Everything you need to know about social anxiety
We live in an age of anxiety. With a combination of countless disasters in the news whilst being bombarded by constant ads, it comes as no surprise that the number of people in the UK being diagnosed with anxiety is at an all-time high.
In ordinary, everyday situations it is reasonable and some might even say good to be anxious, it can after all help us perform better. Even feelings of fear have a purpose, they are designed to help us survive scary situations we might encounter.
Back in the “good old days”, this made us quicker to respond to the threat of being eaten alive; forcing us to run, hide or for those who are a bit more courageous, throw a stone… (and then leg it!)
This response is known as the ‘fight-or-flight’ response which causes the heart to speed up, hyperventilation (getting more oxygen) and increased blood flow to the muscles.
We all get a bit nervous if we have to speak in front of a large group of people, right? Or if we have to meet someone for the first time? This is totally normal.
There are countless ordinary situations such as this that cause people who suffer from social anxiety to get cripplingly anxious and experience the fight-or-flight response which can be really disabling to their everyday lives. Social anxiety, simply put, is the fear of social situations.
Living with social anxiety can be frustrating and as with many things, change doesn’t happen overnight. You might feel like your mind has an ability to instantly jump a million steps into the worst-case scenario! Some of the signs of social anxiety are:
- Finding yourself worrying about other people’s reactions
- Experiencing extreme nervousness and anxiousness when taking part in social situations
- Feeling really insecure about everything you say and do in social situations
- Feeling paranoid
- Feeling overly judged
- Avoiding social situations all-together
- Experiencing physical effects on your body during social situations such as sweating, increased heart rate, or rapid breathing.
- Avoiding eye contact
If you think you might have social anxiety, we would always recommend seeking a professional diagnosis from your GP.
Most importantly, remember that however isolated you might feel you are far from alone – social anxiety is the most common type of anxiety in the UK.
7 tips for overcoming social anxiety
Hiding or suppressing anxiety actually produces more anxiety. The most useful step is to share your experience with friends and family, or even talk about them online to us or someone else that you trust. Many people often feel ashamed of their anxiety and can be incredibly reluctant to share it.
The media often leads people to believe that mental illness is a weakness, which makes people less likely to admit to themselves and others what they are going through. We all have mental health and it is reported that up to 1 in 3 of us, will at some point experience a mental health illness and it’s okay to talk about it.
Your body is powerful. Learning the warning signs of when your anxiety flares up is important to help you take action; for some, this could be your body feeling tense and your mind feeling chaotic. Your body and especially your lungs can help.
Breathing exercises can help you control your anxiety. Having a steady breath has a direct impact on your heart rate and, in turn, your thoughts. Your heart will slow down as your breath does and as your breathing and your heart rate slow down your mind and thoughts will too.
3. Thinking isn’t reality
As much as it feels like anxiety controls you, anxiety isn’t reality and you control your own reality. It’s important to remember that social anxiety feeds on thoughts that emphasise danger and negativity. Symptoms such as a fast heartbeat and sweating emerge from this kind of thinking.
Luckily thinking is a habit and can, of course, be changed. The cure isn’t just positive thinking but realistic thinking. Try and examine your anxious thoughts such as ‘I am going to say something stupid’ they are often exaggerations of reality. Then try and produce thoughts that criticise and correct them.
4. Shift your attention
Anxiety has a way of grabbing your attention and turning it inward upon yourself, making you not only self-critical but suddenly noticing how your heartbeat has rapidly increased without your permission, meanwhile, you then suddenly feel yourself getting hotter, red in the face… sweaty… it feels like a domino effect that cannot be interrupted.
But instead, try and focus your attention on what it is you may be doing, so if you are speaking to someone try and pay close attention to what they are saying rather than worrying about what the right thing is to say next.
5. Face your fears
Avoiding social situations, yes will make you feel better at that particular moment. But remember this is only a short-term solution which prevents you from learning how to cope and will make you avoid social situations in the future more. As out of reach as it might seem, facing your fears in small steps you will allow you to work towards the more challenging situations and will give you coping skills.
If meeting new people makes you feel anxious you can begin by going to a party with a friend. You can then take the following step of introducing yourself to a new person. Remember, saying no will give you the same result each time. Saying yes, however frightening, means you’re taking a chance and living your life.
6. Stop trying to be perfect
It’s easy to forget that no one is perfect when we live in a world that aspires to achieve perfection. It’s also easy to forget that not everyone will like us nor does everyone need to.
Ask yourself do YOU like everyone (slim chances)? It’s also often forgotten that it’s okay to make mistakes as it makes us human.
7. Play the Rejection Game
The purpose of the game is to gain some sort of rejection through a series of different challenges. The purpose of the game is to encourage you to see rejection differently and to face your fears whilst maintaining a certain element of control over the situation.
- Ask somebody you don’t usually speak to at school for the time
- Put your hand up in class to answer a question
- Give somebody a compliment
- Strike up a conversation with somebody outside of your friendship circle
- Ask for a discount at the checkout
- Ask somebody to take a photo of you
- Ask your strictest teacher for an extension on your homework, even if you don’t need one
- Reach out to an old friend and ask if you can make up
- Ask to go to the front of a queue
- Fundraise for a charity (*cough* we’re a charity *cough*) and ask people you know to sponsor you
- Go to a restaurant and ask for a tour of the kitchen
- Request a refill on a meal you’ve just eaten
- Dance in public.
Don’t forget that there is always support available – whether you decide to access it online or offline. Please get in touch if you have any questions or would like to speak to somebody about social anxiety and/or bullying. Join our community to start a conversation about anxiety with others who have similar experiences…