Social Anxiety Disorder impacts approximately 15 million American teen and adults. For 75% of those suffering with Social Anxiety Disorder, they report symptoms began when they were between 8 and 15 years old. If you struggle with this condition, you already know the first-hand effects the anxiety can cause on your relationships, self-esteem, and overall life functioning.
Social anxiety isn’t just general shyness or nervousness in social situations. It’s a clinical disorder, and its symptoms can disrupt your daily life. According to The Anxiety and Depression Association of America:
“The defining feature of social anxiety disorder is intense anxiety or fear of being judged, negatively evaluated, or rejected in a social or performance situation. People with social anxiety disorder may worry about acting or appearing visibly anxious (e.g., blushing, stumbling over words), or being viewed as stupid, awkward, or boring. As a result, they often avoid social or performance situations, and when a situation cannot be avoided, they experience significant anxiety and distress."
Fortunately, if you are struggling with social anxiety, know that your condition is treatable. By learning and utilizing various coping skills, you can take control over your life - and over your anxiety. Let’s get into what you should know.
Create Appropriate Goals
Anxiety disorders can wreak havoc on the perception you have of both yourself and the world around you. No matter your circumstance, you may feel constantly threatened or unsafe. That said, anxiety lies on a continuum. The goal for recovery isn’t about never feeling anxious again. It’s about learning how to manage your symptoms constructively.
When you start working on your social anxiety, it’s a good idea to consider identifying the people, places and situations that evoke a sense of fear. Many therapists call this process a fear hierarchy. What are the triggers that create the most fear?
Ideally, you should focus on identifying the small, attainable goals first. For example, if asking a girl on a date is an overarching goal, a smaller goal might be saying hello to the girl by the beginning of next week.
By mastering smaller goals, you build the confidence to achieve the larger goals. Furthermore, having more confidence encourages you to keep making appropriate risks in managing your social anxiety.
Identify (And Avoid) Negative Thinking Traps
Our minds create our realities. However, when you anticipate fear or uncertainty, your mind may jump to some catastrophic conclusions. While this is your mind trying to protect you, that doesn’t always mean the conclusions are appropriate - or even rational!
Some common negative thinking traps in social anxiety include:
Polarized thinking (“nobody likes me,” or “I never know how to talk to people”)
Overgeneralization (“that one speech didn’t go well, so all of them will be bad”)
Labeling (“I feel awkward, so I am awkward”)
Catastrophizing (“this party will be a complete disaster”)
Fortune-telling (“I know this person will think I’m weird”)
Identification is the first step to working through negative thinking traps. Recognize when you are engaging in these distortions. Do certain situations trigger them more than others? When you fall prey to these beliefs, how do they impact your subsequent actions?
Many people with social anxiety disorder suffer from low self-esteem and hindered self-worth. They feel inadequate or incompetent when comparing themselves to others. They shame and berate themselves for their struggles.
Unfortunately, this negative feedback loop often perpetuates your anxiety. The more insecure you feel, the less likely you are to put yourself out there in social situations. Moreover, if you are in a particular social situation, you’ll probably be hyper-critical and judgmental of yourself.
Positive affirmations can help promote a more positive and realistic sense of self. They help ground and rebalance your thought patterns. Some examples of positive affirmations include:
I can do this.
I am capable of managing social interactions.
People want to get to know me.
I am well-liked by others.
I can walk into this room confidently.
My anxiety does not define me.
Did you know that your anxiety lives in the future? That’s right. Anxiety is all about perceiving what’s about to happen (regardless of the reality!), and it’s rooted in fear of the worst-case scenario. The more you can feel present and engaged with yourself, the less anxious you will feel.
Harnessing mindfulness allows you to feel more connected to yourself and the world around you. Rather than obsessing on the future, you’re facing what lies directly in front of you. Rather than assuming you know what others are thinking, you’re engaging with the material presented with you right now.
Mindfulness, like most things, is a habit. It takes time and effort to cultivate. However, even devoting just a few minutes to deep breathing or reflective meditation can make a tremendous difference in your anxiety.
Learn To Tolerate Discomfort
The more you shy away from distressing experiences, the more you risk feeling anxious, isolated and frustrated with yourself. Your social anxiety becomes an internal nightmare. Indeed, in learning how to cope with your condition, you may need to start facing the fears you worry about the most.
Remember that sometimes it’s worth taking risks even if and when they don’t feel pleasant. It’s normal to experience distress and fear when first taking a risk. It’s also normal to question if it’s worth taking that risk if you’re just going to feel miserable.
Tolerating discomfort is an important life skill because it strengthens your resilience. Moreover, the more you can practice sitting with discomfort, the less uncomfortable you’ll actually feel.
Seek Therapy When Struggling With Social Anxiety Disorder
If you are struggling with social anxiety disorder, remember that it isn’t your fault. It’s not something you consciously choose to experience. However, seeking professional support can provide you with practical coping skills for managing your condition. You’ll learn more about the root of your anxiety, and you’ll also learn healthier ways to cope with your triggers as they arise.
Asking for help is the first step towards profound change. Even though it may feel frightening, you can learn how to dramatically improve your life! I work with teens and adults experiencing anxiety and help them finds ways to reduce, rethink and relax so they can better enjoy their lives. Contact me to find out more.