Having social anxiety means more than just being shy. It is a deep fear of being judged by others during commonplace social interactions, with physiological symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, sweating or nausea.
Social anxiety can arise when meeting new people, sharing thoughts in a meeting or ordering at a restaurant. The responses the disorder causes can become so intense that they may lead someone to avoid social situations altogether.
If you are affected by social anxiety, you’re not alone. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, roughly 7 percent of Americans experience social anxiety disorder (social phobia).
“Social anxiety can interfere with your life by making everyday tasks feel stressful or daunting,” says Dr. Megan Wilson, a psychologist affiliated with Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital. “However, there are ways to keep it in check.”
Dr. Wilson shares three tips for managing social anxiety:
- Change the way you think.
When negative thoughts creep in, take a step back. If you find yourself thinking things like “people won’t like me” or “I have nothing to contribute to the conversation,” try using a tool called cognitive restructuring. Reframe your internal conversation by instead thinking things like, “While I am worried they won’t like me, I know from experience I am good at making jokes and having an interesting conversation.”
“Think about a time you had a positive social interaction, like when you told a great joke at a party or the time your co-worker complimented the idea you shared,” says Dr. Wilson. “This can help ease your anxiety and banish fearful thoughts.”
- Start with small goals.
When you start to feel anxious, you may sometimes rely on coping mechanisms ranging from overanalyzing yourself to avoiding the situation all together. Instead of relying on your crutches, try a different method. Setting small goals can help you to gradually step out of your comfort zone.
“These goals can be as simple as saying hello to someone new at work or something more complex like attending a party where you won’t know many people,” says Dr. Wilson. “The more you step out of your comfort zone, the less anxious you may feel in those situations when they arise in the future.”
- Practice mindfulness.
Not knowing what to say in a conversation can be a large source of social anxiety. One tool to help with that is mindfulness. Mindfulness can help you be fully present in a conversation and take your mind off worrying about what to say next.
“Try pushing your negative thoughts aside and focus on what the person is saying. Let yourself be curious, ask questions and allow the conversation to flow naturally,” says Dr. Wilson.
Reaching outside your comfort zone and battling the negative thoughts associated with social anxiety is no small feat. If you feel you need guidance when it comes to managing your anxiety, talk with your primary care doctor about your symptoms.