Putting yourself out there, making friends and socializing should be fun. But for many people, these things are easier said than done. If you suffer from social anxiety, you know that these types of situations bring on more than just minor nervousness or butterflies. They’re a source of distress, anxiety, self-doubt and fear.
If you are struggling with this, I want you to know that you are not alone. Social anxiety is extremely common and perfectly normal. You are perfectly normal. You are also deserving of happiness and fulfillment.
If anxiety is causing you to avoid social situations and miss out on joyful experiences, you can learn to manage it – and even beat it! You have the power to improve your happiness and reclaim your life.
If you’re not familiar with social anxiety, I hope you’ll still read this article and gain insight into how those around you might be feeling and what you can do to be a source of support and encouragement.
Below are 5 effective ways to reduce social anxiety. Give them a shot, as they’re likely to help you regain control, feel calmer and experience more joy!
Control your breathing.
When you become anxious, your breathing speeds up. When it reaches the point of hyperventilation (over-breathing), you might experience additional symptoms such as lightheadedness, heart palpitations, sweating and weakness. You’re already anxious to begin with, so you definitely don’t need to add any more anxiety-inducing symptoms to the list!
The irony is that when hyperventilating, you typically feel like you’re not getting enough oxygen when in reality, you’re getting too much. Slowing your breathing will help you to calm down and regain control. The next time you find yourself sweating under the collar while at a social event, try this breathing exercise to help bring back your calm:
- Inhale deeply and slowly through your nose for 4 seconds.
- Hold the breath for 4 seconds.
- Exhale slowly through your mouth for 4 seconds.
- Continue to breathe this way – slow and steady – until you feel your anxiety subside and your breathing return to normal.
Focus your attention on others.
Anxiety likes to control your thoughts, so try to focus your thoughts elsewhere. Do your best to engage the people around you and make genuine connections. Ask them open-ended questions and really listen to what they have to say. Smile, nod, encourage them and make them feel good. You’ll distract yourself from your anxiety and possibly distract someone else from theirs (they might be dealing with the same anxieties!). Without intending to, you might get to know some truly kind and interesting people … maybe even a future tribe member!
Challenge your thinking.
Social anxiety causes a lot of self-doubt and concern about what will happen in social situations. Common examples include:
- No one will like me!
- I’m going to look stupid.
- People are going to laugh at me!
- Everyone is going to think I’m boring!
- I’m not as smart/fun/attractive/interesting as the rest of them.
- People will be able to tell that I’m anxious and insecure.
Can you relate? Guess what? Most people are thinking about themselves. Not in a self-absorbed egotistical way. They are thinking about their own insecurities. Believe me, some of the most outwardly self-assured and confident people you know battle the same self-doubt that you do. So while your anxiety is torturing you over what people might be thinking and saying about you, those same people are likely too worried about what everyone else is thinking and saying about them to be passing judgment on you.
Commit to start changing the way you think. Ask yourself what you think will happen in a specific social situation. Then, honestly evaluate your concerns. Is there evidence to support them? How likely is it that each of these things will happen? What would be the worst case scenario if one of them actually did happen? What’s the actual risk? What can I do to cope and better handle myself?
Face your fear.
Challenging yourself to step out of your comfort zone and face your fear is one of the best things you can do. It can be scary, but it’s much more rewarding than giving in and avoiding social situations. It’s one thing to be nervous or hesitant. But when you give in to avoidance, you’re ensuring that you’ll never get past this challenge.
I recommend taking one small step at a time. Start with something easy that you know you can handle, and gradually work your way up. If speaking up during business meetings kicks your nerves into high gear, try planning a question to ask in advance. Practice saying it aloud. Then, commit to asking this question during the meeting. If attending parties makes you anxious, ask a fun friend to go with you. You’ll have that built-in comfort which will help ease your nerves and prepare you to take a bigger step down the line.
Consider professional guidance.
If you’ve tried the self-help path and you’re still struggling, take comfort knowing that you have other options. I love the holistic approach and all that natural medicine has to offer. But I also fully support pharmaceutical medicine when needed. Modern medicine offers some incredible and effective options that come with little to no side effects. Even better? You don’t have to choose one “side” over the other. Natural remedies and modern medicine can complement each other and provide you with unique options that can significantly (and safely) improve your life.
Therapy and modern medicine may not be your first option, but they can be incredibly effective! Talk to your doctor for a good dose of helpful professional advice.
Imagine it. Imagine how your life would be different if you were to overcome your social anxiety. You have the power to do it. If the desire is there, I encourage you to step up and become your own Health Hero! Learning to face your fears, gain control and enjoy a happier life is one of the best gifts you can give to yourself!
Make healthy living a part of every day.
The light in me honors the light in you. Namaste.
- Pay attention to your behavior. We often don’t even notice the things we do in social situations in order to feel safer and more secure. Aim to become more aware of the things you do to protect yourself. You’ll gain a better understanding of your behavior and discover habits you might want to change.
- Be kind to yourself. Overcoming social anxiety can be challenging, and it might take some time to notice improvements. Transformation doesn’t happen overnight. Be patient with yourself. Allow yourself the time you need to change and gain confidence. Recognize this brave thing that you are doing to live a happier life!
- Be kind to others. Many people hide their anxiety well. You can’t always tell just by looking at someone what challenges they’re facing. When presented with the opportunity, take a moment to bring a little joy to someone’s day. Offer them a sincere smile, encourage them, ask them about their lives – and really listen! You’ll make genuine connections, nourish your soul and possibly help someone ease their own social anxiety. Now that’s a gift!
You can find this and other health articles by Dr. Partha Nandi, M.D., F.A.C.P., on his website, Ask Dr. Nandi.