HOW TO: Not be the most awkward person in the room.
Ways to deal with and overcome social anxiety.
For as long as I can remember I’ve always been the most awkward person in the room, especially in a room full of people I don’t know. People would always assume I’m either shy, angry or just a bitch but really what I have is social anxiety.
For so many years I would literally cringe at the thought of having to mingle with people I didn’t know, meet or talk to my boyfriend’s family or go to party or gathering where there would be people I didn’t know even work meetings would keep me awake at night because I didn’t want to be called out or have to speak. In my head I would always come up these drastic scenarios of what people were thinking of me or how I would embarrass myself by speaking or by the way I looked. When I was younger alcohol was always a great way to hide my insecurities but as I got older I realized I needed better coping strategies than that if I was going to become a confident woman.
After years of therapy to sort out my personal issues I can remember asking my therapist to help me with something else. I asked her “Can you please help me not be scared of other people? I’m always the most awkward person in the room.”
I can’t say I’m no longer the most awkward person in the room all the time because I probably still am 87% of the time and my fears are absolutely still there but at least now I can recognize and accept them and I’m not completely petrified of walking in to that room or talking to someone I don’t know. I’m no longer worried if they think I’m strange or whether they think I look weird, having some tools and strategies to help me in these situations has definitely helped me to cope with my social anxiety so I wanted to share those with you. I thought this might be particularly helpful at this time of year as we head in to the social/silly season.
SO, WHAT IS SOCIAL ANXIETY?
Social anxiety is the fear of social situations that involve interaction with other people. The main fear surrounds the fear of being judged or criticised by others.
COPING STRATEGIES FOR SOCIAL ANXIETY:
Below I want to share with you some ways I have learnt to manage and cope through my psychology sessions and reading lots of self help books.
1. THE FEAR HIERACHY
There will be different levels of anxiety depending on the situation and these can be totally different from person to person. Write a list of all the situations that bring on the social anxiety and then number them from 1-10, 10 being the most stressful or anxiety provoking and 1 being something that makes you feel uncomfortable but not completely overwhelmed. For example for myself personally public speaking is by far my 10 and then something like a work meeting or phone call is my 1.
Once you have this list work on working your way through turning up to these places or situations and coping with being there. Once you feel comfortable with one move to the next until you have reached your 10 – this could take months or years but it gives you a long term goal to work to and also allows you to put things in perspective.
2. KNOW WHEN TO SAY NO
Is there something that absolutely pushes you over the edge in to panic mode? For me it’s public speaking – it triggers all of my anxieties and I’m sure for most people with any kind of anxiety they would agree. Even watching others public speak can set off my anxiety if I can see their nervousness. I am often asked to speak at events but I just personally know that I am not in the place yet to speak in front of a large crowd. Even the thought of it makes my heart race and my palms sweaty. I do believe it’s important to push your boundaries to grow but I also believe it’s very important to do it in a timely manner. I know if I was to try to speak at a large crowd I would have a panic attack and this would back track the rest of the progress I have made. IT’S OK TO SAY NO if you feel it puts you in a bad position mentally no matter what it is or the type of situation that makes you feel the worst.
3. USE YOUR INNER RATIONAL VOICE
Anxiety is caused by assuming the worst is going to happen or by imagining scenarios in your head of what is going to happen.
When these irrational thoughts enter your brain combat them with your rational voice even out loud if you need to and rationalize what really is a more likely outcome of the situation. For example if you’re scared of attending a party with people you may not know you might think something like “these people won’t like me” or “I won’t know what to say to someone and I will look stupid” but combat them by saying “the reality is that I when I speak to someone new a conversation will start and roll on naturally and if it doesn’t I can say excuse me I need to go to the bathroom.” Or “why would people not like me? I am a good person.”
Using your inner rational voice can take practice to work but over time it helps to reall put a real perspective on the situation rather than your anxiety automatically taking you to the worst possible scenario.
4. TAKE A FRIEND
Find your friend or your partner who understands and respects your anxieties and take them along as support and to even talk if you’re feeling overwhelmed. You just need to make sure that person knows you well enough to know when to step in and start talking.
Whenever I have a very anxiety provoking event, meeting or phone call to attend I always allow 5-10 minutes before the time to practice deep and correct breathing. There are many resources on the internet that can help teach you how to breathe to reduce anxiety. Breathing properly is one of the most overlooked ways to reduce and control panic, anxiety or stress but is highly effective as it’s so easy to bring down the heart rate and allow clearer thoughts by simply having the ability to breathe properly.
6. TAKE A BREAK
If you find yourself in a very uncomfortable or overly anxious state in a situation that causes you social anxiety just step away for 10 minutes and try to calm down. Some ways to help cope in this time are:
- Slow, Deep breathes through the nose, deep in to the belly.
- Grounding techniques such as verbally expressing what you can see, taste or feel around you.
- Drink a glass of water slowly.
- Speak to your self in a rational voice and explain to yourself the reality of the situation not what your “anxious voice” is telling you.
- Speaking out loud your name, address, age and your family members names to bring yourself back to reality.
- Take a short walk in the fresh air.
7. KEEP A DIARY
If you are seriously working on having more confidence in social situations keep track of your progress by writing down your feelings, how others treated you and things you would like to do or try next time in a similar situation. This will help remind you next time of the reality of those situations and not what you “think” is going to happen. What I realized by doing this many years ago is that people are generally actually very nice and pretty much every scenario I ever came up with in my head never actually eventuated or happened.
8. DRESS COMFORTABLY
I know this sounds strange but if you are attending an event or situation that causes you anxiety dress as comfortably as you can and wear what makes you feel best about yourself. If that means you need to buy yourself a couple of new dresses or outfits – do it. If you feel more confident in your appearance you will feel more confident in yourself. If the situation is going to bring you intense anxiety and you already know that try to avoid restrictive or tight clothing which you will feel like it’s even harder to breathe in.
9. LEARN TO LOVE YOURSELF
I believe most of my social anxiety issues came about because I was so scared of the judgements from others which would stem from my own feelings about myself. Learning to accept and respect myself has definitely been the biggest game changer in how I feel about myself therefore how I believe others will feel about me too. Practicing self love, reading self help books, meditation, CBT therapy, positive affirmations, having a hobby and learning that food is not the enemy were some ways I practice self love – it’s a never ending journey but one I wont give up on because I love having more confidence in myself and showing my daughter that I am more than my body.
If you cannot control or feel like your social anxiety is damaging your mental health and or happiness I would highly recommend seeing a psychologist. I cannot express how life changing finding a great one can be and how much they can help step you forward and teach you many ways to cope and manage your anxiety.
I would love to hear your thoughts on the above and if you have any other tips let me know by commenting below.
I am not a professional just sharing my own experiences and lessons. If you are experiencing anxiety or panic disorder please speak to your health care professional about solutions for you.