6 Strategies To Overcome Social Anxiety

Strategies to overcome social anxiety

Life is more beautiful if we can share it with others. It is not for nothing that it is recited over and over again that the human being is a social being. Since the beginning of our history as a species, we have gathered with our fellow humans to ensure survival. For this reason, today, perceiving rejection from a social group is one of the most painful experiences a person can feel. Given our individual learning histories, and this historical and genetic background that each human being has, we can develop an intense fear of being judged negatively in a situation of social performance, that is, we can feel social anxiety.

When social anxiety persists over time and is accompanied by an impact on the person’s different vital areas – for example, it prevents work or academic activities; or does not allow you to attend social interaction events—we can say that social anxiety has become established as a psychological disorder.

How to overcome social anxiety?

Life with social anxiety can become extremely disabling. Fortunately, it is possible to overcome social anxiety. The first-line treatment for a disorder of this type is psychological therapy. There are various psychotherapies that have proven to be effective in overcoming social phobia. Although it depends on the approach, cognitive-behavioral therapies will be fundamentally based on interventions that aim at cognitive restructuring and exposure to the physical symptoms of anxiety and/or relaxation, in order to gradually expose the person to the feared social situations. A professional may also decide to implement a pharmacological treatment. Taking this into consideration, in this article we will provide some strategies to overcome social anxiety that are usually worked on with a psychotherapist in session and outside of it.

The objective of psychotherapeutic treatments

In general terms, therapy for social anxiety aims, ultimately, for the patient or consultant to be able to resume those activities in their life that they have stopped carrying out due to social anxiety. This idea can, a priori, be overwhelming for the person who suffers from the disorder, since the mere idea of ​​exposing oneself to a social event generates intense discomfort. The person has become accustomed to avoiding some situations such as speaking in public, giving oral exams, going to a store to make purchases, being observed, meeting someone who represents a certain romantic interest… They are all activities that, although you would like to do them again, it is impossible for you to believe you are capable of doing them.

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The person with social anxiety is usually aware that their fear is excessive and irrational. However, it is an experience that he feels he does not control. He can’t help but feel tremors in his voice when speaking or in his hand when writing in front of someone; Nor can he avoid blushing, having tachycardia, tremors and the feeling of suffocation when addressing a stranger. Therefore, it is important to highlight that many psychotherapeutic treatments for social anxiety do not have as their primary objective to eliminate the symptoms that the person feels (in the end, experiencing them or not is something that is outside their field of action), but rather be able to carry out small feared actions, even when experiencing anxiety. It is not about eliminating it, but about working towards a more adaptive behavioral repertoire and, ultimately, a life full of meaning (even if there is anxiety involved).

Useful strategies to overcome social anxiety

That said, below we develop some useful strategies or skills for people experiencing social anxiety.

1. Recognize the physical sensations of anxiety

Firstly, it is important to be able to recognize what anxiety feels like in the body. It is common for people with social anxiety to tend to reject what they feel is very unpleasant. However, recognizing it is the first step to being able to work on it. It is not yet necessary to take on a real challenge: this can be achieved by imagining a feared situation and noticing the effects that this image has on the body.

Is there a temperature change? In what areas? Tremors? Agitation? If you decide to do this exercise, don’t judge yourself for what you feel. Allowing yourself to be with the physical sensations of anxiety instead of denying them is a big first step, and it takes a lot of courage. It should also be remembered that anxiety is not permanent—even though it may feel that way at the moment—but it has a curve: first it is experienced slightly, then it has a peak of intensity, and finally it ends up dissipating. It doesn’t have to be liked, but that doesn’t mean it’s harmful.

2. Recognize thoughts

On the other hand, there are also usually thoughts involved in feared situations. These tend to be catastrophic or to perceive excessive risk in social events: “He will think I am a fool”, “I cannot be understood when I speak”, “My friends will never invite me to dinner again if they see how I get when I am around them”. unknown”, among many other possibilities. Recognizing thoughts is not about agreeing with them. Sometimes we fall into the fallacy of believing that what we think is what really happens in reality, but in truth, they are just automatisms typical of our mind.

