Those who struggle with social anxiety find themselves inhibited and anxious in many types of social situations, including public speaking, meeting new people, using public spaces, or eating around others. People with social anxiety fear that others will notice their anxiety, and that they will feel humiliated. One of the most common pitfalls, in terms of overcoming social anxiety, is that most people who struggle in this way choose to avoid social situations, or use alcohol or drugs to reduce anxiety before hand.
The good news: there is a way out of the social anxiety cycle. Here are some steps, as outlined by Robert Leahy, Ph.D. (author of Anxiety Free, The Worry Cure, and Beat the Blues Before They Beat You) in the Psychology Today article, How to Overcome Your Social Anxiety.
- Identify the situations you are avoiding. Make a list of the types of situations that you feel anxious in or avoid.
- Set up a hierarchy of fear. Rank each situation that you fear from 0-10 in terms of how anxious it makes you.
- Identify your safety behaviors and eliminate them. Safety behaviors can include alcohol or drugs, holding yourself very stiffly, avoiding eye contact, constantly wiping your hands, or rehearsing exactly what you will say. The more you can give up these behaviors, the more powerful the feeling of facing your fears will be.
- Challenge your anxious thoughts. People with anxiety often think about how badly things will go – and think of the worst-case scenarios. Challenge these thoughts by asking yourself: “Is it possible that people don’t notice you are sweating, because they are thinking about themselves? What is the evidence that people are talking about your anxiety? Would anyone even care if you are feeling anxious?”
- Practice doing what makes you anxious. Once you have identified the situations that make you anxious, and have rated them from least to most anxiety provoking, you can start confronting your fears one by one. You can begin by imagining yourself facing these situations, and move on to actually going through them.
- Rather than practicing negative self-talk, practice self-reward. Socially anxious people often review and criticize how they do in social situations. Instead, congratulate yourself for facing your fears!