Social anxiety is defined by the NHS as a long-term and overwhelming fear of social situations. It can present in different ways and intensities, and can affect every day activities, self confidence, relationships and work/school life. Some of the examples of social anxiety are fear of talking to others/joining in conversations, worries you may embarrass yourself or that people may not like you and feeling anxiety about social settings resulting in you avoiding attending them (EG: shopping centres or public transport).
It is something a lot of us really struggle with, especially more recently since we have come out of lockdown, and are getting back into pre-COVID routines. Not only is there the concern of the virus itself, but also the pressure and overwhelm that comes with being in social settings after so long of being away from others. Social anxiety might stop you from doing things you’d like to do, like engaging in opportunities that involve other people, or engaging with your family and friends. However, despite this being understandable, it has the risk of inciting a negative thought process that results in the anxieties becoming more profound, and more challenging to manage. It is important to remember that you are not alone, and things can get better! Below is a list of a few ways to manage symptoms of social anxiety.
- Socialise however you feel comfortable – Try to socialise on your own terms, and to the extent that you feel comfortable to do so. Being in comfortable environments allows us to feel safe to explore and manage these anxieties. Have a think about some social situations that are more tolerable than others, or that you enjoy and start with them first.
- Challenge yourself – Take small steps and build your way into more social settings at your own speed. Have a think about some social situations that are more tolerable than others, or that you enjoy and start with them first. Set yourself small challenges over a space of time that you feel is achievable.
- Reflect on the feelings – See if you can identify any triggers as to why the anxious feelings arise in social settings. Once you have an idea what they are, it makes it easier to manage. Understanding yourself and how social anxiety impacts your life can really help with personal growth and self-compassion. Maybe talk with someone you feel comfortable with to explore this together.
- Reminding yourself that it’s okay – It is okay to not be okay, and social anxiety is more common than you may first think. Your feelings are valid, you’re not alone, and you’re doing great!
- Plan ahead – If it helps, reflect on some small talk conversations that you could have. If you feel comfortable challenge yourself to say one of these things, even if just to a friend. Having those conversation starters can help not only build confidence to use them one day, but reduces the feeling of uncertainty when talking to others
- Mindfulness – This is something that you can do both at home/in your safe space, or on the go! By learning and incorporating mindfulness techniques, you can equip yourself with the tools to help you feel more relaxed in social situations. For example, at home you can watch many YouTube videos of mindfulness and meditation. However, when on the go, if you find yourself in a social setting and feeling that anxiety overwhelming you, try grounding yourself with subtle breathing techniques.
- Self-soothe – try fidget toys (ones such as keyrings are great for when in social situations) or create a self-soothe box filled with safe, comforting items to reduce the overwhelm you are experiencing. Weighted blankets are also commonly used by those experiencing anxiety.
- Go to your GP, or seek support – If you feel you may have social anxiety or would just like someone to talk to about it, there are ways you can do this. Seek support from your GP for advice on specialised support options, or medications that may help. You can also get in touch with local Mind branch and they will be able to offer support and advice.
If you feel you would like more information or support for social anxiety, AnxietyUK is a service where you can access helplines, email support, live chats and therapy services. Give them a call on: 08444 775 774 or check out there website for more information on https://www.anxietyuk.org.uk/.