Social anxiety disorder can often be debilitating. Despite the havoc it can wreak on a person’s life, treating social anxiety can feel impossible. If you’re currently experiencing social anxiety, you’re not alone. There are plenty of people like you who need help overcoming this disorder.
Sometimes, the thought of treating anxiety seems like a monstrous task. It’s not easy to rewire your brain, but know that it isn’t trying to hurt you. It’s trying to protect you against threats, no matter how small they may be. Giving yourself some patience and love will go a long way.
But what can you get from beating this beast? As it turns out, a lot. Since a large chunk of our society revolves around social interactions, social anxiety can cause you to miss out on life.
Most importantly, it can stop you from reaching your true potential, but it doesn’t have to be this way. There are plenty of things you can do to slowly but surely overcome your social anxiety.
In this article, we’ll examine what social anxiety is and how it impacts your life and the choices you make. Then, we’ll offer suggestions on what you can do to treat social anxiety disorder.
What is Social Anxiety?
Social anxiety disorder is an intense and persistent fear that other people are watching and judging you. This disorder affects 12% of the population. Social anxiety isn’t just classified as introversion or shyness, as fear or intense anxiety must be present to get a diagnosis.
In fact, the fear people experience with social anxiety disorder when thinking about or interacting in social situations is so intense that it feels beyond their control. If a person is incredibly anxious about an event, they may worry about it weeks before it actually happens.
The signs and symptoms of a social anxiety disorder include:
- Trembling, sweating/sweaty hands, or blushing before or during conversations
- “Mind blanking,” sudden nausea, or light-headedness
- Finding it difficult to be around people, even when you want to
- Hyper-awareness of body language and speech volume
- Avoidance of places where there are other people
Sometimes, a person may experience an underlying health condition that makes social anxiety worse. They may also develop another condition due to their social anxiety symptoms.
How Social Anxiety Can Impact More Than Your Social Life
It’s clear that social anxiety would cause you to limit contact with other people. If you’re afraid something bad will happen, then you’ll become nervous around people or avoid them.
A person with social anxiety disorder may avoid or feel fear when doing the following:
- Answering a question in front of their class
- Speaking to employees in a shop
- Going to job interviews
- Eating and drinking in front of others
- Using the public restroom
- Making new friends or going on dates
In some cases, a person may experience performance-related anxiety, which has similar symptoms to social anxiety disorder. They may or may not feel anxiety in social situations.
But when you have social anxiety, you’re missing out on more than just direct social interactions. When you leave the house, you inevitably run into other people. And even when you try to avoid social interactions as much as possible, there’s going to be a point where you need others. At the very least, you’ll have to surround yourself with other people in order to complete a task.
Say you want to study for your chartered financial analyst (CFA) Level 1 exam. While preparing for the exam, you’re allowed to use online studying materials. Unless you meet specific vendor requirements, you can’t take the text online. That means you’ll have to take the test in person.
If you decide not to do this because of your social anxiety, you would have missed out on getting certified. This could have long-lasting consequences on your career and your future finances.
In other words, social anxiety can control your life, and so much of that life is dictated by interacting or being around people. If you want to reach your potential, you need to treat it.
Treating Social Anxiety: 10 Things You Can Try
Treating social anxiety can be a long process, but it’s worth it. After treatment, you’ll have what you need to reach your potential. When you feel ready to tackle your anxiety, use these tips.
1. Research What you Can About Anxiety
If you want to start treating social anxiety disorder, you’ll need to understand it. Start learning about how anxiety impacts the brain, what symptoms it causes, and your treatment options.
The National Social Anxiety Center has plenty of great resources you can use to start treating your disorder. If you prefer to get your information out of books, check out this social anxiety books list. Want to listen to your media? This is a great list for social anxiety disorder podcasts.
2. Learn How to Set Healthy Boundaries
Whether you want to be a super social supervisor or an independent software engineer, you need to learn to set boundaries. Boundaries are necessary to create trusting relationships.
Many people have social anxiety because they had a negative past experience when socializing. Learning when to say “yes” and “no” can help you feel more in control of your life. With this confidence, you can start building a friend group that supports you, not hurts you.
3. Speak to a Therapist (or Ask for Help)
The process of treating social anxiety disorder can feel like scaling a mountain when you don’t have help. If you have the means, please speak to a therapist or family doctor for help.
If you don’t, that’s okay and it isn’t your fault. Healthcare is expensive and not always accessible or accepting of everyone. You can still seek help through in-person and online support groups. For example, the ADAA has plenty of resources that are POC and LGBTQ+ inclusive.
4. Set Goals and Give Yourself Rewards
Whether you’re treating social anxiety or improving your physical fitness, it’s a good idea to set goals. Goals can help you feel motivated, but only if you get a reward after reaching them.
Let’s say you want to participate in a teamwork seminar at your workplace. When you reach that goal, pat yourself on the back and indulge in something you love. Don’t feel pressured to jump into socializing right away. If you go slow, you’re more likely to overcome your fears in the long term.
5. Practice Social Skills in a Safe Environment
Eventually, you will have to challenge yourself, but you don’t have to rip the band-aid off. The act of challenging yourself could mean practicing your social skills with a person you know.
If that’s too easy, then branch out to an online space. It’s less intimidating to speak to online strangers, even on the phone. If you felt you did or said something embarrassing, you can leave that community. Or, better yet, you can practice persevering despite that small social hiccup.
6. Embrace and Look Forward to “Alone Time”
Many people with social anxiety disorder also happen to be introverted. This means they recharge their social batteries by being alone or spending time away from other people.
If this sounds like you, consider looking forward to alone time. Humans, introverted or otherwise, need time alone for mental wellness. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Use this time to do things that you love or practice your social skills. You need to feel good in order to make friends.
7. Focus on Improving Your Physical Health
Speaking of feeling good, a major part of treating social anxiety involves taking care of your physical health. It’s important to know that our physical health can impact our mental health.
The advice to eat better, sleep more, and exercise is cliché, but for a good reason. Proper diet and nutrition help us sleep better, while a healthy sleep schedule can give us the energy to exercise. When you feel better, you’ll be more willing to put yourself out there and take risks.
8. Keep a Journal to Track Your Improvements
It can be hard to see exactly how much you’ve changed until you look back. But we don’t always have the best memory. That’s why you should keep a journal to record your progress.
To make this exercise helpful, record what you thought and how you felt when you tried to do something that triggered your anxiety. A week after you wrote your journal entry, go back to it and assess if your feelings reflected reality. Write another entry about how you feel now.
9. Work on Changing Your Attitude/Perspective
The last thing you want to hear when you’re struggling is, “think more positively,” but that’s not what we’re saying. What we are saying is to take small steps to stop catastrophizing situations.
The trick to developing a more positive mindset is breaking down your fears. You’ll want to realistically assess the likelihood of a negative event happening. Then, assess how well you’ll be able to handle it. Ask yourself if these events will negatively affect everything in your life.
10. Be Honest When You’re Feeling Nervous
Admitting to others that you’re feeling nervous isn’t a mark of failure. In fact, feeling anxious is a clear sign that what you’re doing matters to you. In many situations, it’s okay to be honest here.
Public speaking is one of the most common human fears. Some experts estimate that 77% of people have some level of anxiety about speaking in public. If you tell the other person you’re nervous, they’ll likely feel better. After all, they’re probably nervous about meeting you, too!
By treating social anxiety disorder, you can reach your full potential, but no one said it’s going to be easy. With that said, it’s absolutely worth it. If you need help, speak to experts and stay around people who support you. Trust yourself that you’ll get through this, little by little.