If you suffer from social anxiety, you are not alone. I have suffered, as well as many people I know and love.
The inability to get out and socialise is crippling. Connecting with others is a human need, and without it you might feeling lonely, unhappy and unmotivated.
For many, it’s hard to pinpoint at what point social anxiety took hold. It can happen gradually for no reason or can follow a life-changing event such as the pandemic, divorce or becoming a parent.
I know from my own experience, if you don’t take action, social anxiety will only get worse. It’s horrible to feel stiff and uncomfortable in a social situation, especially if you were the sort of person who used to love interacting with others.
You might wonder what went wrong and how to get out of this mindset.
In this article, I share how I managed to overcome my social anxiety. I will admit, I’m not the world’s greatest socialite but I now say “yes” to invites and actually enjoy my time around others. If this is where you need to be, keep reading.
Further reading: 10 Tips to rebuild your confidence after divorce.
How to manage social anxiety and live again
Team up with a friend when you go out
Attending an event of any kind is much easier if you have a friend come along with you.
We can’t always convince a mate to wingman for us but while you’re getting used to socialising again, having a friendly, encouraging person by your side will really help.
If I’m attending a social gathering and I know another person also attending, I will ask them if they want to meet up before the event. This way we can arrive together. By doing this, you might be helping the other person too. You’ll be surprised how many people are anxious about getting out and about nowadays.
Learn to stay relaxed
The more relaxed you are, the more you’re going to enjoy being social.
If you are tense, it will make you feel nervous and tongue-tied, which is the worst when you want to be in social butterfly mode.
Try some simple breathing exercises before you arrive … I often sneak off and repeat them in the toilet every hour too!
Also, pay attention to your posture, most especially your shoulders. If they are tense, make a point to relax them. Your body language is a leader in how you feel mentally so strike a chilled out happy poise and you’ll enjoy yourself more.
Have an escape route
If you know you’ll feel trapped at an event, plan an escape route!
Go to the bathroom multiple times and give yourself a well-deserved break. When you find it hard to socialise, it is exhausting. Taking small breathers even now and then will help.
If you are really struggling, make an excuse and leave. Or don’t even bother with the excuse. Make something up if people ask you why you left early. Your mental health is more important than explaining yourself.
If you make an escape, DO NOT FEEL GUILTY. The fact is: You went! That is brilliant and deserves a pat on the back.
Know other people have social anxiety
You might believe that everyone else in the room is completely at ease and that you are the only one experiencing anxiety.
This is often not the case.
Almost everyone experiences some anxiety in social situations, especially when they involve strangers. Simply put, some people are better at masking their social anxiety than others. You can be sure that a large, extroverted performance makes up for social anxiety whenever you see one.
So whenever you feel anxious around strangers, remind yourself that everyone is in the same situation.
OVERCOMING A SOCIAL ANXIETY DISORDER
Meet at familiar venues
I am much more likely to accept an invite if I know the venue. It makes everything feel easier.
If you’re meeting a friend for coffee or a drink, get in there first and suggest to meet at a place you are familiar with and like.
If it’s a bigger meet-up, I have been known to check out the venue beforehand to prepare myself better. Knowing where to park and where the toilets (and the escape route!) are definitely helps calms my nerves when the big day arrives.
Obviously don’t try this if the venue is someone’s house … you might get arrested for trespassing!
Join a gym
You might wonder what a gym has to do with social anxiety but they make really good places to start building your confidence.
My gym was a life-saver when I was too scared to attend normal social events. It allowed me to be amongst other humans who I didn’t know and share the odd smile and hello, without having to have long, complex conversations.
It felt good to be amongst like-minded people sharing a similar goal and was a huge driver in getting over my social anxiety.
Plus, many friendships and relationships are formed while waiting a turn on the running machine!
Volunteer for customer-facing roles
Another game-changer for me was volunteering at my local charity shop.
As well as curing social anxiety, there are many other benefits. Volunteering Australia says:
Volunteering correlates with greater self-assessed psychological wellbeing, self-esteem, happiness, and satisfaction with life, with lower symptoms of depression and anxiety, and with lower indicators of suicide risk.
More self-esteem and happiness? Count me in.
For me personally, it took some guts to apply and get through the awkwardness of the first day but I soon settled in.
The end result is that I now spend four hours every week in a social environment where I converse with my work colleagues and customers. This is a huge step for someone who was too anxious to go out the front door a year earlier.
Like the gym, if you volunteer, you’ll find yourself amongst like-minded people who are gathering for a central purpose. It takes the stress off finding a conversation starter as everyone is focused work or achieving a similar goals.
Further reading: How volunteering can seriously help your mental health.
Keep trying to overcome your social anxiety
Make it a daily goal to put yourself in scary social situations with other people. It may be as simple as getting together with a friend for a coffee.
If your friends are all busy, make more. Put yourself out there online with local Facebook groups or friend finder apps.
While you are engaged in this activity, you should be mindful of any negative thoughts that may enter your head and strive to replace them with good thoughts. Concentrate on combating your social anxiety and enjoying the company of the people you are with.
It does take time, so begin slowly, take baby steps, be patient, and DON’T GIVE UP.