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To recognize is to let them be what they are, thoughts, that appear, occupy our attention for a while, and then they go away. On the other hand, recognizing them is the opposite of trying to suppress or eliminate them. It is impossible to control the appearance of thoughts. Recognition is an attitude of radical acceptance of the experience as it occurs. By implementing this strategy and the previous one, we will be carrying out a mindfulness practice, which does not consist of eliminating what we feel in the body, or what appears in the mind, but rather paying attention to what is happening at this precise moment.

3. Development of social skills

Practicing social skills with a therapist is an essential strategy for people with social anxiety. Perhaps, at first, it will be very difficult for them to look into the other person’s eyes or hold a conversation for a short period of time without hiding their hands. Little by little, it will be possible to advance in this aspect. In fact, Deciding to practice social skills is itself a form of exposure. In the following points we will address this topic, which is so important for addressing social anxiety.

4. Develop an exposure hierarchy

Although people’s experiences are usually classified in diagnostic manuals under typical pictures and standardized nomenclatures, the reality is that each subject’s experience is unique. Therefore, the feared situations that someone feels anxious about will differ from person to person.

In line with this, what for one person does not represent any type of problem – for example, being able to make an appointment with the doctor on your own – for another can represent a true martyrdom. Human pain is universal, but at the same time it takes on different meanings from person to person. The exposure hierarchy aims to making a list of all those specific actions that a person feels anxious about and that they would like to be able to execute at some point in your life. It is important that these actions depend on the person and not on external factors, so that they can eventually be put into practice.

Next, these behaviors must be ranked according to the degree of difficulty they pose for the person, with 1 being “little anxiety” and 100 being “maximum anxiety.” It is important to list all the behaviors that mean something important or valuable to the person, even when they seem to be impossible to do a priori. It may be important for someone to express themselves artistically, so they would like to get on stage at some point in their life to sing. This situation could be a 100 for someone with social anxiety. However, there are so many other situations you could start with that will be challenging, but not as big of a challenge. It is useful to think “small”: divide those complex actions into simpler and more affordable ones. Taking an oral exam can be very difficult at first, but exchanging text messages with a study partner could be a more achievable task that allows you to get closer to that goal.

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5. Graduated exposure

The fifth strategy is to carry out the exposition, that is, the specific actions described above, from the easiest to the most difficult. Putting yourself out there can feel uncomfortable. However, with the strategies that the person will have developed—anchoring themselves to the present moment, recording their thoughts and physical sensations and accepting them, not arguing with automatic thoughts, etc.—they will be able to carry them out even in the presence of this discomfort. In the long term, The person will observe that they are capable of carrying out valuable actions even when they feel anxious. The exposure must be graduated, but at the same time, sustained over time. Repetition is key to overcoming social anxiety: this means that after doing something challenging it is important to move on to the next behavior within the hierarchy and not stagnate for too long. It is a good idea to keep a record in which to schedule what specific action will be done on what day, being as specific as possible. It might look like: “On Wednesday, after breakfast, I’ll go down and wave to the building’s doorman”; “On Thursday, I will look him in the eyes and ask him how he is”; and so on.

6. Psychotherapy

For practical purposes, this article attempts to summarize some strategies that are taught in psychotherapy and that a person with social anxiety can implement on their own. However, there are tools or resources that are outside of what has been developed and that the most appropriate and safest way to learning them is with a professional. In psychotherapy, some therapists work with the development of new, more adaptive beliefs, with personal stories, the defusion of thoughts, the narratives one tells oneself, work with values, and we could go on and on.

Contacting a professional can also be difficult for a person with social anxiety. However, when starting a therapeutic process, in the medium and long term the improvement is noticeable and it will provide the person with valuable resources to build a life worth living.