Millions of people around the world experience symptoms of anxiety in social situations. In this Spotlight feature, we offer some tips and tricks on how to cope with social anxiety to make your life easier and more fulfilling. Whether you are still struggling, have just been diagnosed, are entering treatment, or having a relapse, the following tips can help keep you on the path toward management of your symptoms. Without proper treatment, social anxiety disorder can be chronic and severely impair your quality of life. Unfortunately, the nature of the disorder means that you are a person who is afraid to ask for help.
Avoid negative coping strategies
The negative emotional and mental states associated with social anxiety can lead to physiological symptoms that worsen a person’s anxiety and lead to further isolation. One person told us that his social anxiety used to lead not just to “‘internal’ feelings include a shakiness in my voice, [and] brain fog that stops me from thinking straight,” but also to “physical feelings that include an upset stomach, loss of appetite, sweaty hands, muscle stiffness.” When finding themselves in an unavoidable social situation such as an office event — many people try to blunt the symptoms of their social anxiety through negative coping strategies, particularly drinking alcohol.
Face your fears, don’t hide from them
Another go-to for people who experience social anxiety is to avoid engaging in social situations by checking social media or doing other activities on their smartphones. “I used to wallow in my social anxiety and just sort of stand there and pretend to play on my phone,” someone else told us.
“Our smartphones have turned into a tool that provides short, quick, immediate satisfaction, which is very triggering,” warns one of the study authors, Isaac Vaghefi, who is an assistant professor of management information systems at Binghamton University-State University of New York.
Moreover, hiding behind a smartphone will only avoid addressing the problem of social anxiety. Although it may seem counterintuitive and even scary at first, it is far better to face social anxiety face-on, through gradual exposure to increasingly complex social situations. “As a result, people are forced to reevaluate the perceived threat of a social situation after experiencing that social mishaps do not lead to the feared long lasting, irreversible, and negative consequences.”Put simply, purposely and repeatedly being awkward in social situations to learn that even a few social slips will not lead to rejection or exclusions from social groups. After all, everybody is awkward and makes blunders on occasion.
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Do something nice for someone
Finally, a good way to take the edge off being in a social situation is to try and distract yourself from all the worries and negative thoughts by doing something nice for someone else. In the study, people who actively engaged in acts of kindness towards others, such as helping a neighbor mow their lawn, later felt less avoidant of social situations.”Acts of kindness may help to counter negative social expectations by promoting more positive perceptions and expectations of a person’s social environment.””People have a negative narrative in their head because that narrative comes from memories of awkward or embarrassing moments that override everything else,” someone told us. “So if you have one good interaction, you can use that momentum in the same way to get yourself another, and another. Before you know it, you have a library of positive references, and you naturally find that negative self-talk diminishing,” he added.
Only you can decide how best to live with SAD. If you have been in treatment, you may simply need to be vigilant about using coping strategies to avoid a relapse of symptoms. Most people will never live completely without social anxiety, but rather achieve a balance in which your anxiety does not negatively affect your daily functioning or place limits on what you can achieve.