The pandemic lockdowns didn’t create social anxiety. But they sure didn’t help. We live in a society that has become increasingly digitized. Like any such development, this comes with pluses and minuses. In the minus category is a decrease in face-to-face communication. When compounded by “social distancing,” we’ve stirred up a perfect storm for social anxiety.
More and more people are struggling with social interactions. A trip to the store or even trying to set up a phone call is enough to produce some strong physical and emotional symptoms. As daunting as this feels, social anxiety can be managed and overcome.
What is Social Anxiety?
Social anxiety disorder affects at least 15 million American adults. It usually kicks in during the teenage years. Social anxiety is much more than being nervous or shy. It presents as severe anxiety, usually related to being judged or rejected. The disorder has a tendency to build on itself. In other words, your fear of being judged as anxious serves to increase the amount of anxiety you display.
As mentioned above, it features strong physical and emotional symptoms, e.g.
- Panic attacks
- Nausea and other digestive disturbances
- Heart palpitations
- Avoidance of social situations
- Relentless worry and dread
It is highly recommended that you speak with a mental health professional if social anxiety is impacting your life. However, in the meantime, you can take small steps to improve the quality of your life.
3 Small Steps To Begin Overcoming Social Anxiety
Identify Your Triggers
This is a time to be radically honest with yourself. Buy a journal, get a pen, and make lists of what triggers your social anxiety symptoms. You don’t have to judge these symptoms. But you do have to recognize and monitor them. Sure, this could make you uncomfortable but one of the biggest steps is to understand what’s happening. Plus, this journal will be quite useful in your therapy sessions.
Plan Out Some Baby Steps
Well-meaning friends may urge you to suddenly explore yourself to whatever makes you anxious. It’s probably a far more effective and self-loving choice to take baby steps. Look closely at your list of triggers. Seek out something that doesn’t involve too many people. You don’t have to give a speech to a room full of people tomorrow. Find something that might be brief and offer you a sense of control. Then do that and celebrate the progress. Think of the low hanging fruit – where can you most easily push yourself outside of your comfort zone? For example, a brief interaction with the check-out person at the grocery store. There aren’t any big expectations and it’s the perfect opportunity to small talk. If something goes askew you can always go to another line in the store on your next visit.
This is a very underrated but powerful option. It offers benefits for you and for others. Look for any opportunity to practice kindness. Holding a door open for someone offers you something, too. You have a few seconds to interact with a stranger in a setting in which they are feeling gratitude. When you start paying closer attention, you will realize there are plenty of these opportunities on daily basis. It’s a win-win.
How to Fully Heal from Social Anxiety
As you challenge yourself with the small steps above, there is a big step you can be taking. Contact a therapist with experience working with social anxiety. In your weekly sessions, you have a safe space to discuss your triggers and fear. You can also workshop ideas for common situations you find yourself in. In fact, the act of calling a therapist can very much qualify as one of the “baby steps” discussed above.
What’s important to remember is that an anxiety disorder is much more than normal, inevitable shyness. It should not be downplayed. At the same time, there is no reason to feel shame. If you feel anxiety therapy might be helpful, we should talk soon. I invite you to contact me to set up a free initial consultation so I can answer any questions you have a give you an idea of what it would be like to work with me.
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