If you’ve ever felt the need to steer clear of social environments, you are not alone. Here’s what you can do to overcome your anxiety and keep moving forward.
Social anxiety can be a pain. And if you’re one of the 15 million people in the U.S. who suffer from it, you probably have far too many memories of turning down invites to avoid those feelings of anxiety.
When you turn down an invite to socialize, you are pushing away the opportunity to grow potential friendships, and the satisfaction you feel by avoiding your anxiety will eventually be rewarded with sadness.
The temporary relief is followed by a flood of loneliness.
If you’re ready to stop missing social gatherings and move forward in stunted friendships, here’s how you can start making steps to overcome it.
1. Recognize and acknowledge the physical discomfort.
There is often a physical discomfort associated with anxiety. Anyone who experiences this is likely familiar with the tightness in your chest, pain in your stomach or throat, difficulty breathing, and rapid heart rate. At your highest moments of anxiety, you may literally hear the sound of your heartbeat in your ears.
These are the same physical reactions we experience when we’re in danger. If you get attacked by a bear, you sure as hell can count on the above symptoms occurring. This makes sense, because if you get attacked by a bear, your body has to prepare itself to run away. So in the case of bear attacks, you actually want your body to get anxious. The problem with social anxiety? There is no bear!
You’re only running away from a good time. If your body reacts the same way to a Facebook invite as it does to mortal danger, you are definitely going to turn down the invite. And while avoidance is the natural response to anxiety, it doesn’t mean it’s helpful. In this scenario, it’s not helpful to avoid social interactions simply because they trigger those particular physical sensations.
The discomfort in your body doesn’t have to stop you from saying “yes”. Even though it’s uncomfortable and makes you feel like some unspeakable harm might befall you if you say yes, remind yourself that your brain is simply assessing danger where there is none. Say “yes.”
2. Take small steps forward.
If you’re not ready, you don’t have to jump into the most anxiety-provoking situation possible. Therapists refer to this as flooding, which is an incredibly effective yet universally-hated treatment technique. So if your ultimate fear is singing karaoke, don’t start there. But do tag along with friends, sit in the back, and watch.
Once you’re comfortable sitting at the back of the karaoke bar, try moving to a table closer to the front before considering singing in a big group. You can work your way up from there.
The point here is to help your brain recognize that you don’t have to fear social situations. Ask yourself which situations make you anxious, and then put yourself in a ‘slightly’ anxiety-producing scenario. Over time, you’ll take on bigger challenges and singing karaoke will no longer trigger a panic attack.
3. Use your anxiety as a guide to move forward.
9 times out of 10, whatever sets off your anxiety is actually a great thing for you to do. Rather than treat your anxiety as a warning to avoid a situation, you can use it as a signal that you should venture outside of your comfort zone.
Social anxiety actively tries to stop you from having new experiences. If you decide to listen to anxiety, you will just get stuck feeling anxious. Instead, ignore the awful feeling in your stomach and go for it. That pit in your stomach won’t feel great when it pops up, but choose to view it as a sign –
A sign that you’re about to do something amazing.
Adapted from the original article.
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Kelsey Fyffe, MA, LPC is a clinically-trained therapist based in Houston specializing in anxiety and eating disorders. By helping individuals recognize that their anxiety, worries, and obsessions do not have to hold them back from living the life they want, Kelsey helps them learn the skills and strategies needed to calm their mind and feel at ease. Learn more about Kelsey at Live Mindfully Psychotherapy.