How to manage social anxiety
Probably one of the most common anxiety disorder is social anxiety. It can create problems in situations that many of us take for granted, like being at the till in a supermarket or even socialising with a group of friends. Social phobia sufferers can isolate themselves from friends and family, which can lead to further problems both in the home and even at the office. But it can be beaten.
When is social anxiety a problem?
This will vary from one person to another as social anxiety can show itself in many different situations including
- talking in front of people, whether giving a presentation at work or chatting with others at a party
- reading aloud or writing, especially whilst being watched
- queuing, such as lining up in banks or supermarkets
- any occasion where you feel you might become the centre of attention
Symptoms of social anxiety disorder
Social anxiety is more than just shyness, or being 'the quiet one'. It can completely overwhelm you in social situations so that you feel you are just not coping. This might include
- negative thinking, such as 'I'll feel silly' or 'other people will think I'm silly'
- blushing and feeling self-conscious
- feeling shaky, dizzy or disoriented
- upset tummy or 'butterflies'
- heart racing or thumping, fast breathing
You might have social anxiety if you regularly feel like this around everyday activities, such as:
- meeting strangers
- talking in groups or starting conversations
- speaking on the telephone
- talking to authority figures
- eating or drinking in company
Not dealt with, the levels of anxiety and fear can increase and generalise, so that it’s difficult to complete daily tasks like going shopping or even posting a letter. You might also find you
- worry excessively about being criticised
- find yourself avoiding contact with people
- have low self-worth and feel insecure, which may create problems with intimate relationships
- experience feelings of loneliness or depression
- struggle to relax
- depend more on alcohol and drugs to get through difficult situations
Reducing social anxiety
- Reduce your worrying by applying logical thinking to generalisations like 'I'm going to make a mess of it'. How realistic is this?
- Don’t try to be a mind reader - even if there is a chance of your fears coming true (we all make mistakes sometimes) will people really judge you that harshly? How would you feel if your roles were reversed?
- Learn breathing exercises or other ways to relax, so you can feel calm and in control when under stress. You could always download the free relaxation audio from this site - arrive five minutes before your presentation or interview and find a quiet, private spot to use it.
- Challenge your fears - avoiding them will only make things worse. This doesn’t mean charging right in there and giving a presentation to 1000 people, try making a list of the situations that worry you, start with the easiest and work up.
- Deal with your stress - reducing your overall stress levels will help reduce the anxiety too.
- Avoid or reduce artificial aids like caffeine, alcohol or tobacco.
- Improve your ability to communicate by learning assertiveness and similar skills.
- Choose to socialise in places where you have something specific to do or talk about with the people there - it’s much easier than polite chit-chat. Joining clubs or volunteering are great ways to do this.
Hypnotherapy and social anxiety
Plainly, social anxiety is a devastating problem if left to expand without check; if you struggle with the self-help ideas, the good thing is that hypnotherapy can be very effective at relieving social anxiety at all stages of its development.
Hypnotherapy can help you identify and change any inappropriate beliefs or worries which have created the emotions of fear and worry.
Sometimes this simply boosting your confidence and helping you feel stronger in social situations, sometimes it means helping you get past negative experiences you've had in the past. Either way, we aim to re-educate your unconscious mind, so you can change your thinking, re-establish positivity and experience feelings of control and confidence.
You might also begin to see significant changes in other areas of your life; for example, by interacting with others more easily and regaining control of your feelings you can enjoy a relaxing night out, reconnect with friends or colleagues, or maybe even ask for raise!
Debbie Waller is a professional hypnotherapist, specialising in stress, anxiety and related issues. She also offers EMDR which is used for trauma, PTSD, phobias and OCD and publishes hypnotherapy-for-ibs.co.uk for those interested in using hypnotherapy to relieve the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
Debbie owns a multi-accredited hypnotherapy school, Yorkshire Hypnotherapy Training and offers further training for qualified therapists via CPD Expert. She is the author of Their Worlds, Your Words, editor and contributor to the online magazine Hypnotherapy Training & Practitioner, and co-author of The Hypnotherapy Handbook.
For more information on any of these services, phone 01977 678593.
Researcher & drafter: Rachel Waller.