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Social Anxiety: how to lower stress in social situations

Happy days! Covid restrictions are easing in Ireland and at last we can get back to more socially connected lives.

Having lived through almost 2 years of distancing, even the most socially adept individuals may be surprised to find their interpersonal skills are a little rusty. Crowded spaces may feel stressful and have you reaching for your mask or avoiding close contact. But if it goes beyond that and you feel that your anxiety about social situations is unhealthy, then it’s time to take steps to understand it and manage it.

All sorts of social situations can lead to feelings of social anxiety. This can be debilitating both physically and mentally and can shape so many decisions we make in our lives, affecting self-confidence, relationships, work, social life and everyday activities.

Whether this is something you’ve always lived with or a feeling that’s new to you, there are steps you can take to help to all.

Understanding social anxiety

Firstly, it’s helpful to really think about what makes you anxious and to learn to recognise your own signs.

Everyone gets nervous at some point in social situations, whether at a party, on a first date or at a job interview. But social anxiety isn’t just about being nervous or uncomfortable around people; it can be a debilitating mental and physical battle.

Sufferers can feel an intense and persistent fear of embarrassment, humiliation, or rejection from others. Some believe people are judging them or will think badly of them.  Or they may feel watched or under pressure to come across well in social situations or may compare themselves unfavourably to others.  As a result, sufferers may avoid all sorts of social situations and group activities.  And yet social anxiety often stems from unrealistic expectations of ourselves or what we believe others expect of us. 

What are the signs of Social Anxiety?

▶ A feeling of anxiety in social situations (physical symptoms include avoiding eye contact, racing heart, sweating, queasy stomach, dizziness, shortness of breath)
▶ Feeling pressured to do things ‘right’ in social situations
▶ Being self-conscious around others
▶ Worrying that others will judge, think badly of you, or notice your anxiety
▶ Repeatedly replaying in your mind how you acted in a social situation
▶ Trying to keep quiet or not to draw attention to yourself
▶ Not doing things you want to do because you feel anxious.

Coping Strategies for Social Anxiety

So what can you do if this is you? Social anxiety can be difficult to deal with but there are approaches you can try yourself.   

  • Understand your social anxiety
  • Consider if your anxiety is caused by unrealistic expectations or realistic ones 
  • Control your breathing – if you’re stressed in the moment, a few deep breaths can help calm you down.
  • Talk back to negative thoughts (that negative inner voice is at work again!)
  • Take the focus off yourself
  • Prepare – for that job interview, for that first date etc.
  • Start small – one step at a time.
  • Take it slowly to help reduce avoidance and safety behaviours.
  • Set small achieveable goals to help you track your progress.  A journal can help. 
  • Tackle the physical symptoms of social anxiety.
  • Confide in a friend or someone you trust. 
  • Reach out and get further help
  • Read 3Ts Self Help Guide to Social Anxiety where we explore the above approaches in more detail.  But in simple layman’s terms. 

 

Further steps to help

If social anxiety is negatively impacting on your life, there is help available.  It is treatable and there are professional supports to aid recovery.

✅Speak with your GP, health care professional or counsellor
✅For more information see Social Anxiety Ireland’s website 
✅Visit www.3ts.ie for information on anxiety & panic and a range of mental health conditions. 
✅See 3Ts Self Help Guide on Social Anxiety.

So, although the country may had a sudden lifting of restrictions, you can take it at your own pace.  Take small positive steps to help manage your social anxiety.  Don’t forget to give yourself a pat on the back as you go and remember, social anxiety is a hurdle you can get over and beyond.  Just take the time to understand it and to find what works for you.