Dr. Jenn Berman (aka Dr. Jenn, a psychiatrist who offers relationship coaching through her TV show, You Deserve Better) discusses coping strategies for those who are struggling with social anxiety.
Someone with social anxiety will have a concern and grip a glass of water and obsessively chew it to the point that it falls out of his or her mouth. Some will burp. Others will look at you straight in the eye and suddenly become quiet. These are some of the symptoms of social anxiety. It’s a stress reaction that arises when someone feels there is a threat (opportunity) in social situations. They might feel as if they’re just going to blunder, have a bad day, or someone else is going to ridicule them. It is not a lack of ability, resourcefulness, or simply a lack of fun.
Sometimes, social anxiety produces triggers — like knowing that you will have to see someone you’ve not seen in a while, or that you are going to have to meet someone you’ve not seen for a few years. Both of these situations might provoke anxiety, but social anxiety tends to intensify the anxiety. Think of this as running a marathon, but only running one lap at a time.
If you have symptoms of social anxiety, seek help. But if you don’t have the symptoms yet, and you are not yet ready for help, you can take some positive steps, starting by understanding what social anxiety is and what can be done to help.
Managing social anxiety is challenging. It is not like a bad headache, it’s not like a cold, it is not like back pain. It is true that chronic social anxiety disorder is an illness, but that doesn’t give you any more insight into managing the disease than if you just learned the first four letters of chemotherapy.
Here are some tips for managing social anxiety, with a fun reference to Emily Dickinson’s poem, “Lies and Sicknesses.”
For some people with social anxiety, restricting your social life is part of their social behavior. Even more accurately, it is social behavior designed to turn yourself into an island in a very social world. Part of the problem is the way people approach social situations. The more successful you are at connecting with other people, the more of yourself that you leave out. You might not come off at all as real, like you are a fully human being. This is a common problem in social situations because you don’t want to look like someone who’s still carrying around some of that baggage from school.
Understand that you are part of the society we live in.
Join social groups and spend time being authentic and fun with your family and friends.
In some cases, drinking alcohol may help.
You don’t have to avoid social situations, but you need to understand that they might be especially challenging for you. This will help you view social situations more calmly, while minimizing the potential discomfort and potential embarrassment.
But remember, if you are going through a transitional period in your life, a challenging situation will likely be easier to cope with if you have already taken some measures to start functioning better in public.
Don’t hold your breath. Treat every situation like it’s an audition.
You have to keep things in perspective, so don’t panic. Remember that there’s nothing wrong with saying you don’t feel like talking right now. Don’t believe your brain and your gut when they’re telling you you’re not ready. Use a physical cue — a forced laugh, touching your nose, yawning — to help to lower your anxiety. It helps reduce feelings of stress and worry and stirs your brain into action. What feels really bothersome to you in the moment might be a good sign that you’re coming together as a team in these situations.
Try not to make huge mistakes. If you can avoid making mistakes, you will be better able to handle being in social situations.
Have a list. As you go through your life, you will encounter social situations that cause you to worry and stress about how you are going to handle them. That is normal. But remember that these are challenges that you will eventually have to overcome. A list of a few things that you can say to yourself help to manage the stress, prepare you for the next situation, and build your emotional resilience for how to handle situations in the future.