Social Anxiety: Learning To Cope With It
“Nobody realises that some people expend tremendous amounts of energy, just to appear normal.”
Awkwardness, discomfort, and downright fear of social interactions takes various forms: shyness, taciturn attitudes, stage-fright, clumsy behaviour, and, on the extreme end – full-blown social paranoia, and a persistent desire for reclusiveness.
The most intense forms are often deemed relevant for therapy/clinical interventions. However, we tend to ignore the quieter, more hidden manifestations. They may appear less serious, but may actually be more threatening. Their subtle nature is simply an indication of how deeply ingrained they are, in the psyche of the individual suffering from it. Here are a few helpful suggestions on how to combat social anxiety:
- Understand social contexts for what they truly are – In your own time, mentally run through the social situations you have to deal with most often. Think of the people and activities involved. Is there really something to be afraid of amongst family, friends, classmates, or colleagues? This exercise will help you prepare better, before you enter those situations. If you identify and accept that there aren't going to be any triggers setting off your anxiety, you're less likely to avoid them.
- Accept existing fears. Don't think you're alone – Say you can think of anxiety triggers in the above mentioned exercise. Firstly, accept that they make you uncomfortable, then think about why. Is it the intimidating personality of another? Is there a requirement to be in the spotlight that's beyond your comfort zone, and you can't put your foot down? Once you know exactly what's troubling you, approach a close friend/family member who understands you best. Discuss your inhibitions, and describe your ideal outcome. When you realise you have support, even in one other person, the obstacle doesn't seem so impossible.
- Be open to tough love (yes, you must) – There’s at least one advocate of tough love in any support system. Their first, and only, piece of advice to you would be to face your fear head on. Depending on the severity of your social phobia, this method shows its effects, sooner or later – for the better. You may not succeed in the first attempt; you might feel that facing the issue only magnifies your anxiety further. If you stop to think about it, you'll realise it only seems magnified because you haven't stared it in the face before. The more you familiarise yourself with the depth of your anxiety, the closer you'll come to finding the ‘weak spot’ in this ‘monster’ that cripples you. That's usually the key to killing it!
- Consider the downside of being lost in the crowd – The basic instinct of a socially anxious person is to not stand out, and to avoid avenues where this may happen. If you feel you're comfortable with this, think about what your aspirations stand to lose. Surely, you have dreams about success, and desires for fulfilling friendships/intimate relationships? Your social anxiety may prevent your feathers from getting ruffled, but is that complacency getting in the way of things that excite you/make you happy? And if so, isn't the trouble you'd go through to rid yourself of your anxiety, worth it?
- One step at a time – Different people have different rates of progress when it comes to solving an issue of social anxiety. Facing one manageable dose of the anxiety trigger at a time with a positive, rational outlook is the simple, everyday way to go about it. Reward yourself when you overpower each dose. Make affirmative statements to yourself about how you are worth it, and how you're self-assured, and loved. Don't retreat into your shell to celebrate, and extend your happiness to those who care about you.
One fine day, you'll realise you've made it a habit to be community-oriented when it comes to sharing your accomplishments. That's not the signature of a socially anxious person, is it? You’ve won!