One important tip is to explore what triggers your social anxiety. Is it public speaking? Crowded spaces? Unwanted attention? Certified Life Coach Jamie Bacharach explains: “The key to overcoming social anxiety is to understand what sorts of situations trigger your anxiety in the first place, and to find ways to practice these situations accordingly. Ultimately, anxiety cannot be rationalized—you can’t explain to someone why they shouldn’t be feeling anxious. However, you can become numb to the effects of the anxiety via gradual exposure which desensitizes you to its triggers.”
Then, once you’ve understood your triggers you can make a point to confront your fears. “Avoiding anxiety inducing situations perpetuates the fear. Face your fears isn’t just a cliched slice of advice. It actually works,” Licensed Clinical Psychologist Amanda Darnley explains. “Start small and build yourself up. If you have social anxiety around dating, start with signing up for an online dating site. Then work your way up. Remind yourself that you can do difficult things. Think about the last time you did something that was really hard. How did you do it? What helped? Pull from those resources to help you face your fears.”
Remembering what’s important can also help you overcome social anxiety. For example, the next time you feel anxiety in social situations, put life into perspective again by thinking about the people you love. Speaker and Success Coach Rusty Gaillard explains: “Social anxiety comes from worry about what others will think of you. The best way to overcome that is to shift your focus to what is important to you. Are you living a life that you feel good about? Are you spending your time well? Are you fulfilled and happy in your relationships?” He continues: “These questions are inside out questions—they start with you at the center of the question, then you bring the answers to the world outside of you.” He continues: “As you get comfortable living a life that is meaningful and rich for you, then you automatically get comfortable sharing your life with others.”
Also, try envisioning yourself excelling in social situations. This will help you to feel confident going into real social interactions. “Use visualization exercises regularly. See yourself in social situations having fun, chatting with others, and feeling good in your body,” Anxiety Specialist Heather Rider recommends. “Visualization is very powerful and will help you feel more confident because you have trained your brain to feel like it has already been in the situation many times successfully.”
Try writing down your thoughts to overcome social anxiety, too. As Louis Laves-Webb, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, explains, “Writing down your thoughts as they come up is a great way to look at them with some perspective. With perspective, you’ll probably find that most of what’s making you anxious falls into one of two categories. Either they’re things that won’t actually happen, or they’re things you have no control over. Get in the habit of writing down what’s making you anxious and, in your head, labeling these feelings as ‘anxious.’ It will give you the perspective you need to dismiss rather than obey your anxiety.”
Outlining a plan for success is also an effective way to overcome social anxiety. “The key to overcoming anxiety is having positive corrective experiences,” Licensed Mental Health Therapist Jennifer Daffon explains. “The best way to approach this is by identifying small steps toward target behavior so one can gain a sense of mastery over the feared stimulus. For example, when dealing with social anxiety, if one is fearful of meeting new people because they don’t know what to say, a person can create a list outlining steps to eventually introducing themselves to someone new. A sample plan might be: First make eye contact with someone, then once comfortable doing that, wave at someone, then say ‘hi’ and so on.”
Try practicing mindfulness! “Mindfulness is all about being in the present moment and experiencing your surroundings more fully,” Mental Health Therapist Jenna Palumbo explains. “Most of the clients I serve who have social anxiety are really afraid of being judged by others and/or making a mistake, so they’re overthinking every move they make and coming up with assumptions about how others are perceiving it. By practicing mindfulness, you’re literally training your brain to be more present and less in your head.”
Finally, consider exposure therapy, which is proven to help individuals overcome social anxiety (and other forms of anxiety for that matter). “One of the best ways to tackle social anxiety is through exposure therapy. This approach allows you to gradually introduce yourself to feared situations while learning how to process them with a decreased level of fear and anxiety,” explains Megan Cannon, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Owner of Back to Balance Counseling, LLC. “It’s best to try this approach with a trained professional who will begin by creating a fear hierarchy with you. This allows you to organize your feared situations and approach them in a more productive way.”
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.
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.