Learning to cope with social anxiety

If you find yourself anxious in a variety of social situations, such as speaking in front of a group, meeting new people or even using public facilities, and if you fear that people will see your anxiety and humiliate you, then it might be time to cope with your social anxiety.

The good news is that you can do something about it. For a start, just stop avoiding social events and don’t rely on self-medication. Cognitive behavioural therapists have made great advances for a drug-free approach to deal with anxiety problems. So what are you avoiding actually? The behavioural problem for people with social anxiety is the tendency to avoid anxiety-provoking situations. When the socially anxious individual anticipates going to a party, she or he becomes quite anxious, but then decides not to go and the anxiety immediately decreases. This reduction of anxiety reinforces avoidance. This simple ‘reward for avoidance’ maintains the fear of negative social evaluation. It’s all stick and no carrot. For example, if you feel anxious thinking about approaching someone you like and then decide to avoid them, your anxiety immediately drops. As a result, you learn to avoid people. That’s why, you should learn to confront your fears and realise that this step is empowering. If you like someone, go and start with a simple Hello. Don’t care about how it might end.

You’ll begin to realise that you’re THE kind of person who can actually do THIS kind of thing. The simple thing you can start with is to make a list of the situations that you feel anxious in or avoid. For example, meeting people at a party, speaking up in front of colleagues and talking with your boss. You can rate each anticipated behaviour from 0 to 10 in terms of the level of anxiety that you might expect. For example, if you don’t know how to ask your supervisor for a promotion, make a list following the hierarchy of your fear (from least to highest): 1) thinking of going to his or her office, 4) seeing other people in the room, 8) deciding to start a conversation, 10) asking about the wanted promotion, and so on.

After you have your list, another helpful strategy to cope with anxiety is to identify your safety behaviours and eliminate them. In other words, get out of your comfort zone. Many people who are anxious engage in superstitious behaviours that they think make them safer or less likely to humiliate themselves. For example, using alcohol or drugs, avoiding eye contact, wiping hands and talking very fast. The problem with safety behaviours is that they are like the training wheels on a bicycle – you can’t ride without them, but if you don’t try without them, you’ll never learn to do it properly. So next time you have a presentation, don’t drink a glass of whisky before it but simply train in front of the mirror.

It is very important to challenge your anxious thoughts. That’s why it’s a cognitive therapy as well – it’s all about your thoughts. You are often thinking about how badly things will go. For example, you predict that everyone will notice that you are sweating in class. You can challenge these thoughts by asking yourself the following: “Have I ever made a fool of myself or am I just predicting the same thing over and over?” Exactly, you’re just predicting.

Once you have identified the situations that make you anxious and you have rated them from least to most anxious then you are ready to confront your fears. Start with imagining each step in the hierarchy. So, imagine that you are thinking of going to a party and stay with that image until your anxiety drops. Then move on to imagining the next step in the hierarchy: talking to people you don’t know. Keep imagining and let the anxiety flow out and away. With time the idea of going to an actual party will even sound exciting.

So it’s time for the final step: start with exposure. In other words, start practising what you fear. You can learn that you can actually do things when you are anxious. So if people notice you are sweating, it’s not a big deal. I’ll bet that almost every day we notice people who are sweating, but we don’t care. Because it is irrelevant. Take your swimming suit and go to the swimming pool now: there’s nothing scary about public lockers.

Last but not least, practice self-rewarding. Give yourself a big bag of carrots! Really, congratulations for facing your fears! Who deserves more congratulation than you for trying hard to confront what is difficult for your own body and mind? Just keep trying.

Remember that each time you face your fear you win and your anxiety loses.

