Does Socializing Stress You Out? How To Overcome Social Anxiety
Let’s set the scene: It’s peak lunch time and you’re in a hurry before your next class. You usually eat with a few friends, but they couldn’t come today. You look around at the busy cafeteria and see people talking, laughing, and eating, and you think to yourself “there’s no way I can eat here”. You may start thinking about other places to eat, or even try to convince yourself that you’re not hungry. You ask yourself if you can eat while walking, you think about where there might be less people. You find a place tucked away in the corner that looks relatively hidden and safe, and you take out your food… then what happens?
You may seem like a shy person, someone who likes their own space and to be alone, but in reality you like talking to people and making new friends. This feeling of fear and anxiety that you feel when trying to socialize is called social anxiety, and it may be more common than you think. People who suffer from social anxiety suffer from stress because they are constantly thinking about what others think about them. Therapy can be helpful in these cases, but there are other things to try before seeing a professional. Here we’ll give you some ideas to overcome social anxiety.
The list method
People with social anxiety usually try to avoid their fears and hide away. This may get rid of the immediate stress, but it could be potentially damaging in the long run. Facing your fears is scary-it’s supposed to be- but it’s the only way you can learn to overcome social anxiety (read more on overcoming anxiety and panic attacks).
To do this, we suggest you write a list of social situations that cause you stress. After writing the list, organize it from most to least stressful. Try to face these situations starting at the least stressful and work through your fears little by little.
Don’t give up on the list just because you’re not able to face one of these situations. Remember that facing your fears isn’t easy, and that sometimes you’ll have to try more than once. Just trying to put yourself in a situation that is uncomfortable for you shows a lot, and each time you do it, you’re getting closer and closer to overcoming that fear.
Techniques for calming social anxiety
Relaxation techniques like meditation or yoga may be helpful to calm down your anxiety. You have to learn to recognize when you may be overreacting to a social situation and work to calm yourself down.
When you have social anxiety, some situations may lead to panic attacks or difficulty breathing. In these cases, try to use breathing techniques: concentrate only on your breathing, inhale deeply through your nose for a few seconds, and exhale slowly, concentrating on how the air enters and leaves your body. Little by little you’ll start calming down. Try following a meditation video like this one.
Repeating a mantra, a motivational phrase, may help calm you down. It should be something short, something that will be comforting to you, and something that you can repeat to yourself when you’re feeling stressed out. Something as simple as “I can do this”, or “It’ll be okay” may help control your nerves. Learning new alternative mental health techniques may help you overcome social anxiety and get you back out there.
How can you overcome social anxiety? Change the way you think
You have to start by identifying your negative thoughts. You may be causing yourself stress just by how your thinking. These are some negative thoughts that you can substitute for positive ones.
Knowing what everyone else is thinking: you might think that you can read people’s minds or emotions, and know that they’re thinking negative things about you.
Predicting the future: you foresee what will happen, and you see everything going wrong. You’re anxious because you think that everything will go wrong before it even happens.
Thinking that everything revolves around you: you think that everyone around you is constantly thinking about you. You also think that everything they’re saying or doing has something to do with you.
When you learn to identify these types of thoughts, you should start to question them. Be logical and rational. Rather than letting yourself get carried away with these negative thoughts, be reasonable. Is it really possible that every person in the room is looking at you? Probably not.
Let’s go back to the scene in the lunch room. You’re sitting and nervous. You slowly take out your food and set it on the table. You put in your headphones and listen to your current favorite song. You feel people staring at you, even though you can’t see them. You’re sure that the group of people at the table over is laughing at you for eating alone… you almost lose your nerve and decide to leave. But you decide to look up and see if it’s true.. rather than seeing the entire cafeteria looking at you, you see the table next to you laughing at a funny video, and another table huddled over a book, studying together. Finally, you see someone else in the middle of the cafeteria, eating by themselves. You start eating, and before you know it, you’ve scarfed down your whole lunch and had a chance to people watch for a bit.
By looking at the situation from an outsider’s perspective, you can see things more clearly. Next time your in a situation like this, rather than putting ideas and thoughts into people’s heads, take the time and observe what’s actually happening. Chances are, no one is paying you any undue attention. It’s important that you don’t accept these thoughts as fact, and that you don’t let your social anxiety rule you. Question your thoughts and realize that these negative thoughts aren’t normal. Trust yourself and let go, you’ll see how easy it is to talk to other people soon enough.
Molly is a writer specialized in health and psychology. She is passionate about neuroscience and how the brain works, and is constantly looking for new content from interesting sources. Molly is happy to give or take advice, and is always working to educate and inspire.
This post is also available in: Spanish