Social Anxiety Disorder or Social Phobia is a form of anxiety disorder that makes it extremely difficult to interact with people on a social level, meet new people, and attend social gatherings. Social anxiety arises from the fear of being judged by those around you. Unlike shyness, which could be short-lived, dealing with social anxiety is not only long-drawn, but it can also leave debilitating effects on the individual.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) estimates that nearly 15 million Americans(1) suffer from social anxiety. The symptoms of social anxiety disorder start setting around the age of 13 years(2).
The physical symptoms that follow social interaction include:
- Excessive sweating
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Difficulty speaking
- Rapid heart rate
- Dryness in the mouth
Alternatively, the psychological symptoms include:
- Avoiding social situations
- Skipping school or work due to anxiety
- Worrying about social situations
- Getting anxious about people noticing your nervousness
- Worrying for several days or weeks before a social event
- Trying to be inconspicuous at social events
While you may not show all the signs, a few symptoms may crop up in certain situations, which indicate selective or limited anxiety.
The causes of social anxiety disorder can be attributed to bullying, conflict in the family, childhood trauma, or sexual abuse. Women are 1.5 to 2.2 times more prone to developing this disorder and nearly 20% of individuals suffering from social anxiety also struggle with alcohol dependence or abuse(3).
How to Get Rid of Social Anxiety?
1. Challenge the Negative Thoughts
When you are overwhelmed by everyone around you, it may feel as though you are trapped and helpless. However, the first step to overcoming social anxiety involves challenging these negative thoughts.
When looking for ways on how to overcome social anxiety, you need to start by identifying your irrational and anxious thoughts when you think of social settings. Next, analyze these thoughts and rationalize them. Ask yourself why you think the way you do and what can be the alternatives to such scenarios.
Studies find that identifying and understanding the anxiety-causing stressors could decrease the levels of stress in those situations. This is because you will be capable of realizing that the psychosomatic response is a natural yet false alarm.
Gradually, you will begin training your mind into being in the present rather than assuming the worst, reading everyone’s negative thoughts, and predicting a disastrous future.
[ Read: Treatments for Anxiety ]
2. Practice Mindfulness and Meditation
Practicing mindfulness can help you identify your thoughts and emotions in a positive, non-judgmental way.
It aids in grounding your emotions and self-introspection. A study published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience journal indicates that practising mindful medication could decrease anxiety by 39%!
Further, meditation could also help those struggling with anxiety. According to the University of Amsterdam(4), mindful meditation could be an effective, accessible, and cost-effective way to deal with social anxiety.
3. Gain Moderate Social Exposure
Exposure therapy could help you get over social anxiety and give you the confidence to do your favorite activities in a social environment. In doing so, you would be exposing yourself to the phobia and building immunity towards it due to a robust state of mind.
Start by picking any activity that you love and practice it in a setting that would make you anxious. This ensures that you concentrate only on the present and on what you are doing while stepping out of your comfort zone.
You could read your favorite book in the park or watch your show at a coffee shop – start small and expand accordingly. Studies show that exposure therapy has been effective in treating anxiety-related disorders.
4. Create a Social Scale
On a scale from 0 to 10, with 0 being no anxiety and 10 being a full-blown anxiety attack, grade some commonly occurring or recurring social situations. List out all the various social settings and imagine yourself in those environments.
Now rate the experience and jot down your emotions. Test out some situations and compare the actual outcome with the one that you had anticipated. You will be surprised to note that in most cases, the mere thought of doing something is more intimidating than actually doing it.
[ Read: Grounding Techniques for Anxiety ]
5. Make Lifestyle Changes for Anxiety
Certain lifestyle changes could build your self-confidence, thereby acting as social anxiety cures. Avoid caffeinated beverages, alcohol, or energy drinks as these stimulants could trigger or aggravate your anxiety.
Researchers(5) have discovered links between fermented food consumption with a decrease in symptoms of anxiety. The same study also highlighted how exercising helps reduce social anxiety. Ensure that you get enough sleep(6) and drink enough water to keep your anxiety in check.
One of the best social anxiety solutions is breathing. It helps control the physical symptoms and also tricks your mind into feeling calmer. The moment everything around you begins to get overwhelming, step back from the situation and start taking slow, deliberate breaths. Slow breathing will help you gain control over your body.
Here’s how to fight social anxiety with breathing exercises:
- Take a deep breath.
- Hold it for 4-5 seconds.
- Exhale all the air from inside. Repeat.
[ Read: Breathing Exercises for Stress ]
7. Give Yourself Time
Behavioural changes do not take place overnight. Hence, when you are looking for how to get over social anxiety do not expect instant results. You will be rewiring your brain and thought process, which will take quite a lot of time. Even if you mess up, be kind to yourself instead of getting worked up about not getting over your social anxiety thing.
8. Get Out There
Now that you are equipped with these social anxiety tips, it is time for you to step out into social situations and talk and engage with those around you. You can start by doing something nice for someone.
Doing so will activate the brain’s region associated with the reward cycle and motivation, which will put you more at ease when in a social situation.
Now that you know how to fix social anxiety, you can feel more confident in dealing with your condition. It has been observed that those struggling with social anxiety seek help nearly 10 or more years later!
Further, social anxiety disorder could birth other mental disorders. If social anxiety is acting as a roadblock in your day-to-day life, consult a psychotherapist to overcome this condition.
[ Read: Yoga for Anxiety Control ]
1. Is social anxiety a mental disorder?
Yes, social anxiety is classified(7) as a mental disorder.
2. What helps social anxiety?
Psychotherapy, medication, meditation, deep breathing exercises, exposure therapy, cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), and lifestyle changes could help with social anxiety.
3. How can I treat social anxiety at home?
Above, you can see a list of ways through which you can work on your social anxiety right at home. However, if the symptoms are causing too much distress, consult a therapist or mental health practitioner for help.