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Going to a birthday party or a barbecue may sound like a lot of fun to most people, but not for those with social anxiety disorder (SAD). This mental health condition affects around 12% of the population, and it means much more than being a little shy and getting nervous around strangers. It’s an excessive and constant fear that others will judge and reject you.
Common symptoms of SAD include:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Muscle tension
- Feeling like your mind has gone blank
- Nausea or upset stomach
- Avoiding social situation because you worry that you will embarrass or humiliate yourself
- Avoiding interacting with strangers or any situation where you might be the center of attention
- Analyzing social situation to find mistakes in your behavior and exaggerating the impact of those mistakes
- Exaggerating the consequences of social faux pas
Even if the symptoms of anxiety are not noticeable to others, a person with social anxiety disorder will worry about them to the point that they’re all they can think about. As you can imagine, this can make it difficult to meet new people, make friends, maintain friendships, start romantic relationships, make progress in their careers, and even go through mundane activities such as making phone calls, shopping, eating in public, or using a public restroom.
The most effective treatment approach for SAD is a combination of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and medication such as SSRI. If you’re experiencing symptoms of social anxiety disorder, it’s best to talk to your doctor and make an appointment with a psychotherapist. There are also some self-help strategies you can try, which we’ll be discussing in this article.
Take Care of Your Health
Exercising and eating healthy food won’t cure your social anxiety, but it will make the symptoms more manageable. You first want to make sure that you get enough sleep. This is important because sleep deprivation leads to heightened responses to negative stimuli from the amygdala, and it also reduces top-down control from the prefrontal cortex. This means you will be more likely to interpret neutral social situations as negative, which includes facial expressions, and your brain will also be less adept at managing the anxiety that results from what you perceive as negative stimuli.
Likewise, exercise has been shown to help with symptoms of anxiety. Exercise also makes your body release endorphins, which improves your mood and boosts cognitive function, making you better at emotional regulation and coping with stress, including stressful social situations.
Eating healthy food has similar benefits to exercising. Poor diets have a negative impact on mental well-being because your brain doesn’t get the nutrients it needs. Furthermore, poor diets place additional stress on your body leading to digestive problems, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity.
Lastly, you should reduce alcohol intake. Many people with social anxiety rely on alcohol to calm their nerves in social situations, which might be one of the reasons why 20% of them also develop alcohol use disorder. Considering the risk of addiction and the negative effects alcohol has on the human body, it would be better to find other strategies to cope with stressful social situations, some of which we will describe here. You can also try CBD products. Studies suggest that CBD has an anxiolytic effect and can help with social anxiety. You can find it in the form of capsules, tinctures, and oils. If you want something fast-acting, you can look for high quality CBD vape cartridges.
Having social anxiety feels like being stuck. On one side, you might feel lonely or frustrated with the things you miss out on because of your symptoms. On the other side, you’re afraid of the things you have to do to get out of this rut.
Right now, your goal is probably to improve the quality of your life by learning to manage your social anxiety. Although this goal is valuable, it’s too vague. To keep yourself motivated, you need to set goals that are specific and measurable. For example, you can set a goal to go out with friends once per week. You can take a self-assessment quiz such as the Liebowitz Social Anxiety Scale (LSAS) to have a starting point for your symptoms. As the weeks pass, write down how you feel before and after these social gatherings.
This will allow you to evaluate your thoughts and behavioral patterns. If your mind becomes filled with anxiety-inducing thoughts such as “I’ll say something stupid, and everyone will laugh at me” or “I’ll be too nervous to have a good time,” write them down and challenge them. You know that these thought patterns are symptoms of your anxiety.
On the days when you are not meeting with friends, you can set smaller goals for yourself, such as engaging in small talk with the barista when you get your coffee in the morning. Then you can write about how it felt.
After a couple of months, reassess your symptoms. Remember not to compare yourself to others, but only to how you were the last time or last few times you took the quiz. When you achieve your goals, and you notice improvements in your symptoms, congratulate yourself for the work you put in and your success.
Go Into Social Settings Prepared
Overthinking social situations might be one of the symptoms of social anxiety that bother you the most, but you can use it to your advantage. Next time you go into a social situation, be prepared. For example, before you attend a party, you can plan to start the evening in the kitchen where it’s quieter, and you can talk to fewer people. You can also “arm yourself” with a few go-to conversation topics, such as a few funny stories. Write down and practice some questions you can ask people, like their hobbies and their favorite places to travel to.
As we mentioned in the section about setting goals, it’s important to start small and keep practicing social skills like making eye contact or saying hello. You can do these things in low-pressure situations like going to the grocery store.
When you’re attending a social gathering, remember that the focus doesn’t have to be on you. People love a good listener, so it’s more important to make them feel interesting than appearing interesting yourself. You can ask them questions and encourage them to talk about themselves. You can even seek out “entertainers.” These are usually the people who like to tell jokes and funny stories, who seem to know everyone and feel comfortable talking a lot. Although right now, you might find them the most intimidating, they’re actually the easiest to talk to.
Since they feel comfortable talking a lot, there’s less of a risk for awkward pauses because they’ve run out of things to say. Moreover, since they’re so sociable they’re used to talking to all sorts of people they’ll be better at adapting and making you feel comfortable. You can even say that you get nervous when meeting new people. You don’t have to pretend to have a completely different personality.