Have you ever had butterflies right before you gave a speech in front of a crowd? What about during a job interview? Nervous energy can be a normal, often healthy, reaction to big moments in a person’s life. However, for over 15 million people, nerves play a much bigger role, negatively affecting the way they live. It is often identified as social anxiety, and often increases during the holidays with parties and social gatherings.
Social anxiety is an intense fear of certain social situations, especially those for which a person is unfamiliar or feel they are being watched or judged by others. These situations can be so terrifying that a person may go to great lengths to avoid them, even if they recognize their fears as irrational or overblown. It can interfere with normal routines and cause significant distress in everyday functioning. As difficult as it is to overcome, a person with social anxiety can improve. If you believe you struggle with social anxiety, use these tips to help you through it.
Begin by identifying your social anxiety triggers. At work, it can include public speaking, speaking up in a meeting, talking with “important” people or authority figures, or being criticized. You may be triggered in public by using public restrooms, eating or drinking, making small talk, or attending parties. Or, triggers can be as simple as making phone calls or being the center of attention. The result of these triggers are emotional, physical and behavioral symptoms that cause you to feel self-conscious and fearful of interaction.
With so many negative thoughts contributing to anxiety, it can be difficult to move forward. But by challenging these thoughts as they enter your mind, you can begin replacing them with more realistic and positive ways of looking at social situations. For example, if you’re nervous about an upcoming work presentation, identify your worry, then ask yourself questions that challenge it. “Why am I nervous? Do I know if I will ruin the presentation? Even if I am nervous, will people think I’m incompetent?” It can be scary to address why you feel and think the way you do, but by understanding your reasons for them, you begin to lessen the negative impact anxiety has on your life.
Work on focusing your attention on others, instead of yourself. In situations that make you nervous, you may tend to focus on your anxious thoughts and feelings. By monitoring your bodily sensations and trying to control them, you will probably become more aware of how horrible you’re feeling, creating worse anxiety for yourself. However, by switching from an internal to external focus, you begin concentrating more on what’s happening around you, instead of inside you. Turn your attention to others, and engage in conversation. Keep your mind on the present moment and what is being said, rather than your own negative thoughts. Anxiety isn’t as visible as you think, and even if someone notices it, they most likely will not think badly of you. If you find anxiety creeping in, remember to take deep breaths to balance the oxygen and carbon dioxide in your body, lowering your heart rate and muscle tension.
Instead of avoiding social anxiety triggers, learn to face your fears. Start with a situation you can handle, such as phoning a friend, and gradually work yourself up to more challenging circumstances. Climbing the “anxiety ladder” will slowly build your confidence and coping skills. Stay patient, and try not to accomplish too much, too soon, which can cause a setback. You know yourself best, so set a pace that you’re comfortable with. If you find yourself making no progress, contact a professional who can help you address your issues. W