Ten tips for living with social anxiety disorder
Social anxiety disorder, also known as ‘social phobia’, is an anxiety disorder that causes extreme fear or agitation in an individual faced with a social situation. Quite often, the individual will state that they particularly fear being watched, judged or criticized. Someone with social anxiety disorder will worry excessively about making mistakes, or they will be frightened of being humiliated in front of other people. In many cases, the fear can grow so serious that those with a social anxiety disorder will avoid social situations altogether. Even if they do attend such a social occasion, they may suffer with anticipatory anxiety for days or weeks before the event.
People who suffer with social anxiety disorder may experience distress in situations where:
- They become a focal point or a centre of attention
- They have to meet people who are important or ‘in authority’
- They are introduced to somebody new
- They have to make small talk
- They are teased or criticized
- They are among groups, or in social situations.
Tips for living with social anxiety disorder
1. Understand and be aware of the problem
Talk to others who suffer with social phobia, perhaps online on forums, and read as much as you can. Understanding that you have an issue is the first step to helping yourself. Psychologists suggest it is better to work to improve the situation rather than ignore your anxiety, or ‘try to live with it’. Recognise that anxiety is a natural way to feel when your body senses you’re in danger, but there are healthy limits.
2. Increase your social skills
It’s easy to say but a fear of embarrassment in public can be assuaged if you are more confident about your own social skills. This may mean you need to work with a therapist, undertake cognitive behavioural therapy, or at the very least take steps to increase your own assertiveness (such as a public speaking class). You could also try increasing your exposure to social situations over a period of time, but remember – you must want to alter your patterns of behaviour and participate voluntarily or this will not work.
3. Try out cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
CBT is really useful for social phobia sufferers. Unlike some forms of psychotherapy, this does not concentrate on the past but only on how you feel and what you think in the present. It addresses your problems and symptoms in the here and now, and enables you to work on them using small strategies, techniques, and methods that will ease your anxiety and the way you think and feel
4. Slap down that negative inner dialogue
We all have the voice inside us that spouts a continuous dialogue. In many cases we need this voice. Those who suffer with social anxiety disorder however, often find that the voice has nothing good to say, only negativity. You don’t need this. If your inner voice is a whingey, miserable, joyless doom merchant, kick its butt! Tell it “No!” Alter your thinking every time you become aware of how awful it is. You don’t need to be positive, just more realistic!
5. Recognise that much of what you are thinking is false
People with social anxiety disorder often suffer with false belief and assume others think negatively of them without any concrete evidence for this. Remember – just because you’re thinking something, that doesn’t mean it’s true.
6. Wean yourself off ‘all or nothing’ thinking
Avoid the thinking that results in the thought, “I was poor at this, therefore I am absolutely rubbish at everything.” Be more flexible. Practise thinking, “I didn’t do so well with this but I can be brilliant at that.”
7. Avoid mind reading
Anyone who has social anxiety disorder seems to think they can automatically mind read what others think of them. This just isn’t true and to be fair, you’re probably pretty poor at it. Don’t try to read minds and don’t second guess what people are thinking. You are making assumptions and you have no evidence. If you really want to know what someone is thinking, ask them directly. If you don’t want to know, drop it!
You would be surprised by how much breathing can help someone with social anxiety. If you start to feel out of control or panicky, take some time to sit or stand up straight, drop your shoulders, and breathe slowly and deeply. Concentrate on your breathing.
9. Focus on others
Social anxiety disorder makes you insular and self-protective. If you go somewhere with the express intention of making someone else more comfortable, by default you’ll put yourself in a more responsible and comfortable position and this will lessen your social anxiety.
10. Focus on something else
If all else fails and you find yourself having an anxiety attack focus your attention on something neutral. This can be the carpet, the curtains, an object such as a vase or a pen. Really look at the object and exclude all other thoughts. Breathe deeply. Feel, see, touch. Interrupt your chain of thoughts with something entirely mundane and bland.
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