“My social anxiety was so bad that I never even left my apartment. Actually, I would rarely even leave my bedroom. I would have the shades down most of the day, no lights on, no TV, nothing. It felt like I was on a deserted island by myself, and it was always midnight.” - Kevin Love, Basketball player, The Players' Tribune
Have you ever felt anxious about performing in front of people? Meeting someone new and interacting with them? Being embarrassed or humiliated in front of others? If your answer to any of these questions is yes then at some point in your life you have experienced social anxiety. Experiencing social anxiety is normal, we all feel anxious once or more in our lifetime. How do we differentiate between normal social anxiety and social anxiety disorder? It is when these fears are constant and out of proportion. It is when social anxiety starts to disrupt one’s personal and professional functioning.
Four ways to overcome social anxiety -
1. Thought Patterns - Try and become aware of thought patterns that occur in the state of anxiety. Understand the before, during and after thought patterns. Make a note of the situation (try to be as specific as you can), feelings associated with the situation and the thoughts. Once we recognise our thought patterns, we need to start reasoning with our anxiety. Find alternative and rather positive ways of thinking about the same situation.
Situation - Being surrounded by a group.
Feelings - ashamed, embarrassed, nervous
Upsetting Thoughts - I feel so nervous, I am sure everyone can see that and now they are going to judge me.
Alternative thoughts - Possible, but that needn’t make them think I’m a bad person. Maybe people don’t reject you for being nervous – after all, it happens to everyone sometimes. Maybe they are thinking of other things altogether, and have not even noticed me. Maybe I can’t tell what people are really thinking. — Overcoming Social Anxiety and Shyness: A Self-Help Guide Using Cognitive Behavioral Techniques
Question and answer the negative thoughts. Ask yourself if there are any facts to prove these irrational thoughts. This change in thought patterns can lead to changed feelings and emotions.
2. Coping mechanisms - There are two types of coping mechanisms, maladaptive and adaptive.
Maladaptive coping mechanisms - (avoiding the situation, substance use and others) can provide temporary solutions to the problem but can lead to destruction in the future. It can also become a perpetuating factor of the issue.
Adaptive coping mechanisms - (building on skills, practising wellness activities and others) can act as permanent solutions and do not have harmful results in the future.
Recognition of the coping mechanisms used can be a helpful step towards overcoming anxiety.
3. Relaxation techniques - Relaxation is not something achieved overnight but learned through practice. It requires a conscious effort especially in the state of anxiety. Find activities that are relaxing yet enjoyable. Practice relaxation techniques on a day to day basis. One of the breathing exercises, 4-7-8, that can be practised every day and in the state of stress:
Start with taking few deep breaths in through your nose and exhaling through your mouth.
Next, inhale through your nose while you do a headcount till 4.
Then, tense your muscles by holding your breath for 7 seconds.
Finally, exhale through your mouth for 8 seconds.
Repeat this 5 times or more.
4. Mindfulness - When experiencing social anxiety we tend to become blindsided by our own thoughts, behaviours, physical reactions, emotions and feelings. This makes one disconnected from the outside world. Practising mindfulness can help gain a balance of both internal and external awareness. We learn to accept ourselves and our surroundings nonjudgmentally. To know more book a session with a specialised mindfulness therapist at ManoShala.
“One of the best days of my life happened after I started working through my issues with a therapist, and I walked into a room for the first time and I was just 100% my authentic self. ” - Kevin Love, Basketball player, The Players' Tribune
Anxiety, although an important part of our life can disrupt it in many ways. If you or someone you know is struggling with the symptoms of anxiety or any other mental health issues, reach out to experts at ManoShala.
Muskan Gupta, Psychologist, ManoShala