7 Tips for Living With Social Anxiety

Everyone gets nervous in certain social situations. But if you have social anxiety disorder (also called social phobia), everyday events can be extra challenging. You might feel a lot more self-conscious and scared than other people do in social interactions.

But don’t let fear keep you from living life to the fullest. Try these seven tips to help you feel better and get through the day.

1. Control Your Breathing

Anxiety can cause changes in your body that make you uncomfortable. For example, your breathing might get fast and shallow. This can make you even more anxious. You might feel tense, dizzy, or suffocated.

Certain techniques can help you slow your breathing and manage other anxiety symptoms. Try these steps:

  1. Sit down in a comfortable position with your back straight.
  2. Relax your shoulders.
  3. Put one hand on your belly and the other on your chest.
  4. Breathe in slowly through your nose for 4 seconds. The hand that’s on your belly will rise and the one on your chest shouldn’t move much.
  5. Hold your breath in for 2 seconds and then slowly let it out through your mouth for 6 seconds.
  6. Repeat this several times until you feel relaxed.

2. Try Exercise or Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Research shows that certain physical activities like jogging can help lower your anxiety. Progressive muscle relaxation can help, too. This means flexing and releasing groups of muscles in your body and keeping your attention on the feeling of the release.

Yoga can also help you calm down. Certain types involve deep breathing, so they can help lower your blood pressure and heart rate. Studies show that doing yoga for a few months can help lower overall anxiety. In fact, just one class may improve mood and anxiety.

3. Prepare

Plan ahead for social situations that make you nervous can help you feel more confident. You might feel the urge to avoid some situations because they make you anxious. Instead, try to prepare for what’s to come.

For example, if you’re going on a first date and you’re scared you’ll have nothing in common, try reading magazines and newspapers to find a few topics to talk about. If going to a party or work function triggers symptoms, do some relaxation or breathing exercises to help you calm down before you leave the house.

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4. Start Small

Don’t jump into big social situations. Schedule restaurant meals with friends or family members so you can get used to eating in public. Try going out of your way to make eye contact with people on the street or at the grocery store and say hello. If someone starts a conversation with you, ask them questions about their hobbies or favorite places to travel.

You can build up to bigger activities as you get more comfortable.

Be patient with yourself. It takes time and practice to tackle social anxiety. You don’t have to face your biggest fears right away. If you take on too much too soon, you can actually cause more anxiety.

5. Take the Focus Off Yourself

Try shifting your attention to what’s happening around you instead of what’s inside your head. You can do this by really listening to the conversation that’s happening or reminding yourself that other people probably can’t tell how anxious you are just by looking at you. People appreciate when others act genuine and interested, so focus on being present and a good listener.

6. Talk Back to Negative Thoughts

These thoughts might be about people or situations, and they may even be automatic. Most of the time, they’re wrong. But they can cause you to misread things like facial expressions. This could lead you to assume people are thinking things about you that they aren’t.

One way to do this is simply to use pen and paper:

  1. Think of all the negative thoughts you have in specific situations.
  2. Write them down.
  3. Write down positive thoughts that challenge negative ones.

Here’s a broad example:

  • Negative thought: “This situation makes me so anxious, I won’t be able to deal with it.”
  • Challenge: “I’ve felt anxious before but I’ve always gotten through it. I’ll do my best to focus on the positive parts of the experience.”

7. Use Your Senses

Sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste -- your senses can help calm you down in the moment when you’re feeling anxious. For some people, looking at a favorite photograph or smelling a certain scent can do the trick. The next time you start to feel anxious about a social situation, try listening to your favorite song, chewing a flavorful piece of gum, or snuggling with a pet.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD on January 21, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

Harvard Health Publications: “Social Anxiety and Social Phobia”

St. Vincent’s Hospital Sydney Limited: “I Feel Shy.”

Mayo Clinic: “Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia).”

Harvard Health Publications: “Yoga for Anxiety and Depression.”

PLOS: “Both Physical Exercise and Progressive Muscle Relaxation Reduce the Facing-the-Viewer Bias in Biological Motion Perception”

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