Help for social anxiety disorder (SAD) can take many forms. Although SAD treatment is available and effective, it is estimated that only 35% of people with this disease have received treatment.
Although it is not a substitute for professional treatment, self-help is a good starting point for those who may not be able to get help. The self-help strategies for social anxiety disorder outlined below can be used at home to overcome your symptoms.
A good first step in dealing with social anxiety disorder is to identify social skills that may require some work. If you focus on improving these, it may help you cope with the thoughts and emotions that social anxiety disorder brings.
Many people with social anxiety disorder lack self-confidence and can benefit from learning to become more confident through self-help strategies.
Practice becomes more confident by communicating your needs in a calm and relaxed way that respects the needs of others. Usually, this takes the form of “I” statements, such as “I feel hurt when you don’t answer my phone.” Learning to say no is also an important part of self-confidence, and a skill that most people with social anxiety disorder cannot resist.
If you are living with social anxiety, improving your nonverbal communication skills is another area where you can adopt self-help strategies.
Most people with social anxiety tend to take a “closed” stance; you may do this without realizing it. Learning how to maintain a relaxed posture (for example, hands on your sides, good eye contact) will encourage others to respond positively to you and make you look more approachable.
Cultivating physical confidence in this way will help you become more confident in social interactions.
In addition to adopting relaxed body positions, knowing how to start a conversation, maintain a conversation, and listen attentively are skills you can develop through self-help strategies.
For example, a quick tip for joining a group of people is to listen first and then comment on what they are already talking about. For example, “Are you talking about the results of the election? I can’t believe it.”
Give yourself as many opportunities as possible to develop your oral communication skills. Practice being a good listener, asking open-ended questions, and sharing stories about yourself so others can understand you better.
Tell others about your social anxiety
Your closest family and friends probably already know about your social anxiety disorder. If you want to tell someone specific information, please send a message saying that you have something you want to share, and arrange to talk in a quiet place.
If you feel too nervous to explain your situation, please write a summary of your feelings. It is best to share your symptoms so that others can understand what you are going through.
Remember, not everyone knows the ins and outs of social anxiety; some people may need some help to understand what you are going through.
When you have social anxiety, fear and negative thoughts are the two most common emotions. Some simple strategies can help you overcome them.
Take a deep breath
Having social anxiety means that you may have strong emotional reactions in social situations. One way to reduce these anxiety responses is to relax your body. When your body is relaxed, your breathing is slow and natural, there are no negative thoughts in your mind, and it is easier to enjoy getting along with others.
In situations that cause anxiety, you may breathe too fast, which in turn can worsen your other anxiety symptoms. Here are some steps to manage anxiety and shallow breathing.
How to practice deep breathing
- Count the number of breaths in one minute (considering the inhalation and exhalation as one time). Make a note of this number. The average person needs to breathe 10 to 12 times per minute.
- Focus on your breathing. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Breathe deeply through the diaphragm, not shallowly through the chest. Inhale for 3 seconds and exhale for 3 seconds (use a watch or clock with a second hand). As you exhale, think about “relaxing” and releasing muscle tension. Continue to breathe this way for 5 minutes.
- Calculate the number of breaths per minute again to see if the number has dropped.
- When you are relaxed, practice this breathing technique several times a day. It may be helpful to start practicing before you wake up for the first time and before you fall asleep.
In social situations, make sure you breathe in the same way as you practice. Over time, this breathing method may become more automated.
Reduce negative thinking
If you are living with social anxiety, you may misunderstand other people’s comments or facial expressions, which can lead to your emotional reactions. In particular, there are two common thinking patterns that can cause your anxiety.
- Mind reading: You assume that you know what other people think of you (for example, “Everyone can see how anxious I am.”).
- Personalization: You assume that the behavior of other people is related to you (for example, “He looks boring, I shouldn’t invite him to watch this movie.”).
Your thoughts are so automatic that you may not even realize that you are thinking about them. Here are some steps to better manage negative thoughts.
How to reduce negative thoughts
- Think back to a social occasion where you felt anxious recently. Write down your negative thoughts before, during, and after this situation.
- Ask yourself questions to challenge your negative thoughts. For example, if your negative automatic thought is “People are yawning, they must think I am bored”, then ask yourself “Can there be a different explanation?” In this case, your alternative thought may be “This Maybe it has nothing to do with me, they are just tired.”
- Try to pay attention to your automatic negative thoughts before, during, and after terrible social situations, and challenge them with alternatives.
Face your fear
Avoiding fearful situations may reduce your emotional response in the short term, but in the long term, it will severely limit your life. In addition, as your fears become more common, your fears will increase. On the other hand, gradual exposure to social situations combined with relaxation techniques will help reduce the anxiety and emotional responses associated with these situations.
There are some ways to overcome avoidance. First, identify the top 10 situations you want to avoid. For each situation in the list, it is broken down into a series of steps, and the difficulty gradually increases. For example, if you are afraid of being the center of attention, your steps might look like this:
- Tell a group of people you know well an interesting story about yourself.
- Tell a group of people you don’t know an interesting story about yourself.
- Express your true opinion to a group of friends.
- Express your true opinion to a group of strangers.
- Toast with someone you know at dinner.
- Toast with someone you don’t know at dinner.
Practice each step as much as possible before moving on to the next step. If you notice anxiety, challenge your negative thoughts and use slow breathing techniques to relax.
Please note that the specific list you create will depend on your fear. For example, you may be more afraid of speaking in front of familiar people than a group of strangers. In this case, you will reverse the items in the list.
Here are some tips to help you cope with daily social anxiety, such as at work or school.
- Tell your employer so that you can get convenience or support in the workplace.
- Attend the meeting early so that you can meet people one-on-one when they arrive.
- List the questions to ask your teacher or supervisor, and start with the least anxiety-causing question.
- Keep up with current events so that you can participate in small talks.
- Avoid using alcohol to overcome inhibition.
- Choose a job you love so that even the most challenging aspect of your social anxiety will be worth it.
- Make new friends by greeting others, complimenting, and starting short conversations.
- Exercise regularly, eat healthy food, and avoid caffeine and sugar to reduce anxiety.
Press Play for advice on reducing anxiety
This episode of The VigorTip Mind Podcast, hosted by LCSW’s editor-in-chief and therapist Amy Morin, features NBA player Kyle Guy and shares ways to reduce anxiety. Click below to listen now.
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Mistakes to avoid
People make some common mistakes when trying to overcome social anxiety through self-help strategies. Avoiding these mistakes will ensure that you don’t make things worse.
- Never try to control your anxiety. The more you think it is a terrible thing that needs to be eliminated, the more you will pay attention to it, and the harder it will be to reduce it.
- Don’t focus on perfection. Instead, focus on accepting the worst and then work backwards from there.
- Never accept that social anxiety is a personality trait. Although you may be introverted or shy, social anxiety disorder is a mental health problem that cannot define who you are. It is possible to overcome anxiety and live a fulfilling life.
- Although there is some evidence that cannabidiol (CBD), a component of marijuana, may help relieve social anxiety, there are risks associated with its use. When considering using it as a response strategy, be sure to carefully weigh any risks and benefits.
Don’t wait too long to seek help from a mental health professional. Although it is easy to think that you can solve all problems by yourself, people usually need treatment or medication to successfully control social anxiety.
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Over time, as you practice relaxation, challenge negative thoughts, and face fearful situations, you will find it easier to control your anxiety in stressful situations. This should help ease your social anxiety. However, if you still face severe anxiety every day, be sure to consult your doctor or mental health professional, because traditional treatment methods such as medication or cognitive behavioral therapy may be desirable.