Almost 7% of American adults live with social anxiety disorder. That’s around 15 million adults who live with an intense fear of social situations, talking to others, or meeting new people. Everyone feels nervous about public speaking or other social events from time to time, but if you actively avoid social situations because of negative thoughts and feelings or your life is otherwise negatively impacted, you should talk to a professional counselor and learn techniques to manage your fears.
What is social anxiety?
Social anxiety is a type of anxiety disorder that causes intense fears about social situations. While you may associate anxiety with fears and worries, it’s actually more of a four-step cycle.
- You may start with some negative thoughts, such as “I won’t know anyone but the host at this party.”
- Those negative thoughts trigger your negative emotions like fear.
- Your emotions trigger a physical response such as sweating, dizziness, or nausea
- You try to control or hide your anxiety, which ultimately makes you feel worse
And then the next time you face a social situation, not only do you have negative thoughts about the event, but you also have memories of the anxiety you felt in previous social settings, which could exacerbate your thoughts and feelings.
Tips for dealing with social anxiety
While social anxiety might feel insurmountable and make you just want to stay at home, you can learn to cope with your thoughts and feelings, which will help you to change your behaviors. Facing your fears is challenging, so don’t lose heart if progress is slow.
People with social anxiety are usually unassertive and uncomfortable expressing their thoughts or feelings. You can practice using assertive language, such as I statements with a trusted friend or family member. You could start with something safe, such as “I like pizza” and work towards more bold statements like “I feel hurt when you don’t call me back” The more you practice sharing, eventually it gets easier.
Have a few conversation starters prepared
If you’re nervous about group social settings, regardless of whether you know anyone else, you can have a few conversation-starting questions in mind. Being curious about other people can help them to get talking, and before you know it, you’re having a conversation. For example, a question about what someone had for lunch can start a great discussion about the best place to get falafel in Greenpoint, or you could ask how another guest knows the host. Remember, being curious and kind will help you focus on what other people are saying instead of fixating on your own fears.
Practice positive nonverbal communication
Often, when you feel nervous, you may take a defensive stance. For example, you may cross your arms over your chest or avoid eye contact. You might even pull out your phone and scroll to avoid having to talk to anyone. If you practice open postures, such as standing with your arms at your sides and making eye contact, you will look and feel more friendly and approachable. It takes practice, but your posture can influence your confidence.
Recognize and reduce your negative thinking
This is a tough one, but if you can learn to recognize your negative thoughts, you can adjust the way you respond to them. For example, if you catch yourself thinking something like “No one will talk to me at the party,” you can examine your thought and compare it to your experiences before your negative feelings and physical symptoms kick in.
Don’t personalize other people’s behaviors
You might also discover that you’re attempting to read people’s minds and allowing your fears to influence your interpretation of situations. Imagine you’re talking to someone at a party and they yawn. You might think that you’re boring them, but in reality, they may have just had a long week and be ready to go home and go to bed, and their yawn has nothing to do with you at all.
If you feel nervous about social situations and your fears are negatively impacting your life, contact North Brooklyn Therapy and schedule an appointment to talk to one of the licensed therapists. They offer compassionate and expert counseling services to help you lead your best life.