People suffer from social anxiety for a variety of reasons, and they have done so for ages. Unfortunately, returning to socializing as the pandemic eases is no easy task even for people who do not experience extreme anxiety. No matter what level of anxiety you feel in social settings, though, and whether or not you experienced such anxiety pre-pandemic, there are ways to manage.
Writing for Healthline.com, Crystal Raypole points to the following nine acknowledged ways to feel more comfortable in social settings and overcome your fear of rejection or criticism.
Talk with a therapist. “Social anxiety is a mental health condition, and it’s not always possible to work through symptoms yourself,” says Raypole. Consequently many people turn to a professional to identify their anxiety triggers and develop coping strategies.
Explore specific situations that trigger anxiety. The situations that may trigger anxiety are virtually as unique as the individuals who experience anxiety. Identify your triggers by simply writing down the situations that you think you’re simply unable to face.
Challenge negative thoughts. Negative thinking can be a self-fulfilling trap. If you find yourself imagining awful things that might happen in a social situation, try to put things in perspective. Think back to the times you’ve witnessed someone else make a social blunder and remember the empathy you felt for the person. Realize that others are feeling the same empathy toward you when you make a social misstep.
Take small steps. Don’t worry about volunteering to give a presentation in front of your co-workers. Start small — try making small talk with a cashier. Give a casual compliment to a friend. Invite a few close friends over for a get-together — it helps to begin opening up with people you know.
Role-play with people you trust. “Ask a trusted friend or family member to role-play some everyday conversations with you,” says Raypole. “To get more familiar with best- and worst-case outcomes, ask your conversation partner to offer different positive, negative, or neutral reactions.”
Try relaxation techniques. Social anxiety can trigger actual physical symptoms such as sweating or difficulty breathing. Mindful breathing is a proven and effective way to counteract these symptoms. If you feel anxiety coming on, try inhaling slowly, holding your breath for a few seconds and then exhaling slowly.
Practice acts of kindness. When you help someone out with a casual act of kindness, such as picking up a neighbor’s groceries for them, you’re virtually certain of getting a positive response. You then begin to associate social interactions with positive feelings. Even though you know that you’re training yourself in this fashion, simply getting approval on a regular basis decreases your fears.
Limit alcohol. There are two sides to everything, and alcohol is a case in point. Imbibing alcohol can be a relaxant. Just as likely, though, it can intensify feelings of anxiety. If you decide to have a drink in social situations, be mindful of how much you drink and your particular reaction.
Watch out for subtle types of avoidance. There are many subtle ways to avoid social interaction. If you find yourself helping out in the kitchen at a party for an extended time, be aware that you simply might be avoiding socializing. When you talk to someone, are you encouraging them to do all the talking? Avoidance. Think about your own behavior in social situations and ask yourself if you’re looking for ways to avoid engaging.