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December 10, 2021

Social anxiety: What is it and how to overcome it

Mental Health Anxiety

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Feeling nervous is normal in certain social situations — public speaking, a job interview, or an awkward networking event. But if that nervousness makes everyday interactions difficult, you may be suffering from social anxiety.

What is social anxiety?

Everyone deals with social situations in different ways based on their personality. Social anxiety is when everyday nerves give way to feelings of fear. This can make it hard to work, go to school, or engage in other common daily tasks.

Social anxiety or socially awkward?

It might be hard for you to decide if you truly have social anxiety, or just suffer from normal bouts of the nerves around other people. To some extent, the symptoms of social anxiety are just more extreme versions of the nerves. You might have a fear of being judged, trouble interacting with strangers, worry about being embarrassed, or self-consciousness about your performance in social situations. Those with social anxiety experience not just discomfort, but fear and anxiety in these situations.

If you’re actively avoiding social situations out of fear — especially if it’s because you’re expecting a bad outcome — this may be a sign of a social anxiety disorder. Physical symptoms are a good indicator, too: elevated heartbeat, sweating, nausea, dizziness, and other general anxiety symptoms are all present in social anxiety.

How to overcome social anxiety

There’s no “cure” for social anxiety. It’s a chronic condition, but you can learn how to cope in ways that improve your ability to be around others. When you see a health care provider about social anxiety, you can expect them to suggest psychotherapy or medication or a combination of both. You can also work on your own to prepare for situations that may trigger your anxiety. Here are five easy ones:

  1. Practice relaxation techniques. The physical symptoms of social anxiety can be managed with simple relaxation techniques. Meditation and deep breathing are a good start.
  2. Prepare for social interactions. Consider reading an article before a social situation, so you have something to discuss with others. You can also keep a mental list of questions to ask people to keep a conversation flowing.
  3. Take small steps. Try asking a stranger for directions or engaging with an employee in a store. Even giving someone a compliment and making a point to return small greetings can make social situations easier.
  4. Ask your friends for help. Eating dinner with a friend in a public setting, or asking for a partner to support you in social settings, can help you face your anxiety while feeling supported.
  5. Build yourself up. Take time to focus on the things that you like about yourself and that others do too. Remind yourself that embarrassing situations are often forgotten, and give yourself credit for what you add to social settings.

Facing social anxiety head-on can be challenging, but the rewards of doing so are as exciting and varied as there are people in the world.

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