Social anxiety can be agonizing. It’s awkward! It’s hard to talk about. It makes you feel like you’re forever on the outside. It’s adrenalizing, but with no clear actions to take. And it’s exhausting as well.
- Are you a professional that loves your job, but dreads lunch time or meetings with your coworkers?
- Are you terrified when someone approaches you to talk?
- Do you freeze up in conversations, and only later come up with what you wish you would have said?
- Are you overly agreeable with people, forgetting what you think and feel because your social anxiety takes over and makes you forget your thoughts?
- Do you go to social events, and then spend hours later wondering how you came across, cringing at something awkward you may have said or done?
- Or do you try to nerve yourself up to go to a party or out with friends, but your anxiety won’t let you?
- You know that, in order to have the relationships you want, you need to leave your house sometimes—but you’re scared, or suddenly so tired, or so wired, that it’s just too hard to get out.
- You know that people like you pretty well, most of the time—but your worry gets in the way of you really feeling that.
- You know you’d be happier if you could be around people without being so overwhelmed—but you haven’t found a way to do that.
- You’re stuck in a habit of fear, pain, short-term relief when you avoid social situations—but longing for something more.
- You see statuses of friends of yours on Facebook, and you notice groups of friends together, people out doing adventures you wouldn’t dare dream of—and you feel that old ache. You’re isolated.
Social anxiety does that. It’s isolating. It’s often connected to a feeling of shame — that somehow, there’s something indefinably wrong with you. This shame goes hand in hand with a fear of rejection. It eats away at your real connections. It makes you feel alone. It makes you STAY alone, perpetuating the feeling of aloneness.
People who feel social anxiety often try several things. Maybe you’ve tried telling yourself not to be anxious. This usually makes it worse!
- Maybe you’ve tried to go into social situations anyway, and have found yourself feeling claustrophobic, afraid, and acting awkward because your anxiety keeps you from being natural.
- Maybe you’ve tried staying home and telling yourself that you don’t care. That you’re just an introvert. That you don’t need people anyway.
- Or you’ve tried some anxiety-management techniques: You take a deep breath, tell yourself it will be okay. Sometimes they help a little bit, but nothing seems to ease that deep, gnawing fear.
What’s it like when you’ve overcome your social anxiety?
! Here’s what the other side looks like:
- You are confident, able to talk with anyone.
- You can look people in the eye and say what you think.
- You get home from work and ask yourself, “What would I like to do this evening?” And you have a genuine choice about whether to stay home, go to dinner with friends, or take your colleague up on her coffee invitation.
- You go home at the end of a party or a meal out and just do what’s next on your to do list, or just take a rest—without all the rumination about what you said and how you came across.
- You’re able to just be yourself in situations, and know for sure that you are enough.
And then other things start happening:
- An acquaintanceship becomes a friendship, then a deeper friendship.
- You start an activity that you fall in love with.
- You can laugh off the kind of awkward interactions that used to upset you.
And you have more energy than you’ve had before. It’s one of the most common things my clients mention when their social anxiety diminishes — they realize that their anxiety was exhausting! Not only did it deplete your physical energy, it fed other physical pains as well — headaches, neck and back pain, an upset stomach, and just feeling generally stiff and riled.
Once you have more energy, you’ll notice how tired you used to be. You have the energy and the motivation to think, plan, dream, and come up with ideas and plans that you couldn’t even imagine before.
Self help strategies for social anxiety
There are several things that can help you to change your anxiety. Working through and past any toxic shame you’ve been holding is one of the most transformative ways to work with it.
And then, of course, there are management tools for in the meantime:
Orienting to what’s happening both within and around you.
Learning how much interaction you can handle, and giving yourself outs when you need them.
Planning in advance for social situations, and figuring out what helps you the most.
Finding a friend or two that you can talk with about your anxiety — friends who won’t try to fix it, or frantically try to calm you, but who will listen and empathize and maybe remind you of your neat qualities and why you’re fun to hang out with.
Simple self-care stuff — drinking water. Letting your nutrition nourish your energy and ease your jangled nerves.
Giving yourself plenty of time and space to unwind, journal, take a hike — do things that nourish you and your mind and body.
And gently taken, incremental, mindful risks. Like hanging out with two friends in a slightly more crowded place than usual. Or like extending a conversation with a colleague just by two minutes beyond the norm. Or saying “Hi” to people you see on your walk.
Simple things can add up, and help a lot over time.
My favorite therapies for social anxiety
I’ve used several approaches with clients with social anxiety. The ones that have worked best for my clients are:
- Sensorimotor Psychotherapy and somatic experiencing techniques (two similar methods). Anxiety affects every part of the body, and noticing and working with the reactions in the body (rather than pretending it’s all in the brain) is very powerful.
- Relationship-oriented therapy. We start with eliminating any anxiety you feel working with a therapist, and expand your comfort zone from there.
- Working with feelings of shame that sometimes underlies the fear.
- Trauma therapy techniques that focus on building a sense of safety in the moment.
- Honorable mention: Hypnotherapy. It’s not my go-to technique these days, but I’ve used it to help clients with social anxiety, and it works quite well.
You don’t have to be hobbled by social anxiety, and you don’t need to forever merely “manage” the symptoms.
When you work through social anxiety, you see the whole world differently. Moreover, you are a part of it. You belong, and you know it.