How to overcome social anxiety

Many mental health problems can cause a feeling of loneliness, but social anxiety is one of the main ones that can create physical loneliness as well.

It’s sometimes called social phobia, and is characterised as an overwhelming fear of social situations.

Those who experience it will know that it’s far more than just being shy, and the dread, worry, and panic attacks that happen as a result can cause people to withdraw.

If it is having an impact on your life, the best thing you can do is speak to your GP or another licensed professional. In the meantime, however, these coping strategies can help you overcome social anxiety in your everyday life.

Challenge your unhelpful thoughts

The NHS recommend understanding more about the condition to work out what makes you worried and then try to tackle your problem.

Most people experience unrealistic thoughts as part of their social anxiety, assuming things like everybody’s staring at them, or worrying they’ll make a fool of themselves.

Trying to identify those thoughts is the first step, and you can then go on to rationalise why you can to that thought.

Remember, you’re not a mind reader, so you don’t know that other people are thinking these things about you. Trying to predict or know the unknowable is simply wasting your own energy on something that might never happen.

You might also be looking at things in a negative light, assuming a bad past experience means this will go the same way, or taking innocuous acts from others personally.

Knowing that can help you put a more rational spin on things, asking yourself whether there is any evidence to contradict this thought, or whether your ‘worst case scenario’ would even matter to you in time.

Try not to focus on yourself

According to the NHS, research shows that those with anxiety have an increased focus on themselves when they’re feeling anxious.

You may be looking at your own symptoms and feeling negative about how you look to the outside world. You might also feel like you need to be ‘perfect’ in social situations, forgetting about everyone else around you.

When you’re around others, try to put that focus back on to other people in the room. Actively listen to other people when they’re talking, and try to become more comfortable with not needing to lead conversations.

Stay as much as you can in the present moment, avoiding replaying moments of the conversation.

Avoid avoidance behaviours

Yup, you read that right. People with social anxiety often avoid going out at all if they can help it, and sometimes retreat to a behaviour they feel safe in when they are in social situations.

If you avoid the situations you fear, not only are you never getting to do fun things, you’re continuing the cycle of being unable to create confidence.

Set yourself tasks to participate in social situations, and you’ll find the more you do it, the easier it is. Here are some tips for making friends with social anxiety.

When you are in these situations, try to avoid crutches like alcohol or hanging around with people you already know.

Alcohol will cloud your judgement and stop you actually learning the social skills you need, while also giving you a nasty hangover and ‘the fear’ the next day about what you may have said.

Staying silent in conversations or staying with good friends only might feel comforting, but it doesn’t allow you to see how you can cope without.

Try your best to confront your fear, and make a mental note of how it went afterwards (likely completely fine) and the more that happens, the more those fears should reduce.

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