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How to get over social anxiety is one massive pain in the butt. If you let it, it will rule you. But the good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way.
Wait, hold up…… who the heck am I to tell you that?
Well, I’m somebody who has been where you are now and come out the other side. I know it can be done because I’ve done it.
So please, trust me on this- you don’t have to live with it. You can take action today to help you overcome this disorder that prevents you from living your life the way you want, and it’s your lucky day….. why? Because I’m going to point you in the right direction. Now, no messing around, let’s get into the ins and outs of it.
How To Stop The Panic
When you have to/ want to talk to somebody, or when somebody starts to talk to you, SA has a nasty habit of sending your nervous system into a state of panic, and you may experience some or all of these extremely unhelpful symptoms:
- Your chest tenses up
- You subconsciously hold your breath
- You face becomes bright red
- You suddenly feel hot
- You blurt out a rushed and awkward response to what the other person says
- Your voice goes high pitched and/or you stutter your speech
- You start sweating
This ruins any chance of you enjoying that conversation and makes you even more afraid of future interactions. And that’s no good. So what do you do about it?
1. Recognize what is happening. You need to be able to tell yourself ‘wait a minute- I’m panicking but there’s no need for me to be, it’s my SA subconsciously controlling me.’ Until you do this, you can’t do anything about it- so it’s incredibly vital that you identify it as it happens.
2. Breathe. Anxiety of any kind will have a disruptive effect on your breathing pattern, and it’s this that causes most of the other symptoms, so it’s crucial to restore that breathing pattern to normality. So if you identify the panic before you approach somebody, first use this technique- breathe in for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 4 seconds, and then breathe out for another 4, repeating if necessary. If you identify the panic when somebody is already talking to you, try and breathe in a ‘normal’ way as you can, and do not rush your response.
3. Say what you want to say. Make eye contact if possible, and say what it is that you want to say (as long as it’s not inappropriate) slowly and clearly. This will make you look more calm and confident, and even more importantly, will make you feel that way. If you stutter or can’t get your words out the first time, remind yourself that there’s no need to panic- just repeat it, as clearly as possible (remember, this can happen to anyone, not only people with social anxiety and most people won’t think anything of it).
To give you an example of how I utilize this technique while working in a shop I recently served an actor from a major television series that I watch religiously. From the moment that I realized who it was, I was determined to show my appreciation, so I told myself that during the transaction, I would bring it up. I realized I felt anxious so I performed my breathing ritual before he came to the till, and as a result, I felt much calmer as I served him. We completed the transaction, and I knew that it was now or never- if I was going to say something it had to be right now. So I told him in a calm and collected manner that I like his work in the show. At least, I tried to do that. Unfortunately, while the first two words came out clearly, the rest were spluttered out in an incomprehensible mess. I knew straight away he hadn’t understood what I’d said (nobody would’ve been able to) but I told myself not to worry, repeat it. And so I did- and this time it came out much clearer. He looked genuinely happy to hear my compliment and replied with “thanks very much dude, I appreciate that.” Although it hadn’t gone quite as smoothly as I’d hoped, by keeping calm I was able to rescue myself from looking very awkward in front of someone I admired. A lot of people (even non-SA sufferers) wouldn’t have been able to do that, because they aren’t aware of how to confront panic in social situations. They wouldn’t have either looked or felt as confident as I did talking to someone that I see near enough every day on TV, but who has no idea who I am.
So to summarise, identify your anxiety, use breathing to relax yourself and speak in a slow, clear and calm manner.
Forcing Yourself Into Social Interactions
Woah woah woah! Where are you going? I realize there’s a good chance you’ve taken one look at that sub-header and thought “does this guy really understand social anxiety? He should know There’s no way I can do that!” and are ready to jump ship and go find another blog to read. But please don’t. Stick with me because trust me, I do understand it, and I can help you.
The harsh reality is that if you want to get on top of your anxiety and function how you want to in social situations, then you’re going to have to start interacting with people more. Honestly, I realize it’s terrifying, but I can promise you that there is no other way. But you know as well as I do that it’s not the interaction itself that is the hardest part…. It’s the thought of the interaction that fills you with dread.
This is what’s known as approach anxiety- it’s the fear of talking to somebody, whether you know them or not. I know how hard it can be- I’ve been there countless times. You go over and over in your head what you’re going to say, how the other person might respond, how you will react to their response, and the list goes on and on, and In the end, you decide it’s easier not to do it.
But you have to get past this and keep getting past it. Use the techniques for calming yourself that I told you about before, and pick up that telephone or go over to that person you want to talk to. The more you do this, the better you will get at it, and the easier it will become- as long as you keep it up. Don’t worry if you feel you were awkward because at least you had the confidence to throw yourself into it. And although you will inevitably initially beat yourself up about the conversations you don’t think went well, you will feel ecstatic about the ones you think did.
And like I said before, it does get easier the more you do it. You’re just going to have to trust me on that.
What Else Can You Do?
SA is a mental condition, and as with most psychological conditions, you can give your mind a much better chance of fighting it if you look after your body as well. So, there are two things, in particular, you can do to give yourself a potentially huge boost if you don’t do them already.
Firstly, exercise. Whether it’s working out in the gym, running, playing a sport, dancing or mountain biking (or anything else that gets the blood pumping), exercising releases endorphins that make you feel good…. And if you feel good to start with, then you’ll have a much better shot at dealing with your anxieties. I’m no sports scientist, but if you want to read more about how exercise and endorphins help mental health conditions, take a look at this page on the website of the Anxiety And Depression Association Of America.
Secondly, eat right. A poor, unbalanced diet won’t be the cause of your anxiety, but it certainly can worsen it. Probably the worst thing for this is sugar….yup, that thing we have loads of all the time and generally makes things taste nice (let’s not lie to ourselves, it just does). Unfortunately, there are many prices to pay for consuming a lot of sugar (and not only the sugar tax), and it’s contribution to your anxiousness is a major one. I’m not saying you have to ditch the tasty stuff altogether, but if you can make a serious effort to cut down, it could make a difference. But don’t just take my word for it… for a detailed explanation on the link between sugar and anxiety check out this article.
You’ve got this
I believe in you. Why, when I don’t even know you?
I believe in you because I beat down my social anxiety when it seemed like an impossible task.
That’s why I implore you to take my advice and try out the methods I’ve imparted to you in this post. It won’t be easy (I never said that), and the change in you won’t be instant, but you can do this. I know you can.
If you try everything I’ve said and give it enough time, and it still doesn’t work for you, then I suggest seeing a professional therapist who specializes in CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). They will be able to tailor your therapy personally for you. In severe cases of Social Anxiety Disorder, a psychiatrist or other doctor specializing in anxieties may prescribe medication to help control it.
Thanks for reading! I hope you will use what I’ve told you to change your life for the better as I have.
And finally, Good luck! You’ve got this!
About The Author:
Guy Ostler is a freelance writer who has been held back by social anxiety ever since his late teens. Now in his thirties, he feels he is a much more confident and less anxious person and as such feels passionate about passing on the methods and techniques he uses to others who experience social anxiety. His website is www.guythescribe.com.