7 Ways to Overcome Being Completely Anxious in Social Situations

woman with social anxietyThere's "shyness." And then there's social anxiety. They're not the same thing, FYI. One makes you feel self-conscious -- maybe in new situations or around certain groups of people. The other can leave you paralyzed (seriously) with fear that you're going to be judged by others. And not in a good way.

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About 15 million people suffer from social anxiety, and although it starts to rear its head in adolescence, nearly 40 percent of people wait 10+ YEARS to seek help. That's a long -- and painful -- time to hide yourself away.

Here, several strategies to start shoring up your self-confidence -- and dismantling that anxiety -- today.

1. Track your anxiety. You know that expression, "Know thine enemy?" Well, it applies perfectly to social anxiety. You've got to know what you're up against in order to beat it. Make a chart with three columns: your social anxiety symptoms, the date you had them, and where you were when they appeared. This info will help you start to ID your triggers.

2. Learn to breathe. When you're anxious, you breathe faster than normal, which keeps your body in "fight or flight" mode. Next time you sense yourself getting agitated, take a slow, deep breath for a count of four, trying to breathe into your lower belly. Hold your breath for a count of two. Then exhale slowly for a count of four. Wait a few seconds, then start again for six–eight cycles total. This won't STOP your social anxiety, BTW. It'll just make it easier for you to ride out those anxious feelings.

3. Change your thought patterns. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) helps you become aware of the negative thought patterns that cause social anxiety so you can then stop them. Working with a therapist trained in CBT is a great option. You can also try using a self-guided CBT workbook.

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4. Join the club. Joyable is an online 12-week CBT-based program that promises to end social anxiety. Once you join, you'll be guided through daily activities that teach you to challenge your anxious thoughts and face your fears. (You'll also have access to a "coach" who offers support.) Studies have shown online CBT is just as effective as in-person sessions. And at $99/month, it's probably cheaper.

5. Get an anxiety-reducing app. Sure, there's an app for EVERYTHING, but several come recommended by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (And they should know, right?) Among the ADAA's favorite apps: Headspace, which teaches skills like mindfulness and meditation; Pacifica, which has some CBT techniques going on; and the not-very-flashily-named Self Help for Anxiety Management that helps track your emotions and anxiety triggers.

6. Try hypnosis. Hypnotherapy gets you nice and relaxed so you're more apt to respond to suggestions. (In this case, the suggestion that there's no need to be anxious in social situations.) It's no carnival ruse; hynotherapy's actually proven to work well in treating anxiety disorders. (Just don't try it if you're prone to hallucinations or delusions or are using drugs or alcohol.) And make sure you find a hypnotist who's licensed in a mental health or medical field AND has undergone proper training.

7. Medication may help. Sometimes, an Rx for meds like antidepressants or beta-blockers (which relieve anxiety) are super-helpful to get social anxiety under control. The reason? Many people who suffer from SA also have depression. Talk to your therapist about what's right for you.

Remember, social anxiety isn't a permanent part of your personality. Most people who stick with treatment have a great prognosis. The hardest part? Admitting it's time to get help.

 

Image via © 123ducu/iStock; gratisography.com

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