How to Mitigate Social Anxiety

Anxiety isn’t really just one thing –  it’s a tangled nest of different fears and anticipations all intermingling together. Your heart races, you sweat, your mind races. Anxiety heightens itself, it escalates seemingly no matter what you try to do. When anxious thoughts go unchallenged, they reverberate, becoming louder like an echo in a cave. What do you do when anxiety prevents you from socializing? Below, we’ve got a few tips to help soothe your fears.

1. Determine the Quality of Your Anxiety

Researchers agree that there are two types of anxiety – trait anxiety and state anxiety. Trait anxiety is anxiety in a vacuum. It doesn’t discriminate, it’s essentially an aspect of your personality. State anxiety is momentary anxiety like stage fright or, in most cases, social anxiety. You need to determine exactly what kind of anxiety you’re experiencing so you can better treat it. A generalized anxiety disorder can’t exactly be beaten with a few helpful tips. For those who find that their anxiety is more trait than state, don’t lose hope! There are therapies and medicines that can help. You don’t have to suffer alone.

2. What Are You Afraid Of, Really?

How can you win a battle if you don’t know what you’re fighting? In order to truly mitigate social anxiety, you have to identify your fears. Is it a fear of rejection that’s making you sweat during board game night? Do you fear that if you don’t do everything exactly right, people will make fun of you, or talk about you behind your back? Whatever it is, it needs to be named so it can exponentially lessen in stature. Something that could also help is identifying anxiety-producing situations. Do dates terrify you? Speaking up in meetings? Having to tap dance at the community theater? Whatever it may be, knowing is half the victory.

3. Challenge Negative Thoughts

A big part of anxiety is making wild predictions about what could possibly go wrong in anticipation of an event. “I’ll say the wrong thing and expose myself as a chump in front of my significant other’s parents!” or “If I add my two cents to our weekly meeting, I’ll get shut down and everyone will think I’m annoying,” or even “What if I miss my cue for the dance recital and muck the whole thing up? My parents will feel as though they wasted their money on my frankly exorbitant tap lessons!” You have to challenge these negative thoughts. When challenged, they’re effectively declawed, as it were.

Learning to dispute negative thoughts might take time and practice, but is worth the effort. Once you start looking at it, you’ll probably be surprised by how much of your thinking is inaccurate, exaggerated, or focused on the negatives of the situation.

There are four main ways you can challenge thoughts.

  • Reality Testing – what is the evidence for and against my thinking?
  • Looking for alternative explanations – If I were being positive, how else would I perceive this situation?
  • Putting it into perspective – is the situation really as bad as I’m making it out to be?
  • Finally, Goal Setting – what can I do that will help me solve this problem?

4. I Am Excited

There’s a weird little psychological trick that can seemingly turn anxiety of any kind into fuel for an enhanced performance. Again, it’s not necessarily a foolproof device, but if it could potentially help, it’s worth trying. You often hear about people trying to calm themselves down when they get worked up for a test or a performance or, in your particular case, a party/social gathering. This often has an opposite effect, it amplifies the anxiety one might experience. Something that really helps, weirdly enough, is saying “I am excited!” instead of “I am nervous!” Psychologically, it changes the tone of the nervous energy and can actually give you a much-needed boost.

For most people, it takes less effort for the brain to jump from charged-up, negative feelings to charged-up, positive ones, Brooks said, than it would to get from charged-up and negative to positive and chill. In other words, it’s easier to convince yourself to be excited than calm when you’re anxious.

So remember! You’re excited! You’re so excited and you just can’t hide it!

5. Create Goals

Goal-focused thinking in regards to situations that induce anxiety can really sand off some of the coarser edges. Anxiety thrives in vague circumstances. “What ifs” allow the imagination to run totally rampant. Often times, exiting a stressful situation for a person with social anxiety can feel like getting berated by an internal coach after a particularly rough sports match. “Why did I say that dumb thing!” or “I didn’t make enough eye contact!” Instead of beating yourself up for what you didn’t do, congratulate yourself for the things you did do. Setting goals like “I will make eye contact with at least two people,” or “I will speak up with three comments in this meeting today” is way more helpful than thinking something like “Don’t blow it, don’t be awkward, etc.”

Did these tips help you finesse your way through a recent cocktail party? Have any great stories about how you overcame your social anxiety through the power of positivity? Drop us a line in the comments, we’d love to hear all about it!