Have you ever experienced a time when, seemingly out of nowhere, you get a sudden feeling of doom and gloom? You can’t quite pinpoint its origin, and it hangs over you like a rain cloud. Or have you ever obsessed over a conversation you just had with your BFF, wondering if you could’ve said something in a different way? Did you explain it right? Did you sound too angry?
If so, anxiety could be the culprit. But contrary to popular belief, anxiety isn’t just worrying too much. It’s “intense, excessive and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations,” according to the Mayo Clinic.
With the holiday season fast approaching, anxiety is at an all-time high. Suddenly you’re expected to communicate with family and friends as well as interact with new and unfamiliar people at in-person and online gatherings. And after spending half of the year in quarantine, social anxiety can creep in making it especially difficult to get through events. Social anxiety or social phobia is an intense form of fear of being judged in social situations.
We at EmpowHERto are here to help you navigate through these difficult moments. Read on for some advice on how to cope with social anxiety and to help you clear your mind.
Change your reaction to situations
Sometimes when you’ve just experienced a negative conversation, incident, or thought, it’s hard to separate yourself from your feelings. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment and to focus on your initial feelings and to react immediately. In times like this, it’s important to have a coping mechanism.
I’d like to introduce you to a simple form of therapy that I have tried and has helped me in times like this: Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. CBT “is a short-term, goal-oriented psychotherapy treatment that takes a hands-on, practical approach to problem-solving.” According to Ben Martin, Psy. D, the goal is to change the way your mind interprets your initial emotions or reactions to happenings in life. It is quite useful for those suffering from depression or anxiety.
Basically, the main goal of CBT is to take time to dissect your current emotions when struck by anxiety. You can find a therapist that specializes in CBT, but you can also try your own version of CBT at home during stressful situations, although it is recommended to see a licensed therapist above all.
You may find that you shouldn’t always trust your initial feelings, and it is possible to overturn your way of thinking when given a chance to really assess the situation.
Here is an example: You feel a pang of anxiety when a friend cancels on you for a meet-up. Your immediate reaction is one of loneliness or sadness. Now, take a moment to breathe and take a few steps back from the situation. After giving your initial reaction some deep, rational thought, you can come to the realization that canceling on you is not necessarily personal or meant as a slight. You know you are worthy of love and friendship, and you will certainly experience these things in the future.
Examine your negative thoughts
Ask yourself the next time you are met with negative thoughts: who told me those things? According to Eugene Farrell, mental health lead for AXA PPP healthcare, “Examine what the facts are to support your thoughts – usually, there are no facts, just feelings, and we are believing those feelings to be true when they’re often not. Sometimes we don’t have facts so we jump to conclusions or makeup things.”
I often recoil in horror as I over-analyze all the things I’ve said after meeting up with friends or family, even though I know it’s not necessary or particularly healthy. What did I start doing to overcome these feelings? I make sure to behave in a way that won’t draw too much attention and also fits into my natural rhythm of socializing. The key for this is a famous quote: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.”
I used to be a huge blabbermouth, saying anything to anyone, without any tact. Now, I employ a new rule for myself: only say 50% of what I wish to say. If people desire to know more, they will ask and a pleasant conversation usually ensues.
If you feel you have misspoken, no need to worry. Simply reach out to the individual and apologize for any wrong saying on your part. You will find that facing your social fears head-on, without delay, is the best medicine for your social anxiety.
We’re all living that Zoom life now, and that comes with its own challenges. How can you help alleviate your social anxiety for video calls? According to Alison Papadakis, director of clinical psychological studies at Johns Hopkins University, “The best thing is to try to focus on the other person or people on the call — or, if it is a performance situation (like a job interview), focus on the task at hand.”
Furthermore, she advises becoming familiar with the video call application. When a glitch occurs with any video call application, your anxiety may cause you to slightly panic a bit, but if you have practice and familiarity with the application, you can quickly defuse the situation. Remember, being in control of a situation is empowering and helps you overcome feelings of anxiety. You may even feel a sense of pride just by knowing how to solve a tech issue. So, get familiar with whatever tech you wish to use, this way, you can avoid potentially embarrassing moments like being disconnected or a glitch occurring. Your social anxiety won’t have a chance to creep up on you because you will know what to do if such an event occurs.
Finally, Papadakis recommends for people to, “Record themselves and listen to it, especially with someone who is supportive and can help them see that the things they are worried others will see are probably not evident to others.”
Fighting anxious thoughts is a mental exercise, and it’s something that we recommend never giving up on. Just like with physical exercise, mental exercise is a valuable thing to incorporate into your daily routine.
Be patient with yourself
There is no quick fix, as it’s a constant battle that becomes easier with time. Eventually, the anxiety doesn’t seem all that scary anymore as it loses its power to control you. There will be days when you feel a setback, but that’s alright. As long as you pick yourself up and move forward, you will find yourself thinking a little clearer with every new day that passes.