Everyone experiences feelings of shyness or anxiety at times when we are in situations that we do not wish to, or cannot normally stand out in. However, feeling immensely inhibited or anxious in various situations from eating in public to meeting new people, means you may suffer from Social Anxiety Disorder.  Social anxiety is the third largest mental health care problem, and many people do not know where to get proper treatment or their anxiety prohibits them from taking those first steps. Luckily, there are things you can do to alleviate symptoms and not let social anxiety control your life.

Understanding Social Anxiety

Social anxiety is more than just shyness or fear. Social anxiety begins with a fear of being judged negatively and results in self-consciousness and avoidance of social situations. Many people with social anxiety disorder often avoid situations which make them feel as though others will notice their anxiety and they will become humiliated. Social anxiety disorder leaves a high risk for substance abuse and depression due to attempts at trying to self-medicate.  If you are experiencing social anxiety or feel as though you may have social anxiety and would like to seek treatment, visit your primary care physician for more options. You may also take the Liebowitz Social Anxiety Scale (LSAS) to assess the way social phobia may be affecting your life.

Managing Your Social Anxiety

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

One of the most important things you can do is work with a therapist. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has proven to be an effective alternative to drug therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapists focus on your behavior and what you are thinking to change negative thoughts into positive thoughts, and negative behavior into positive behavior.

The most common behavior problem for people with social anxiety is avoidance. Many will avoid situations in which their anxiety is provoked. Working with a CBT helps the individual approach social situations to realize that nothing bad is going to happen, this reduces anxious feelings. It also creates a personality for the person to face her fears and realize that her fears do not control her.

Create a Hierarchy of Fear

This is another way to face your fears and take back control of your life. Creating a hierarchy of fears is a technique that allows you to recognize the things that give you anxiety. It works by creating a list of all the things that give you anxiety and ranking them in order of least anxiety provoking to most anxiety provoking. Then, beginning with the least anxiety-provoking occasion or behavior, you expose yourself to it. As you master each item on your list, you move up the “ladder” until you can participate in the most anxiety provoking occasion or behavior without anxiety symptoms.

Related: Why We Feel Anxious?

Eliminate Safety Behaviors

Many people with social anxiety have created safety behaviors that attempt to suppress their anxious feelings and create less humiliation. These types of behaviors vary from complete avoidance of situations, avoidance of eye contact, and extreme use of drugs and alcohol to conversation rehearsal and fast-talking. These behaviors are used to eliminate the anxiety that occurs from everyday situations which normally cause extreme stress in individuals with social anxiety disorder. The belief here is that these behaviors will “save” the individual. The problem with these behaviors is that they become a mechanism and a lifestyle in which a person believes the only way to get through certain situations is by performing the behavior.

Meditation and Mindfulness

Meditation is a popular technique for reducing the feelings of anxiety, stress and other tensions. Meditation is an amazing way to calm down, focus your mind, and center your thoughts. Practicing breathing techniques can help relax your mind and body, and stop those thoughts that are racing and raising your anxiety. Meditation is not as complicated as it sounds. There are plenty of guided meditation video clips and audio across the internet. It is important when meditating to do so in a quiet place, away from distractions, while keeping your eyes closed to further block out any disturbances. You can notice a tremendous difference in your mental health through as little as 10 minutes of meditation a day.

Mindfulness is the practice of being aware and doing nothing about it, paying attention on purpose, and being in the present moment non-judgmentally. This means feeling your anxiety and not shutting it off. It is paying attention to every thought, emotion, and sensation your body feels. It takes practice but it is not impossible. Mindfulness allows your body to build emotional tolerance as well as allows you to choose your reaction. Permitting uncomfortable feelings to come and then choosing how to deal with them gives you power over anxiety and not anxiety power of you.

Related: Loving Someone With Anxiety

Practice Self-Love and Self-Acceptance

Humiliation plays a leading role in social anxiety, and safety behaviors are sometimes used to try to eliminate humiliating experiences. Being yourself and accepting who you are is a sure way to manage the self-esteem aspect of social anxiety. It is safe to say that negative self-esteem can stir feelings of anxiety in social situations. If you don’t think highly of yourself you won’t expect others to either.

Low self-esteem may also cause you to believe any negative thoughts accompanied with your anxiety. The best way to get rid of these negative thoughts and feelings about yourself is to change them into positive ones! Embrace the things that make you unique, the good and the bad. Recognize your strengths and weaknesses but don’t let them interfere with how valuable or worthwhile you see yourself. Explore the parts of yourself that you are not able to accept, and pass no judgment on yourself. You are your hardest critic so it is important to be kind to yourself and love yourself, flaws and all.

A Little Goes a Long Way

Many people experience anxiety during stressful or humiliating situations. However, experiencing social anxiety is something that is life changing and prohibits one from living a normal life. While the steps to overcoming your social anxiety usually help when combined, it is important to remember that every little bit counts. It’s going to be hard at first, but you must stick with it. Speaking with a therapist can create an accountability partner; someone who helps measure your success and keeps you on track towards your goals. Social anxiety does not have to be combated through a drug or medicinal route. Starting from within is the best way to begin to combat your social anxiety.

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