Does answering the telephone or dealing with large groups make you anxious? Try these tips to deal with crippling social anxiety
Trapped in an endless spiral of “what ifs”? Constantly replaying scenarios – both past and future – in your head? You could be one of the 13 per cent of people affected by social anxiety disorder (SAD), like Grammy-award artist Ed Sheeran.
The British singer recently opened up about his struggle with social anxiety and large groups of people. He confessed to cutting down his friend circle to four people, discarding his phone and moving to the country to deal with the crippling anxiety.
Anxious or shy
People often mistake shyness for social anxiety, but the two are different. Unlike shyness, social anxiety is a long-lasting and overwhelming fear of social situations. Those with SAD have trouble making friends, maintaining relationships, talking in public or building a career. Social anxiety even plagues normal every day activities like starting conversations or answering the phone.
If you struggle with large groups of people or clam up at dinner parties, here are a few tips to break you out of your shell:
Although it can be tempting to avoid all social situations, it’s important to get yourself out of the house.
If you’ve gotten into a rut of saying no to everything, say yes once in a while. Start by joining your co-workers for a coffee break. Although you may feel anxious at first, the more you push yourself out of your comfort zone, the less fearful you will become.
If you feel anxious, be prepared to evade a panic attack. Carry prescribed medication, rehearse the stories that you would like to tell or find a quiet corner during parties to recharge.
Get some exercise
If you don’t exercise regularly, you ought to start. Regular exercise reduces anxiety and offers a great opportunity to build up your social skills in a non-threatening environment. Sign up for a beginner’s yoga class or join your local laughter club.
Take the wins
Sometimes, people with social anxiety spend so much time replaying their behaviour or focusing on alternate scenarios that they forget to have fun or laugh. Take the time out to record small wins during the day. Did you greet your neighbour? Did you start a conversation with someone? Penning your thoughts helps you notice negative patterns, which social situations trigger and which solutions work. While you won’t go from socially anxious to a social butterfly overnight, maintaining a daily journal will show how much you’ve improved. Build on these small achievements.
One of the hardest parts of social anxiety is that it is usually a private battle. If you really want to move past your anxiety, open up to at least one person. This could be a trusted friend, a professional therapist, an online support group or even a mental health helpline. Finding someone who understands can be comforting. Having another person to talk to will also keep you accountable to your own progress.
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