5 ways to fight social anxiety
When I was working in the NHS (National Health Service in Britain), I was surprised by the amount of clients who experienced anxiety, specifically social anxiety. Despite it being very treatable, anxiety symptoms persist either on their own or are co-morbid i.e. present with other disorders. While the state of anxiety can be extremely daunting, it’s reassuring to know that all anxiety is doing is preparing you for fight or flight mode, which isn’t exactly terrible, it’s an evolutionary system. Here are 5 tried and tested strategies to help fight anxiety:
1) Fear - Fear is an ‘emotion’. Fear can be a learned experience or it can be perceived i.e. staying away from a hot kettle or going in to the jungle with known wild predators. When people experience anxiety, sometimes it can come from a past event and sometimes people fear something because of it’s anticipatory value i.e. something will go wrong. To test this, implement a ‘worry record’ or whatever you want to call it, where you create a table with categories like ‘what I felt’, ‘how I felt it physically, emotionally, via thinking’ and what I did to deal with it. See if you can find patterns amongst these charts.
2) Worry - Worry is a thought process, not an emotion, hence why fear and worry are separately and also synonymously used. When worry affects us, it can sometimes cause us to become avoidant over stressful situations. There are times when worry is a result of a genuine situation while other times worry can be over the same scenario. One of the best tools is mindfulness. Mindfulness helps direct our attention to the present moment and focus on the stimuli around us. Mindfulness has been proven as a powerful technique to fight stress, depression and anxiety. Both mindfulness and the above advice can help for worry and fear.
3) Where does it come from? This can be a tricky one. Sometimes people know where their anxieties come from whereas others are unsure. Depending on what the triggering factors are, anxiety can also be chronic (long-term) or acute (short-term). For socially anxious individuals, social contexts can be daunting. But what is it that socially anxious individuals fear? Here are some things: talking to strangers, afraid of saying the wrong thing, not knowing what to say, feelings of not belonging etc. People who think they may have socially anxious tendencies, rest assured, there are methods to explore your anxieties. If for example people are anxious of talking to strangers, imagine how you would approach someone, questions you could ask and even post response questions. Keep it simple.
4) Other factors - Sometimes the people around you can affect your level of anxiety, not social contexts, rather your own family and friends. Just as meeting strangers can be stressful, being around anyone in a group setting can be overwhelming. To feel some relief, you can use relaxation techniques that allow the body and mind to feel more relaxed. Apart from mindfulness, diaphragmatic breathing (3-3-5) tempo, breathing in, holding breath and exhaling or anything comfortable enough helps from hyperventilating. Yes, you may wonder, how does something simple like breathing help? Breathing helps to draw in fresh oxygen that helps transport blood in to the body and brain and aids in frontal lobe and overall brain activation, thus helping the individual to become calm.
5) Panic - how do I beat it? Panic can be a difficult experience for lots of people, especially during the first episode. If someone has no experience of panic attacks then it’s best to visit a doctor to rule out anything serious. Instead of focusing on thought processes, you will focus on your physical body sensations. Diaphragmatic breathing is a great tool for this also. Practice this breathing every day for at least 5 minutes, especially when your worry diary shows those times when you are particularly stressed.
As you can see, breathing techniques and mindfulness are important tools in fighting social anxiety and in addition to tracking thoughts, can be helpful in reducing symptoms.
Anxiety can be complex yet very treatable. For in-depth help on anxiety-related issues or symptoms that need further exploring, contact me to book an appointment.