Growing up shy and an extroverted is no mean task. On one hand, you feel like you have so much to offer the world, so much of your personality to show. On the other hand, your subconscious mind tells you otherwise. You want to do and be so much, but you keep on self-sabotaging. It doesn’t come off well when people see that your personality is completely different around different groups of people. It almost seems hypocritical that you act differently depending on the circumstance. To other people, you may come off as stand-offish. I personally have gotten this comment way too many times. People mistake my silence for rudeness or coldness. They see it as looking down upon others.
Social anxiety is a mental health condition. It is an intense, persistent fear of being watched and judged by others. It is caused by genes, and life experiences or the brain. People who suffer from social anxiety have some parts of their brain being more active than the norm.
One semester, I was taking three classes and each of them had assigned groups. I happened to have one mutual friend in all three groups. She pointed out that in one group I was extremely quiet and she almost forgot I was there, while in the other two groups I was extremely outgoing. That’s what social anxiety does to you. Walking past a group of people gives you anxiety because you always think there’s something about you that’s not good enough. Your social battery is constantly low and you would rather hang out with people individually than as groups.
One time, a friend of mine pulled out a colouring book from her bag at a social gathering and started to colour. When I asked her what the problem was, she said she had started to feel anxious and was trying to refocus. Her therapist had recommended the adult colouring book as a way of easing her anxiety. I insensitively laughed at her when she explained that she felt like everyone was looking at her and talking about her. Looking back, I realize that the problem is we don’t take these issues as seriously as we should. We look down upon people who suffer from these disorders instead of helping them to calm down.
The problem with social anxiety is, you may end up missing out on opportunities because when you don’t openly talk or show opinion, it can very easily be misunderstood. It appears that you lack personality and comes off as a lack of confidence. I, fortunately, was able to come out of my little bubble and start living my life fearlessly.
If you suffer from the same, here are a few ways of overcoming social anxiety.
- Breathing exercises and relaxation techniques
Whenever you suffer from anxiety, your breathing rate is obviously higher than it should be. By controlling the rate of your breathing through relaxation techniques, you will help to reduce the symptoms of the anxiety. This includes breathing in and out. While doing this, you can count in your head up to 10 as you inhale, and then exhale. This will help you to focus on the numbering as well, and therefore lower the effect of the anxiety.
Another thing that really helped me was working out and going to the gym. After an intense workout, your muscles become so fatigued that you feel relaxed. This helps to build your mental tenacity as well. Alternating between tense and relaxed muscles helps to induce full-body relaxation.
Most times, social anxiety stems from perceived fears. These fears are usually to do with yourself. By finding a way to refocus, you will be able to overcome your social anxiety. This phobia is a result of focusing too much on ourselves and therefore by finding something else to focus on you can do away with the problem. That’s why there are applications out there to help a person calm their social anxiety down. They give you something else to concentrate on and make you ‘forget’ that you were anxious.
- Do an activity that you like in an environment that makes you anxious
This was the best advice that I was given. You can’t run away from your feelings forever. The best way to overcome fear is to face it. I always felt weird about going to restaurants by myself, but when I started to use it to overcome my social anxiety it worked wonders. I would purposely go out by myself to read a book because I love reading. It works because you have the familiarity with the activity that you’re doing, but at the same time, you are pushing your boundaries.
- Create an exposure hierarchy
An exposure hierarchy is a list of the situations that usually give you anxiety, rating them from 0-10 (least anxiety to the most anxiety). When these situations present themselves, you kind of already have an idea of how you will feel, which makes it easier to deal with. Majority of the time the thought of doing something is much scarier than actually doing it. By revisiting this list, you will see that you’re actually not as anxious as you imagine yourself to be, and slowly by slowly these fears will start to go away.
- Adopt a healthier lifestyle
Certain foods have been said to increase social anxiety in a person. If you suffer from social anxiety, you might just want to reduce your intake or avoid these foods altogether. This includes refined sugar, caffeine and alcohol. You might want to drink more water, eat fruits and include multivitamins in your diet. Foods that are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids such as nuts and seeds also help with lowering social anxiety.
- Redirect your energy
One of the ways that I discovered and worked perfectly for me, was to find an activity that doubled up as a hobby. The world nowadays moves so fast that we almost forget to sit down and just breathe. For me, that hobby was customizing my pillowcases. Art therapy is an actual thing. Performing artistic and creative activities can help each of us process our emotions better, learn more about ourselves, and gain a sense of calm. Therefore if you are suffering from social anxiety, I would suggest that you find an outlet such as this.
- See a therapist
Social anxiety can lead to depression and other mental illnesses. It can impact your social life, career and chances of success. Therefore, if you are unable to reduce the effects of your social anxiety by yourself, you might just want to see a therapist.