“A persistent fear of one or more social or performance situations in which the person is exposed to unfamiliar people or to possible scrutiny by others. The individual fears that he or she will act in a way (or show anxiety symptoms) that will be embarrassing and humiliating.”
Does this sound all too familiar? Do you find yourself actively avoiding or even fearful of social situations? If this interpretation is an accurate depiction of how you’ve been feeling over the last few months, you may need social anxiety disorder help and relief.
According to the latest numbers, you are not alone. More than 7 percent of adult Americans have also had a period of social anxiety within the last year. It’s a pervasive diagnosis and often associated with other mental health issues.
We pulled the definition of social anxiety from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association (APA), or the DSM-5.
While helpful as a diagnosis, you might find it a cold approach to a painful experience. After all, it doesn’t get into the dirty details of living with social anxiety. With that in mind, let’s paint a picture of what it’s like living with the disorder. Then, let’s discover 10 tips for overcoming social anxiety symptoms including a free, downloadable app.
Symptoms of Social Anxiety
The fear, anxiety, stress, and loneliness you feel become physically apparent by an elevated heart rate, flushed face, sweaty palms – you know these too well. But what does it really feel like? And what causes that feeling of shyness or shying away from those who care about and love you?
- You Always Have a Good Excuse Not to Go. No matter what the occasion, you can always find an excuse not to go. In the beginning, this might even be subconscious. From small gatherings to larger events, you never feel up to socializing with others. You won’t go, and you have a good excuse why not.
- Missing Events on Purpose, Yet You Still Feel the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO). Even when you decide not to attend an event, afterward you feel remorse about the decision. It’s a bizarre cycle of thoughts. On the one hand, you are fearful about heading out in public, while on the other, you feel lonely, and left out. You are constantly battling this confluence of emotions.
- Difficulty Speaking Up During Conversation. When you do find yourself in casual conversation, you struggle to find your voice. Everyone talks around you, but you can’t find the courage to speak up. Even if they are asking you questions, you can only manage short answers, and can’t look anyone in the eyes.
- Intense Fear of Speaking to People You Don’t Know. Friends and family are hard enough, but it seems terrifying to speak to strangers. Small talk? No way! That’s something to be avoided at all costs. Again, you might try to avoid small talk with strangers by not looking people in the eyes, or avoiding the situation altogether.
- Crippling Fear of Becoming the Center of Attention. Part of the anxiety of socializing is becoming the center of attention. You fear that in a large group, all eyes will be on you. Won’t others judge you in some way? A public speech might trigger a panic attack; the fear is so intense.
- Inferiority Complex. You may feel that people look down on you or don’t respect you. You experience inferiority to everyone around you. You may even feel this way because you believe nobody else is as nervous as you are.
- Avoid Dating (or Have Issues in a Relationship). If you are single, and you plan on staying that way. Or if you are in a relationship, the relationship struggles stir as you become increasingly introverted. While you might not be socially anxious around your partner, your anxiety affects you in many other ways. Eventually, they start to put a strain on everyone else in your life.
When a great deal of your anxious inner dialogue is negative, and you are consistently playing out future events and conversations, there’s an ongoing struggle that needs to be addressed to view life more positively and to relate to others proactively. So, you definitely need strategies, tools, and resources for overcoming social anxiety symptoms.
10 Steps for Gaining Control Over Social Anxiety Symptoms
Begin with the end in mind for having a peaceful purpose and mindfulness about your social interaction with others.
- Experience Mindfulness. Mindfulness is a well-established way to become aware of your emotions.
According to an article published by the Harvard Gazette, mindfulness is “the idea of paying attention on purpose,” and there is evidence it can improve memory, reduce stress, promote a healthier diet, and restful sleep.
There are many resources available about mindfulness but start with easy first steps. When feelings of anxiety bubble up, notice them and see them for what they are. Once you’ve noticed them, practice letting them pass.
- Reappraise Your Fear. Reappraising the way you look at a situation can challenge your approach and the way you feel about it. Instead of saying, “I am anxious to go to the party,” tell yourself you are excited. At the next event, reappraise it as a game. How many people can you talk to? How many questions can you ask? Reappraising can help the brain learn new pathways, habits, and skills for gaining control over social anxiety symptoms.
