Dr. Cristina Davis
How often do you dread an invitation to a social event? Do you find yourself feeling hyperalert and particularly sensitive to the possibility of others’ disapproval? Do you feel reluctant to engage in social situations because you may say or do something in front of others that may be perceived as foolish or judged harshly? If so, you may have social anxiety.
Social anxiety can be uncomfortable and very stressful. Some may experience increased anxiety in social situations, particularly situations where there is the potential threat of scrutiny. In these situations, a person may experience worrying thoughts, difficulty concentrating, increased heart rate, dry mouth, and/or sweating.
An individual with social anxiety may have difficulty asserting themselves, especially when met with any perceived resistance or may appear overly accommodating at times, but both may be to avoid the threat of potential confrontation, disapproval of others, or any other potential conflict that may arise in social situations.
The dos and donts of social anxiety.
Unfortunately, some individuals that experience social anxiety may engage in drinking alcohol or other forms of self-medication to cope. The tendency to use a substance to cope has a potential risk of developing a problematic pattern. Over time, a person may drink a greater amount or drink more frequently to manage their stress.
Initially, this may feel helpful as it can lower a person’s inhibitions and increase their propensity for engagement with others. For instance, a person with social anxiety may dread attending a social event and to cope with the stress, they may drink alcohol to prepare for social interaction and the anxiety provoked by the event.
However, this can become problematic if one becomes dependent on a substance as the only coping option used and a person finds it increasingly difficult to face social situations without first drinking or using another substance.
Although social anxiety can be very uncomfortable, if one continuously puts themselves in social situations, the anxiety will decrease in intensity. This method can be done strategically so that the anxiety prompted by social events and social interactions can be experienced in slightly greater amounts.
The individual may feel as though they are better able to tolerate and effectively manage the uncomfortable symptoms experienced. Every success will contribute to greater momentum and less anxiety, over time.
A simple approach to your social anxiety is slowly putting yourself in social situations that prompt your anxiety. Begin by thinking of your personal goal. Maybe you want to attend a social event and appear confident when meeting new people.
First, describe to yourself how you might appear confident. Perhaps this means that you will maintain frequent eye contact, speak clearly, initiate contact with someone while there, and as a result, make a friend. Now, think of three different steps you can take to work toward your final goal.
For instance, you could start by meeting with someone for a coffee date at a local coffee shop, perhaps during a time of day that tends to be less busy. After you have accomplished this a few times, consider joining a Bible study or another small group of some sort.
The gradual increase in the number of people that an individual will have the likelihood of interacting with as well as help the individual slowly learn to tolerate being around more people at one time. As you successfully tolerate larger groups of people, attending social events will become more manageable and manage the anxiety-related symptoms prompted by social events.
Find a therapist that can help you develop a more skillful approach to managing your social anxiety symptoms. A therapist can help by holding you accountable for doing the things that will initially feel uncomfortable, but you will be grateful as you make progress because you will be better able to tolerate the things you once avoided.
You will be able to live a more meaningful life without or with much less interference from the anxiety that once created a barrier to you developing relationships with others. In addition, a therapist may be a helpful resource if you need a referral to meet with a psychiatrist as the therapist may be familiar with one in your local community.
Take care of yourself.
When you are not deliberately putting yourself in social situations that you know are going to be stressful, make sure you are taking care of yourself. Deliberately putting yourself in challenging situations will require more of your energy as these experiences can be emotionally taxing. Therefore, be sure to take care of yourself and practice self-care.
For instance, how has your sleep been lately? How many hours of sleep are you getting throughout the night? Do you have any difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep? If so, consider talking with your therapist about a better sleep hygiene routine as this is going to be very important for you to tolerate the stress of engaging with increasingly bigger groups of people.
Another important area to make sure you are paying attention to is your eating habits. A well-rounded diet will help you to have the right amount of energy to attempt these increasingly difficult and demanding social situations. Notice if you have observed any changes in your diet lately (especially before, after, or during especially stressful situations).
Have you noticed an increase or a decrease in your food intake? Is it difficult for you to eat leading up to a social situation because your stomach feels like it is in knots? Do you notice that you tend to “snack” more frequently leading up to a social situation that you know will be stressful?
These pieces of information are helpful and important that you take note of to address with your therapist and medical physician as there are ways to manage the physical symptoms of anxiety that may be contributing to the changes you may have observed in your appetite.
Another important area to make sure you are addressing is your activity level. How often do you go outside? How often do you get some exercise? What are some changes you have observed in your activity level, particularly when you feel distressed related to social situations?
What are some ways you can increase your daily activity? This is another important area to discuss with your therapist and medical physician as exercise may help manage your stress level and may have other additional health benefits as well.
Another important area to consider is how you manage your stress level in your day-to-day life. What sorts of activities or hobbies do you do in your free time? Do you spend a lot of your downtime scrolling mindlessly on social media and/or your phone? What are some proactive steps you can take to improve the quality of your self-care routine?
For instance, winding down with a soak in the tub with essential oils and a deep conditioning treatment on your hair may be something that helps you to de-stress. Maybe you prefer to go on a walk or a hike. Perhaps you enjoy cooking or baking. Whatever your preference, make good use of your time by being intentional and purposeful about doing activities that help replenish you.
Another paramount consideration is your faith life. How much time throughout the week do you spend in worship, prayer, and reading your Bible? Is this an area of your life that you need to re-prioritize? How much do you feel your heart is aligned with God’s heart, according to His word?
Make time to sit down, worship, pray, and read the Bible without distraction. Consider turning your phone off or silencing it and intentionally wait for and engage Him. The goal of this is quality time, as would be encouraged and expected in any relationship.
Social anxiety can be difficult to manage, but it can be managed. Sweating, stomachaches, worried thoughts, muscle tension, and difficulty concentrating in addition to other symptoms may be experienced. Therefore, seek the help of a therapist and contact your medical provider about options for managing your social anxiety.
Consider any changes you may have noticed to your sleep, diet, exercise, and stress level, and make sure to address these with your therapist and medical provider. Consider what methods of coping have been particularly helpful, and areas in your life that may need to be re-prioritized including your self-care routine and the time you spend with God.
Avoid coping strategies that may bring about immediate relief but may lead to dependence or greater difficulty facing social situations without the use of them. Most importantly, be good to yourself because you are human so you will need adequate ways of replenishing yourself and you can do hard things and can overcome challenges brought on by social anxiety.
“Anxious:, Courtesy of Alexander Krivitskiy, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Party Girls”, Courtesy of Michael Discenza, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “I always wake before her”, Courtesy of Gregory Pappas, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Reading Proverbs”, Courtesy of Joel Muniz, Unsplash.com, CC0 License
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