For some, the charming strains of Christmas carols are a quaint reminder of the festive season’s approach. For those of us who struggle with social anxiety, however, they’re stomach-ache-inducing reminders that the season for social interaction is upon us. Office parties. Family gatherings. Crowded shops. New Year’s Eve bashes. And so the tide of social anxiety slowly begins to rise, causing crippling stress and depression.
We’ve all experienced a little bit of social anxiety at some stage in our lives. Those butterflies before public speaking are a good example. However, social anxiety disorder, sometimes also called social phobia, is a far more impactful member the anxiety disorder family.
It’s characterised by an intense and unreasonable fear of social situations and interactions. The anxiety and self-consciousness that arises in sufferers often stem from a fear of being closely watched, criticised, judged or humiliated by others. These feelings usually begin in anticipation of a social event and can build into a full-blown panic attack.
As a result of these fears and their associated anxiety, many sufferers resort to avoidance behaviours and tactics to try to minimalise the impact their anxiety has on their lives. But this avoidance comes with its costs, as individuals often find these tactics reinforce their fears, and they end up isolated, alone and depressed.
If you or your loved one struggle with social anxiety, there are some ways you can address your fears and improve your quality of life.
It’s a natural tendency for sufferers of social anxiety to isolate themselves. But this self-imposed isolation exacerbates anxiety and feelings of depression. Find a trusted individual and share what you’re going through with them. If possible, ask them to support you by attending an upcoming function with you, or by acting as a buffer during one. Knowing that you are not alone can be a huge source of comfort in social situations, while helping you to face your fears.
When we’re anxious, we’re feeling those fight-or-flight responses, and we tend to breathe in a shallow manner. This makes us feel even more anxious and fearful. Learn to slow your breathing down. If you’re in a social setting and find yourself getting anxious, focus on taking deep breaths. Inhale fully through your nose, take a small pause, and then breathe out through your mouth. As you breathe out, relax your shoulders and upper body muscles. It can be helpful to take up exercises like Pilates and Yoga that focus on stretching, breathing and muscle relaxation, as these also give you a good foundation for better breathing.
Tying in with the previous point, make sure you’re taking the time to care for your health properly. The festive season is rife with decadent food, alcohol consumption and late nights. Having this in excess can take its toll on the body, making you feel worse than you normally would, and contributing to your anxiety. Try to keep a healthy diet and routine throughout the festive period.
For those of us that have social anxiety, it feels natural to simply avoid social gatherings. Perhaps there may be times when you genuinely aren’t well or have a legitimate reason for skipping out. That said, quite often it’s avoidance tactics at work, and to have any hope of overcoming our fears and anxiety, we need to step into the uncomfortable. Avoidance behaviour only reinforces fears, so do your best to attend social gatherings when they arise. Before an event, prepare yourself to relax. This means taking the time to think about the future event at times when you already feel relaxed and calm, versus worrying intensely in the days leading up to it.
During an event, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by anxiety to the point of no longer being capable of staying focused on the present moment. During these times, it can be helpful to practise mindfulness by focusing on your surroundings. Perhaps this means the colour of the walls; any particular smells your senses detect, or perhaps the attire of the people around you. Doing so helps you turn your focus away from your feelings, emotions and inward musings, and rather focus it outwards.
Like any other anxiety disorder, there are many treatment options for social anxiety. These range from medication to cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and brainworking recursive therapy (BWRT) to help you address and manage your fears. You don’t need to suffer in silence, or struggle along with the resulting depression and stress that accompany social phobia. Reach out to your medical health practitioner and see what options might work for you.
Remember that overcoming your fears is a long-term commitment. As long as you’re moving forward and taking little steps towards overcoming them, you should feel good about your efforts and proud of yourself. Don’t become discouraged if you have setbacks, or aren’t immediately delivered from them. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other, and you’ll get there.
Social anxiety can be crippling, but don’t lose hope. There are so many ways you can address your fears and plenty of people willing to help you take the necessary steps to be victorious and to live your life to the fullest.
Need some help? We’re here to talk to you and help you find all the assistance you or your loved one may need. Get in touch with us by calling 020 8298 9677, or by submitting your details on our website.