Social anxiety is a common psychological problem that affects up to 15 million people in the U.S. It may begin as early as the early teen years.

Sometimes confused with shyness, social anxiety is much worse. It is a condition that can become so serious as to leave the person who suffers from it not wanting to go into any public situation.

In general, social anxiety is the fear of being judged harshly in public. People with this condition may avoid any kind of social activity, even going to the grocery store, for fear of others evaluating them and finding them lacking in some way.

How To Deal With Social Anxiety

If you are one of the millions of people who suffer from social anxiety, there are numerous ways to deal with it. The best way to get rid of social anxiety is to seek professional help.

There are several effective therapy approaches that can help. As in any therapy setting, the effectiveness of the approach hinges on your willingness to do the difficult work required for the therapy to help you. Professional therapy is hard work and can be expensive. Fortunately, most health insurances will pay a part of the cost of professional therapy.

If you choose not to go the professional therapy route, there are things you can do to help yourself. Many of these strategies are very similar to those you would be asked to do in therapy. They have been proven to be helpful to many other people, and they should work for you as well.

Acceptance

Probably the first thing you should do in working to get relief from your social anxiety is to accept it is a natural process. Anxiety is your body’s way of telling you there may be a situation you’re in that’s dangerous. This danger may only be a perception that something or some situation is dangerous, but your body responds the same way as if the danger is real.

The perception sets in motion your normal response to either fight against the danger, flee from it, or freeze and hope it doesn’t see you. This is a normal process that everyone feels at some time. Adrenaline is one of those body chemicals that is released at this time and can lead to the shaky, jittery feeling you experience with anxiety.

All that overconcern you feel about others judging you is also a natural response taken to an extreme. We are social beings by nature. We’re alert to what others think. But sometimes, usually because of an unfortunate incident sometime in your past, you over-react to what you think others are doing or saying.

Why does this happen? It’s probably a combination of genes and experience. Anxiety tends to run in families. So if you have a close relative who has problems with anxiety, you may have inherited the genetic makeup to be anxious. Social anxiety can also be learned. If you grew up with a parent who had trouble in social settings, you saw how he or she responded and may have learned to respond that way as well.

Or you may have had a humiliating experience in some social setting at an earlier age and fear that this may happen again. In order to protect yourself from further embarrassment, you choose not to get involved in social activities again.

Control Your Thinking

An important step in learning how to deal with social anxiety is to control what you think. What you think determines to a great extent how you feel, how you see yourself, and how you act.

One thing that happens when you experience social anxiety is you tend to distort your thinking. This is an error of thinking that often begins in your unconscious and becomes automatic in certain situations. There are basically four categories of distorted thinking:

Fortune Telling. This kind of distorted thinking occurs when you begin predicting what will happen. Most of the time, these predictions are negative. You assume the worst. If you’re faced with giving a presentation to your boss, you may think, “I know I’ll mess up. He’ll probably fire me.”

When you find yourself doing this, force yourself to provide evidence that this will happen. What evidence do you have for thinking this will happen? Don’t let yourself off easy, either. Search your mind for any evidence you have that the worst will happen. This will help you determine whether your thinking is logical or distorted.

Personalizing. This distortion of thinking happens when you believe everything that others are doing is about you. Again, most of this thinking will be negative. When you see someone laughing together, you think they’re laughing at you.

Once again, look for evidence. What makes you think those two people are laughing at you? Chances are, you will find no rational evidence for this thought.

Mind Reading. You’re making uneducated guesses about what others are thinking. These are based on your distorted thinking and not on anything rational. You have no idea what other people are thinking. Likely, you’re misinterpreting facial expressions or body language.

Catastrophizing. When you engage in this distortion of thinking, you’re thinking everything that happens will be so terribly bad you won’t be able to handle it. Once again, ask yourself for evidence that this will be so.

With all of these negative, distorted thought patterns, once you’ve found there is no evidence to support them, you can begin working to replace them. These distorted thoughts often become automatic, so you have to make an effort to become aware of them. Then, once you’re aware of them, make yourself think something more positive.

You’ll probably find it easier to think of more positive things at a time you’re not feeling anxious. As you do this, write them down. Carry them with you, and when you become aware of some of the distorted thinking, pull out what you’ve written and make yourself think that. This takes practice. But the more you do it, the easier it will become.

Distorted thinking is a habit. And, like all habits, it can be changed.

Learn To Breathe

Sounds silly, doesn’t it? Everyone knows how to breathe, right?

Yes, but not everyone breathes the right way when they’re anxious. Many people tend to breathe very shallow, rapid breaths when they feel anxious. This doesn’t get enough oxygen into your lungs to make a healthy exchange of carbon dioxide. Breathing this way actually increases your anxiety.

Learning to breathe slower and more deeply is another way to learn how to deal with social anxiety. Lie down on your back and place one hand on your stomach just below your breast bone. Breathe in through your nose slowly. As you do this, try to make your hand rise on your stomach. Breathe out through your mouth, also slowly. Make your hand, and stomach, lower.

You’re filling your lungs more fully, getting a good supply of oxygen, and getting more carbon dioxide out of your body. Practice this several times every day until it becomes natural to you.

Visualize

Along with the breathing exercise above, visualizing deepens your feeling of relaxation. Here, you get in mind a place where you felt very safe and very comfortable. Get it so firmly in your mind that you can literally put yourself there in your mind. See the place in great detail. Smell the smells that were there. Feel what you felt there. Hear what you heard there.

Combine this with the breathing exercise above when you’re trying to fall asleep. With practice, you will be able to go to sleep quickly.

Learn To Relax

There are several relaxation exercises available on the internet that can help you relax physically. One simple, but very effective one is muscle tensing and relaxing.

Sit in a comfortable chair with your feet on the floor. Starting with your feet, tense each muscle group there. Hold the tension for several seconds, then relax them. Notice the difference between feeling tense and feeling relaxed. Do this for all the muscle groups of your body, working upward through your legs, your stomach, your chest, your arms, and your neck.

Practice this several times every day, and soon you’ll be able to completely relax in a matter of a few minutes. Again, combine this with the breathing and visualization exercises for deeper and deeper relaxation.

Conclusion

Social anxiety is a condition that affects many millions of people in the U.S. It can grow to the point of pushing the person suffering from it to isolate themselves from society almost completely.

Professional therapy is the most effective way to rid yourself of social anxiety for the long-term. There are some things you can do to help yourself deal with the symptoms of social anxiety, also. Learning to challenge your distorted thinking, learn to breathe the right way, and learn to relax.

Practicing these strategies will help you handle your social anxiety. They aren’t quick fixes and may not be permanent. But you will feel better and be able to be in social situations.

References

 How to Bring Severe Social Anxiety Under Control  http://www.wikihow.com/Bring-Severe-Social-Anxiety-Under-Control

Must-Have Coping Strategies for Social Anxiety https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/shyness-is-nice/201305/must-have-coping-strategies-social-anxiety

SELF-HELP STRATEGIES FOR SOCIAL ANXIETY  https://www.anxietybc.com/sites/default/files/adult_hmsocial.pdf