Socializing for the Socially Anxious

5 Tips for Overcoming Social Anxiety in Real Life Situations

Who can forget that frightful feeling we experienced back in adolescence when we had to get up in front of the class and deliver a speech, recite a poem, or audition for a school play? The sheer terror of seeing our peers faces staring at us left us trembling. All we could think about, while standing there breaking into a sweat, is how our classmates were judging us. Our outfit, our hair, our physique, our voice…everything about us being shrewdly evaluated in those rows of placid faces staring at us.

These early experiences give us a glimpse as to how people who suffer from social anxiety go through their days. Rooted in the same fear of facing potential disapproval or harsh scrutiny, social anxiety can cause sufferers to withdraw into the safety of their own four walls. The result can be devastating in most realms of life. Social anxiety thwarts life’s amazing possibilities—establishing new relationships, making friends, pursuing career possibilities, and fostering healthy family relationships—through the resulting isolating behaviors.

Fear not! There are handy tools you can access when you find yourself stuck in social avoidance mode but want to push through and find a way to overcome the anxiety. First, though, a little basic info about what social anxiety is all about.

What is Social Anxiety Disorder?

Social anxiety, also referred to as social phobia, involves the irrational fear of being judged negatively by others or a fear of social humiliation. It is not just a matter of being shy in a social setting, but rather intense feelings of anxiety that are so strong it can result in the same symptoms as a panic attack. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, about 15 million adults in the U.S. suffer from social anxiety disorder.

Social anxiety has the effect of limiting one’s potential in achieving personal goals. Due to the intense fear associated with public appearances, social anxiety causes the individual to avoid situations that are performance or competition-related, or may limit exposure to social settings that would benefit them professionally, such as networking, attending conferences, even the office Christmas party.

Treating social anxiety disorder is absolutely possible, but requires a skilled therapist who employs cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as the basis of treatment. CBT allows the individual to examine their irrational thoughts and behaviors associated with the social situations, and to replace these dysfunctional responses with new, healthy responses. The techniques taught by the therapist need to be practiced consistently until they eventually become habit.

Symptoms of Social Anxiety

People who suffer from social anxiety disorder may experience a great deal of emotional distress throughout their days, versus the typical response of the occasional jitters or clammy palms when in a stressful social situation. The symptoms of social anxiety disorder may include:

  • Intense worry well in advance of an upcoming social event
  • Irrational fear of being humiliated in public
  • Excessive fear of being judged by others
  • Shortness of breath
  • Blushing easily
  • Stomach upset and nausea
  • Racing heart
  • Dizziness
  • Trembling
  • Feeling faint

5 Tips for Beating Social Anxiety

Now that you know the nuts and bolts of what social anxiety disorder is, it is time to introduce some helpful tips for maneuvering sticky social situations:

  1. Expect to feel anxious in a social setting and make a plan in advance to respond to it. This might involve practicing in the mirror a bit, but will basically put some arrows in your quiver to be proactive. Practice introducing yourself to someone. Practice eye contact, a smile, extend your hand, offering someone a compliment. Anticipate these interactions and prepare in advance. Role play with a friend until it feels natural. All this prep will definitely help you at your next social gathering.
  2. Check your body language while at the social gathering. In fact, make a mental checklist of off-putting postures and run through them. Are you standing off in a remote corner of the event? Are your arms crossed in front of you? Are your eyes cast downward? Correct these and you will come across as being more open to chat.
  3. Speaking of chitchat. Most who experience social anxiety abhor small talk and avoid it at all costs. When you need to be at a work event why not enlist the help of a colleague who can buddy up with you, making the small talk interactions less intense. Having that additional voice in the mix helps deflect all the attention from being directed at you alone. However, don’t clam up and ride your buddy’s coat tails. Again, practice in advance with a few easy conversation openers to use, and practice looking engaged.
  4. Practice some guided imagery prior to an event. Picture yourself successfully navigating the event in your mind’s eye. See yourself successfully moving from one introduction to another, with hand outstretched and eye-to-eye contact. Imagine yourself being genuinely interested in meeting new people and learning new things at the event. See yourself as an interesting person with much to offer, and excited to share your gifts with others you might meet there.
  5. Understand that, as a person who experiences intense distress in social gatherings, you are quite gifted at making excuses to get out of social events. You may think you are sincere when you decline an invitation, that you just have too much going on and can’t possibly squeeze it into your hectic schedule. In reality, this may be a reflexive default excuse you employ—often the instant the invitation is given—to avoid any social situation that might cause anxiety. Stop and ask yourself if you are really all that busy or if you are simply in avoidance mode.

PeoplePsych Can Teach You How to Overcome Social Anxiety

While it can sometimes be anxiety producing to allow yourself to see a therapist, taking the step and choosing to share your story with a trained clinician is a powerful first step. A therapist helps you validate your experiences and feelings – assisting you through your process as you work towards the life experiences and relationships you want to have.

PeoplePsych’s therapists specialize in anxiety. Choosing to see someone is a hard step – take time to find the therapist that is right for you.

The therapists at People Psych understand that most of us struggle with the demands of a stressful and complex world, which can result in coping problems such as social anxiety. Each of our patients are respected and treated with compassion as we work to find constructive answers and tactics to manage the stressors in life. For more information about our clinical services, please contact People Psych today at (312) 448-7218.