whom we do not know. Or, when giving an important presentation at work. Or, on a blind date with someone a friend set us up with. Sometimes, though, these situations bring on more than just discomfort—they trigger anxiety. Social anxiety is characterized by an intense fear of social situations due to an individual’s worry that others will view them negatively. Below are further details and examples, but I think you get the point. Let us discuss how we can properly overcome this social anxiety, instead.
The Roots of Social Anxiety
A first step is to understand exactly what causes social anxiety. And where does it stem from? Licensed Psychotherapist Christine Scott-Hudson delves into anxiety as a biological response to perceived threats:
“When you struggle with anxiety, your amygdala gets hijacked and your body’s natural defenses are employed, whether there is actual danger present or not. Your brain and your body are just trying to keep you safe. However, the ways in which they attempt to keep you safe are also designed to help you fight, flight, or freeze to escape the danger. In the case of social anxiety, your body is as terrified of the public speaking event as it would be if you were being chased by a mountain lion. And your natural bodily defenses against these stressors are largely biologically hardwired. There is some matter of choice if we address the fear using bottom up practices, meaning beginning with the lower, more primitive brain on up to the higher cortical functions. Many clients with ongoing anxiety create a small bag of useful items to help them ground when they start to feel that amygdala dysregulation happen. You can think ahead and carry a few items with you that serve to remind this older, reptilian part of your brain that you are actually okay and safe.”
8 Tips for Managing and Overcoming Social Anxiety
1. Understand your triggers.
One important tip is to explore what triggers your social anxiety. Is it public speaking? Crowded spaces? Unwanted attention? Certified Life Coach Jamie Bacharach explains: “The key to overcoming social anxiety is to understand what sorts of situations trigger your anxiety in the first place, and to find ways to practice these situations accordingly. Ultimately, anxiety cannot be rationalized—you can’t explain to someone why they shouldn’t be feeling anxious. However, you can become numb to the effects of the anxiety via gradual exposure which desensitizes you to its triggers.”
2. Face your fear.
Then, once you’ve understood your triggers you can make a point to confront your fears. “Avoiding anxiety inducing situations perpetuates the fear. Face your fears isn’t just a cliched slice of advice. It actually works,” Licensed Clinical Psychologist Amanda Darnley explains. “Start small and build yourself up. If you have social anxiety around dating, start with signing up for an online dating site. Then work your way up. Remind yourself that you can do difficult things. Think about the last time you did something that was really hard. How did you do it? What helped? Pull from those resources to help you face your fears.”
3. Remember what’s important.
Remembering what’s important can also help you overcome social anxiety. For example, the next time you feel anxiety in social situations, put life into perspective again by thinking about the people you love. Speaker and Success Coach Rusty Gaillard explains: “Social anxiety comes from worry about what others will think of you. The best way to overcome that is to shift your focus to what is important to you. Are you living a life that you feel good about? Are you spending your time well? Are you fulfilled and happy in your relationships?” He continues: “These questions are inside out questions—they start with you at the center of the question, then you bring the answers to the world outside of you.” He continues: “As you get comfortable living a life that is meaningful and rich for you, then you automatically get comfortable sharing your life with others.”
4. Practice visualization exercises.
Also, try envisioning yourself excelling in social situations. This will help you to feel confident going into real social interactions. “Use visualization exercises regularly. See yourself in social situations having fun, chatting with others, and feeling good in your body,” Anxiety Specialist Heather Rider recommends. “Visualization is very powerful and will help you feel more confident because you have trained your brain to feel like it has already been in the situation many times successfully.”
5. Write down your thoughts.
Try writing down your thoughts to overcome social anxiety, too. As Louis Laves-Webb, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, explains, “Writing down your thoughts as they come up is a great way to look at them with some perspective. With perspective, you’ll probably find that most of what’s making you anxious falls into one of two categories. Either they’re things that won’t actually happen, or they’re things you have no control over. Get in the habit of writing down what’s making you anxious and, in your head, labeling these feelings as ‘anxious.’ It will give you the perspective you need to dismiss rather than obey your anxiety.”
6. Prepare positive corrective experiences.
Outlining a plan for success is also an effective way to overcome social anxiety. “The key to overcoming anxiety is having positive corrective experiences,” Licensed Mental Health Therapist Jennifer Daffon explains. “The best way to approach this is by identifying small steps toward target behavior so one can gain a sense of mastery over the feared stimulus. For example, when dealing with social anxiety, if one is fearful of meeting new people because they don’t know what to say, a person can create a list outlining steps to eventually introducing themselves to someone new. A sample plan might be: First make eye contact with someone, then once comfortable doing that, wave at someone, then say ‘hi’ and so on.”
7. Be mindful.
Try practicing mindfulness! “Mindfulness is all about being in the present moment and experiencing your surroundings more fully,” Mental Health Therapist Jenna Palumbo explains. “Most of the clients I serve who have social anxiety are really afraid of being judged by others and/or making a mistake, so they’re overthinking every move they make and coming up with assumptions about how others are perceiving it. By practicing mindfulness, you’re literally training your brain to be more present and less in your head.”
8. Consider exposure therapy.
Finally, consider exposure therapy, which is proven to help individuals overcome social anxiety (and other forms of anxiety for that matter). “One of the best ways to tackle social anxiety is through exposure therapy. This approach allows you to gradually introduce yourself to feared situations while learning how to process them with a decreased level of fear and anxiety,” explains Megan Cannon, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Owner of Back to Balance Counseling, LLC. “It’s best to try this approach with a trained professional who will begin by creating a fear hierarchy with you. This allows you to organize your feared situations and approach them in a more productive way.”
Overview of the 8 tips that will help you overcome it.
- Social anxiety, or the fear of being negatively judged by others, employs the body’s natural defenses which are biologically hardwired.
- That said, we can take steps to address the triggers of our social anxiety and, in turn, overcome it.
- An important step is to understand what triggers your social anxiety: which social situations cause your anxiety? Then, you can confront these fears.
- Also, remembering what’s important in life—like the meaningful relationships you maintain—can help to overcome social anxiety.
- Visualization exercises and journaling are also effective: the former helps you feel confident in real social interactions and journaling helps you find perspective.
- You can also overcome social anxiety by outlining a plan for a successful social interaction and practicing mindfulness.
- Finally, exposure therapy, which gradually exposes you to your fear, can help you overcome social anxiety
Closing Quote: “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” ―C.S. Lewis