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10 Comments Add yours

    1. elitsastaneva says:

      Thanks! For me personally, challenging negative thoughts is the most difficult aspect for… But I know that we all are capable of harmonic social interactions. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Saurab says:

        I used to face this anxiety before; in fact, I still prefer being with myself or with people I already know.
        I always found holding conversations challenging…
        My problem was also the opposite of yours; I would have overly high expectations of myself at such gatherings and would make myself nervous.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. elitsastaneva says:

    I understand, I feel much better in small groups, too. However, remember that everyone is shy to some degree and that’s why there’s no need to worry. Also, researchers claim that there are many extraverts out there that can be shy when they meet someone new. Introverts or extraverts, people should be themselves because we all are unique in our diversity.

    Like

  2. I feel I need advice about confronting my fear of approaching people when I have a question or there’s something I want to say to them. I always feel like I am bothering people if I go to them. And it’s like I can force myself to ask the person a question, but I don’t feel good about it. What I feel is I am forcing myself to do it, and as I am doing it, my heart feels like it will pop out of my chest and my whole body and mind is so on edge that I might collapse on the spot. Then, in the aftermath, I do feel a decrease in anxiety, but it’s the bad kind where (in my mind) I was dangling from a cliff and very near death, only to barely cling to the top to escape dying.

    This is how I feel every time at work when I have to ask for help from my trainer whenever there’s something I don’t understand. Many a time I’ve sat at my desk in near tears because I feel so stuck in my anxiety, and then I can’t bring myself to approach my trainer. Or I end up taking a bathroom break and crying in there. The environment has been so bad for me that I’m considering finding another job that doesn’t require me to constantly ask for help.

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    1. elitsastaneva says:

      Hey,
      I do understand your worries, but I believe you should keep confronting your fears. Don’t forget that changing your environment is only a small part of the problem. My suggestion is to share more about your condition with some of your coworkers. You might be surprised how many people experience similar fears.
      Maybe ask yourself why you are scared and what had triggered your anxiety in the past. As mentioned above, practice imaginary steps, which step-by-step will become real.
      Never regret what you’ve done or said because everyone is unique. In the end, confrontation gives birth to harmony.
      Last but not least, don’t be ashamed to ask for help. Behavioural therapy really works.
      I hope I can help in the future.
      Warm hugs,
      Ellie

      Like

      1. I’m not certain if I can ever tell my coworkers about my pain. It’s a very personal part of me. I fear it’ll only cause me to feel even not uncomfortable because then they’ll know what I suffer from.

        I’m scared because I often feel like it takes a lot of effort for me to ask for help. When I do, I feel like it’s a huge struggle to make myself do it, and afterwards, I feel so worn out that I tell myself I don’t want to ever put myself in that situation again. Even simple questions like asking a stranger for directions freaks me out. But it’s even more uncomfortable when I have to be around the same people over and over.

        I am currently in cognitive therapy. It’s sort of been helping. It’s because of my therapist that I have been able to ask for help at work sometimes, but I still sink back into my old habits at times because of anxiety. It’s depressing because it’s almost like I try to change, but the anxiety is always there, so I struggle and flip flop a lot. I feel terrible all the time, and it’s gotten to the point I’ve started to dread going into work.

        Like

      2. elitsastaneva says:

        Oh, in this case don’t force yourself too much, but remember that at some point you should stop worrying about your anxiety.
        If things are really bad, however, take some time off, but never give up! Talk to family and friends as well.
        Give yourself more time and soon you’ll see the effects of your therapy.
        Also, practice relaxation at home and keep a notebook where you can write different situations that make you nervous, and analyse them.
        You can do it!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I took your advice about taking a break and terminated my job. Yesterday I actually had trouble focusing on my work because of my anxiety, and that’s when I realized I had to call it quits. I will still remain active by going on interviews, though. I just don’t want the pressure of being at a job where I came to feel as if I was only there because my parents wanted me there, rather than my own investment in the job.

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      4. elitsastaneva says:

        Congrats! I hope you’re feeling better now. Never do stuff that other people expect you to do, but on the other hand, never give up. Good luck with your job hunt and keep positive!

        Liked by 1 person

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