Dealing with Social Anxiety

I don’t remember myself as an extroverted kid but I do see a happy kid in old photos. A little girl who, despite feeling things deeply and noticing the slightest details, felt ok in most scenarios. But somehow, there was a moment, or a sequence of moments in my life that turned shyness and introversion into social anxiety.

I don’t remember those moments. I can’t point out a specific month, week or day when I shifted from being carefree and spontaneous to being hesitant and fearful. But that shift happened. And I’ve been living with it ever since.

What is Social Anxiety?

Social anxiety can be described as a feeling of being nervous and uncomfortable in social situations such as meeting someone new, walking into a roomful full of strangers, talking on the phone with someone you don’t know, speaking in public or even making eye contact.

It happens due to an irrational, overwhelming fear of being judged by others in public, being embarrassed or humiliated, accidentally offending someone causing conflict or being the center of attention.

I knew I had to treat it once the symptoms got physical. Honestly it feels like an uncontrollable storm: your heart starts pumping, your muscles tighten up, you get lightheaded, unable to catch your breath, and may feel like you’re outside of your body.

Determined to face the facts, these are some of the things that I have been attempting to do to help me face my fears and emotions, and learn about them to rebuild my automatic thinking patterns.

1. Relativize

I began searching for ways to manage anxiety and before starting therapy, one of the tools I tried was the simple mind trick of relativizing.

The rational part of my brain would talk to the irrational part of my brain saying “Come on, it’s not that bad.” or “Is this really that important?”.

This can lead to some level of overthinking, but it has worked for me in the past. In the middle of an emotional situation, the act of trying to come up with facts helps you turn your cognitive brain back on.

2. Get outside

This is the tip nobody wants but we have to get out there.

Graded Exposure Therapy consists of creating an exposure fear hierarchy, in which feared situations are ranked according to difficulty. Thus, we attach more realistic beliefs about our fears and become more comfortable with the experience of fear.

This sort of therapy can be exhausting, especially for introverts whose brains spend a lot of energy socialising. On the other hand, everything is more mentally draining when you’re not used to it, and the more situations you live, the less you’ll feel threatened by them.

Ultimately, life is our therapy.

3. Alone time

People with social anxiety are not always but often introverts or highly sensitive people — I’m one of them. We recharge our emotional batteries by spending time alone instead of in the company of others because we process information more deeply than others.

That’s why it’s so important to reserve alone time when working our anxiety. Adopting a “minimalist” lifestyle when it comes to our calendar also helps, as well as learning how to recognize our exhaustion and defining boundaries for our needs.

4. Breathe

On a day-to-day basis we don’t experience many physical threats. Most of the time we’re supposed be relaxed and feeling good. Our alertness should only kick in a small percentage of the time.

But for someone with social anxiety, those percentages are way off balance, we’re always under stress in social situations or public spaces, and if we get into alert mode we instantly start hyperventilating.

That’s why it’s so important to learn breathing techniques that trick our brain back into relaxation mode. These techniques will help, but maintaining a mindful lifestyle will help you feel grounded and calm.

5. Move the body

When it comes to calming the mind, there’s no better remedy like exercise.

It decreases stress hormones like cortisol, and increases endorphins – the body’s feel-good chemicals – giving our moods a natural boost. It can take our mind off problems by redirecting it on the activity at hand or getting you into a zen-like state. It can promote confidence and be a good source of social support.

Exercising often makes us become less affected by the stress we face. It can supply some immunity toward future stress as well as a way to cope with current stress. Whether it’s yoga, aerobics, running or dancing, we can choose what fits us best.

Summing up

We have to understand is that social anxiety is nothing but a misunderstanding about ourselves and others.

At some point, our perception of ourselves got corrupted by an event and we became scared to be criticized and constantly wish to be praised. We have been anchoring our happiness to others’ opinions.

At some point, we weren’t strong or wise enough to feel or think differently. But now we are, and we’re working on ourselves.