After 15 months of lockdown, many people are feeling more anxious about social situations. If you already suffered with social anxiety, you may find the ‘re-opening’ of the world is very overwhelming. You may find you are in constant worry about returning to ‘normal’. Maybe you are not experiencing the same joy and elation as others about socialising again. There are some tips you could try to help alleviate the pressure on yourself.
“Live your life for you not for anyone else. Don’t let the fear of being judged, rejected or disliked stop you from being yourself.” Sonya Parker
WHAT IS SOCIAL ANXIETY?
Social anxiety is more than just shyness. It is the overwhelming fear of social situations and is problematic if it is impacting your daily life. Common forms of social anxiety are; fear of meeting or speaking to people and excessive worry about a social event.
The most likely reasons for these worries or fears are:
- Judgement – do you have concerns about what others are thinking of you?
- Criticism – do you fear giving a presentation or a speech in case you make a mistake?
- Conflict– does the thought of someone disagreeing with you send you into a panic?
- Being the centre of attention– at school did you fear excelling at something as the teacher would praise you in front of everyone?
- Embarrassment – do you fear making a fool of yourself in front of others?
WHAT ARE THE CAUSES OF SOCIAL ANXIETY?
There are three main causes of social anxiety, you may just have one or a combination of all.
Psychological – The thoughts you have will impact your behaviours and can often lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy. Catastrophising; I will go red; my mind will go blank and I will be unable to speak. Mind Reading; everyone will think I am an idiot. Over generalisation; everyone is staring at me. Personalisation; I am boring and I have nothing to say. Rumination; this happened in the past so it will happen again.
Past experience / Trauma – There may have been an event in your past which has impacted your behaviours. This could be rejection, bullying, teasing, humiliation or family conflict. The effects of a traumatic event can continue long after the situation has stopped. You may find you avoid situations that would get you noticed. You may actively aim to please people, avoiding conflict and criticism. These behaviours can subtly evolve over time.
Biological – There is some scientific evidence that anxiety is inherited genetically. If one of your parents suffered with social anxiety, the chances that you will are much higher. Children also learn by watching behaviours. If one of your main caregivers found social situations difficult you likely would have learnt and copied this behaviour.
HOW DO I KNOW IF I HAVE SOCIAL ANXIETY?
The symptoms of social anxiety can often be very extreme. You may identify with common nervousness signs which include avoiding eye contact, shaky voice, speaking softly or quietly, and shaking. Additionally, the automatic responses of fight, flight, freeze or fawn can occur.
Fight – this is the reaction of self-preservation at all costs. You may become more aggressive or assertive, demanding perfection from everyone around you and be very controlling. You may be prone to emotional outbursts and irrational outbursts of anger.
Flight – this is an inherent urge to run or leave a situation. You may struggle to relax and feel a need to keep busy. You will struggle with anxious feelings such as palpations, sweating, blushing and nausea.
Freeze – this is an urge to stay put. You may feel spaced out and light headed, your body will become rigid. You may suffer with brain fog or find you are unable to speak coherently.
Fawn – this is the urge to please others at all costs to avoid rejection or humiliation. You will avoid conflicts and will seek to help others out over your own needs. You will be very self-conscious and may be easily manipulated by others.
The long-term impacts of social anxiety can have a detrimental impact on you and your life. You may drink more alcohol or take drugs to relax you in social situations, which can lead to addictions. It’s possible you may avoid social situations affecting your ability to interact and communicate with others. You may not push yourself to achieve things for fear of what others will think or say, limiting your potential. The social anxiety may evolve into other anxiety disorders as a safety mechanism. You may experience exhaustion, depression, feel isolated or loneliness.
8 TIPS TO HELP CONQUER SOCIAL ANXIETY
- Knowledge– Learn as much as you can about the physiological effects of anxiety. Understand what your personal triggers are and identify ways to minimise anxiety.
- Relaxation– practice as many ways as possible to relax. Do things you enjoy doing, learn new hobbies, try these mindfulness suggestions from author Monique Tallon. The more you practice the better you will get at becoming relaxed.
- Stay calm– try breathing exercises such as this 7/11 exercise. Breathe out for four counts more than you breathe in. Concentrate on the numbers and visualise them, keeping your thoughts neutral. This will allow your brain to reduce its emotional levels thereby reducing anxiety.
- Exposure and practice – although it’s very scary the best way to conquer any anxiety is exposure. Gradually exposing yourself to frightening situations will allow you to build a resilience to your fear. This will also result in new brain patterns being developed with positive outcomes.
- Planning – in moderation this can help prepare you for situations. If you struggle to make conversations, practice at home on your own. Think of topics you could talk about with others. Visualise situations in your head and practice how they will unfold until you are comfortable.
- Support – if you have a support network ask them to help you achieve your goals. Ask a friend or family member to take you to places so you have someone there if you need them.
- Cognitive Behaviour Techniques (CBT)– try these CBT techniques from the National Social Anxiety Centre, which will help you with negative thoughts. You can practice reframing negative thinking patterns to a positive thought process.
- Embrace– you are unique and that is what makes you special. Embrace your awkwardness and acknowledge the unique qualities you have. Reflect on the good in your life and where possible stay away from negative people or situations.
TAKE IT SLOWLY!
The pandemic and lockdown has been a unique situation for everyone and most people have struggled with certain aspects. As the country moves towards ‘re-opening’, take it one day at a time. There is no rule that says you have to go to everything you are invited to. Ease back into life gently taking it at a pace that suits you.
I hope you have found this information on social anxiety helpful. For more information and useful downloads, head over to our website and if you know of anyone who would benefit from finding out more information about this then please share.
With very best wishe