- Consider “What is the Worst That Could Happen?” Social anxiety is associated with an intense concern about future situations. You replay future conversations again and again. You can’t stop spiraling downwards caving to your frustrations and negative emotions.
Usually, as a socially anxious person, you know these fears are irrational – but by the time you end up at the bottom, it’s hard to recognize this. Before you go there, ask yourself, “What is the worst that can happen?” Once you are there, you’ll likely feel better, because you know it’s so wild, it will never come to fruition.
- Social Prescription. The public health sector in the United Kingdom has adopted a new kind of prescription, one called ‘social prescription.’ It doesn’t involve pills or medicines, though. Instead, it includes activities, well-being exercises, social anxiety disorder help, and other non-clinical activities.
Make your own social prescription for social anxiety. This could mean getting outside in nature for 30 minutes a day, taking an art workshop, or joining yoga. Prescribe yourself wellbeing for mind, body, and soul.
- Speak to a Counselor. In a study done by Phillipe Goldin out of Stanford University, he demonstrates the benefits of cognitive therapy for people with social anxiety. In the study, he used brain imaging to map the neural responses of participants as they read an autobiographical story out loud about a social situation.
ChatOwl is a virtual app that customizes a plan for free to help people through a series of sessions and exercises to cope and overcome depression and other mental health struggles.
As negative reactions came up, researchers asked participants to stop and reevaluate their feelings. As participants underwent cognitive behavioral therapy, Goldin and his team witnessed much better responses. According to Goldin, “The study further reveals that counseling is effective in changing the behavior of the brain, helping people respond to and reframe negative emotions more quickly.”
- Be Kind to Yourself. Many of the same approaches to treating mental health issues, like depression and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) overlap with those for social anxiety.
In the book The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time, author Alex Korb encourages readers to be kind during the process of healing.
Korb says, “Be as patient and kind with yourself as you would be with a cute little puppy that you’re trying to house-train. Stressing the puppy out will only make it pee on the floor.”
- Practice With One or Two Close Relationships. Despite what you might assume, you can learn social skills, including small talk and conversations. Grab a few of your closest friends or family members, and practice asking questions.
Set goals for the conversation, like sharing two stories, or asking about two topics that come up. Use these safe friendships as a stepping stool to more significant social situations.
Studies have proven that by examining relationships with a behavioral-based relationship approach, there can be a lasting effect on satisfaction within social relationships.
- Create Safe Spaces. It’s natural for even the most social of the butterflies to feel exhausted after big events, or after hours of intense socializing. Everyone needs downtime. Create a safe space when you are in social situations. This gives you an exit when you need it, and a place to collect your thoughts. For example, a bathroom stall makes a great escape.
- Get Outside. Ever heard of forest bathing or shinrin-yoku? This is the practice of going out into nature and experiencing a peaceful natural environment with all five senses.
According to The Guardian, science backs the health benefits so much so that the Japanese government began incorporating it into public policy. The report showed that such activity could reduce blood pressure, lower cortisol levels, and improve concentration and memory. A chemical released by trees and plants, called phytoncides, was also found to boost the immune system.
- Create a Hierarchy of Fears. There is a long history of using exposure therapy for social anxiety, including exciting new options using virtual reality:
- Start with creating a list of all the social situations which you fear.
- Place them in hierarchical order from least fearful to most.
- Target the lower ones first. Slowly expose yourself to these events, places, and people, as self-prescribed help and exposure therapy.
- Set small goals and practice them.
- Move up as it gets easier.
The 10 steps outlined in this article will help with overcoming social anxiety symptoms. But, you may be asking where to turn for more social anxiety disorder help?
Where to Turn When You Need Social Anxiety Disorder Help
Breaking through the cycles of fear and cycles of negative thoughts is not easy, and certainly doesn’t happen overnight. You’ll likely rely on various different tools, resources, and therapies to overcome it. Take little steps, forgive yourself for when you don’t reach goals as quickly as you wanted, and take every day for what it is.
ChatOwl’s virtual app is a free, downloadable resource to consult with when you need social anxiety disorder help. ChatOwl’s usefulness in addressing how to navigate social anxiety, isolation, and depression can empower you to more readily alleviate anxieties and concerns and be on the path to a happy, connected social life.