Social anxiety is one of the most common mental health problems. Karen asked Emily, DBTeen Program Coordinator, for strategies.
We’ve all probably felt nervous or uncomfortable in a social situation. Going blank in an awkward silence, regretting something you did say, wondering what everyone thinks of you… these are common experiences.
For some people, impending social contact can mean dread, fear, and avoidance. Evidence-based treatment for anxiety includes facing situations that provoke anxiety, rather than avoiding them. Reduced social exposure from pandemic restrictions could cause a flare up in social anxiety symptoms.
Social anxiety is an excessive fear of being negatively evaluated by other people. People who experience social anxiety worry they will embarrass or humiliate themselves, and that others will judge them for showing physical signs of anxiety like blushing, shaking, or sweating (source: This Way Up).
Are you feeling apprehensive about social events being back on the calendar?
Emily Parker is an experienced Provisional Psychologist and the Coordinator for Lifeline WA’s DBTeen Program. Emily suggests to prepare before the event. This can help to prevent a sudden rush of panic in the moment. Here is her game plan:
Prepare to remain objective when approaching a social situation. Try not to make assumptions about what others think about you. Describe the facts of the situation without any filters.
Use a calming technique called ‘cope ahead’.
- Bring to mind a situation which is likely to trigger feeling anxious. Imagine yourself in the situation as vividly as possible.
- Think about what you could do that would be helpful in this situation. What coping skills have you used in the past? It could be things like taking a moment in the bathroom, seeking out a person that you feel most comfortable with, or focusing on something distracting.
- Rehearse in your mind exactly what you would do to cope with the situation effectively. Rehearse your actions, your thoughts, what you would say, and how you would say it.
Emily says the more you practice, the more likely you will be able to use this method within the situation.
When you encounter an overwhelming social situation, try using your senses to ground yourself. First, observe one thing you can see around you, one thing you can smell, one thing you can taste, one thing you can touch, one thing you can hear. If you are still feeling anxious, repeat as many times as you need, working up from one thing to five things you can observe.
Lastly, remember to breathe. Anxiety symptoms like increased heart rate and that “sick” feeling come from the sympathetic nervous system kicking in. A breathing sequence of breathing in for four seconds, and out for seven seconds, can calm that response. Resetting your breathing can help to decrease these feelings and allow you to think more clearly.
Tell the trusted people around you how you are feeling. Be specific on what support you would like from them.
This Way Up provide evidence-based online courses to benefit well-being, and they’ve made them free during the COVID-19 crisis. Take a look at their Social Anxiety Course.
Article contributors: Karen McGlynn and Emily Parker.
It can be hard to talk about social anxiety. Non-judgmental support is available on 13 11 14.