Social anxiety disorder - helping yourself
In nine days, it will be Boxing Day, in my family, this is still very much a festive affair. We spend it with the same people, occasionally with a few added on. Please… no more Turkey and a different house, the only differences to Christmas Day. After Boxing Day, it becomes eerily quiet. Everything suddenly looks a bit drab. The once twinkly sparkly street looks wet, dark, and muddy.
If you experience social anxiety, Boxing Day is the day you long for. The day when life feels safe again. Society expects the two weeks prior to Christmas to be socially manic. There are work Christmas parties; the whole company, and the team one. Who the heck let us have a party today and a lunch tomorrow. An annual dinner with old friends, one last night out with local friends – but let us make it extravagant for Christmas. The kids' Christmas party and do not forget the party that your friend begs you to attend because – FOMO. Oh, and of course the neighbour’s mince pie and mulled wine soiree.
Social anxiety is sometimes unexplainable but often revolves around a fear of being judged or feeling embarrassed and displaying this physically.
You could get a diagnosis of social anxiety disorder if you find that in the lead up to Christmas, you continuously mull over how you can get out of attending events and experience symptoms of anxiety. Some people love a big party but still experience social anxiety in some situations, giving a presentation or meeting someone new for example. Anxiety becomes disordered when it takes over your life and you shut yourself away because you cannot manage the overwhelm.
Social anxiety is sometimes unexplainable but often revolves around a fear of being judged or feeling embarrassed and displaying this physically. Saying the wrong thing or feeling exposed and vulnerable because of others looking at you are also worries that some people experience.
The physical feelings that you notice are so overwhelming that you do whatever you can to avoid the social situation. As a result of the fear, you find it easier to not do some things that you would otherwise enjoy to avoid the related social situations.
For example, as a parent, you may choose to not attend any baby or toddler groups because you fear talking to other people. Or you may forsake a summer holiday and take your annual leave during December to avoid work Christmas events. When you consider seeking help, keep in mind that the comfort you feel in one social situation does not negate the fear you feel in another.
Social anxiety disorder is a continuous fear, as a client recently said to me when talking about a work situation, “Everyone worries about it before but I’m still continuously thinking about it two weeks after it’s passed.”
Whilst you can excuse the fear you are also able to recognise that it is not logical and that it is unnecessary in your life. If the support of a professional is accessible to you it will help you, however, there are many things you can do yourself to reduce the social anxiety you feel.
Check your basic needs
Are you providing your body with the nutrition that it requires to function optimally? If food has become a hobby rather than a functional requirement it is easy to forget that your body has nutritional needs. A beneficial first step is to find out what nutrition your body requires (you can do this through your own research or by seeing a nutritional therapist). Ensure that you give your body the required daily amounts of protein, carbohydrate, fat, dietary fibre, minerals, and vitamins. You should also provide your body with 2.7 – 3.7 litres of water per day.
In addition to this, your body needs adequate warmth and rest. Give yourself enough time to sleep each day and try not to burn the candle at both ends as you take control of your anxiety.
Set short term goals
Maintain a focus on the current moment with small, short term goals. If you have a plan to meet some friends this evening, keep your focus on that rather than something further in the future. Remind yourself that if you feel ok in the current moment, you are ok. There is little benefit to worrying about how you will feel later so whenever you catch yourself doing this, say to yourself “stop!” and bring your attention back to the now.
Remember that you can excuse yourself from anything at any point. Some situations, for example, work meetings, are a little more difficult than others. However, a strong focus on mental health in workplaces should mean that a conversation with the necessary colleagues prior to the situation make this acceptable.
Practice authenticity and honesty
What people think of you does not matter, many of us worry about being judged in social situations. Recently I learnt that a friend had relayed our entire conversation to another friend and judgements were made. Surprisingly, when it happened, I found that I did not feel at all how I imagined I would in this situation.
Thankfully due to my having spoken authentically and honestly, I felt no concern about them spending their evening talking about me. I stayed true to my beliefs and did not have to apologise for anything I had said. When you are authentic you will naturally draw towards you like-minded people. As a result, you are more likely to feel accepted and comfortable.
Be honest about how you feel. If you find yourself blushing in a situation, you can tell the people you are alongside that you are blushing and the reason why. If you find that you need to spend some time sitting alone observing the party around you, explain to others that you need some space. When you communicate clearly how you feel and what you need, others can respond in the best way possible for you.
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