9 Ways to Cope with Social Anxiety
The demands of social situations make some of us feel extremely anxious.
Those of us who do suffer from social anxiety know that there is not much worse than the feeling that grips you when you can't say a word, you're blushing, you keep preparing what to say in your head only to miss the opportunity…
Social anxiety can be contradictory in nature. People with social anxiety tend to approach social situations with feelings of unworthiness; thinking that they aren't good enough, or smart enough, or pretty enough, or interesting enough. At the same time they also believe that everyone at the party will be paying particular attention to them, observing and judging their every move.
Now, it's good to know when thoughts are just thoughts - and, importantly, when those thoughts are your friends and when they are your enemies. But it's not easy. When parties feel like a battleground, every look and comment a potential assault against your protective barriers, it's good to have some supportive advice:
1. Firstly, nice one
You've decided to actually go to the party. So congratulate yourself on that. That being said, it's worth taking care not to overbook yourself: this is easily done at this time of year, but a string of nights out can be very demanding. Give yourself some time off in between to recoup.
2. Give yourself plenty of time to prepare
Whether that's by having a bath, working out, or cooking a nice pre-party dinner (especially if eating in front of people is an anxiety trigger for you). It's probably best to be productive; don't get glued to the couch in front of the TV, which can be very hard to tear yourself away from if you're feeling daunted by the evening ahead.
3. Plan what to wear
If there's a dress code, know what it means to avoid feeling out of place when you arrive. If not, try not to worry too much. Instead, choose something you've received compliments on before, that you know you look good in and above all that you feel your best and most comfortable self in. Also, shoes! Nothing will make you look as awkward as you might feel inside than hobbling around in shoes that are either too tall or have given you painful blisters.
4. Arrive with a friend
Or meet a friend there. Ideally someone you trust enough that they know about your anxiety and will be on hand to help if you need it. If you're being brave and going solo, find a friendly face in the crowd, or approach a small group. If it helps you could think of a few go-to lines in advance. Simple examples would be commenting on the food, the music, or the venue. Ask open-ended questions which are more conducive to conversation: the ability to listen is an attractive quality and also it means the questions won't come firing back at you so quickly - it's a win-win.
5. Resist drinking too much
Though tempting, it will only make you feel out of control of the situation. Know your limits; enjoy the relaxation a glass or two can bring, but avoid the dreaded morning-after anxiety a couple more might induce.
6. Watch your body language
Try not to fold your arms across your body. Try your best to smile and maintain eye contact; this might sound forced but it will make you feel more engaged and less focused on yourself. It can also help to keep your right hand free, to avoid any awkward putting-down-drink-wiping-clammy-hand-on-top handshakes, instead making you feel like an accomplished handshake hero.
7. Take a few minutes to yourself
It's ok to take a moment in another room, outside, or in the bathroom. Try some deep breathing techniques: put one hand on your chest and one on your stomach, inhale deeply from your stomach as you count to three, pause for a moment and then exhale slowly. You should feel your stomach moving in and out. If you're feeling too hot, run cold water on your wrists for instant refreshment.
8. Plan your exit before arriving at the party
Know the train times, or pre-book a cab. At least have a cab number saved in your phone. By organising this before you arrive, you won't spend your evening planning your exit strategy, worrying about when to leave and how to get home. It's much easier to say goodbye, explaining you have a train to catch, than leave the party feeling you have made an awkward exit, only to stand outside for twenty minutes waiting for a ride. If however you are having a great time and don't want to leave, then go for it! Just take five minutes to readjust your plans.
9. Remember that anxiety affects a lot of people
Even the most seemingly confident person might be fighting inner criticisms, so be kind to everyone you meet. People are often much more empathetic and understanding that you might expect, and the ones who aren't most likely aren't perceptive enough to even notice that you might feel uncomfortable.
When you get home, congratulate yourself for having done an awesome job. Make sure you don't focus on the negative moments - if you felt there were any - just enjoy the good times and take the small successes on board for reassurance next time.
A review of 101 clinical trials, published the Lancet Psychiatry in 2014, found talking therapies were more effective and more long lasting than medication in dealing with social anxiety. Why not have a look at our directory if you would like to contact a counsellor.