It’s the holiday season. For many, it’s a time when we may be spending more time with family, friends, and fellow workers at any number of social gatherings. For some, this is a time of excitement, but for others, the holidays can be a time when we just might prefer to avoid holiday parties. Don’t worry. If that’s you, you’re not alone.
And in case you feel this way not only during the holidays but also during much of the year, this article is just for you!
We all can think of nerve-racking social scenarios that can trigger some anxiety and lend to feelings of discomfort, nervousness or sweaty palms: e.g. like speaking in front of people, holiday parties, walking into a room of strangers or meeting someone new for the first time.
If you suffer from some degree of social anxiety, also known as social phobia, it can be incapacitating and can also impair one’s own ability to live their life. Different people have different triggers. But at the core of this condition is any one or combination of sometimes overwhelming fear, including but not limited to the following:
- Social situations
- Being judged, teased or ridiculed by others
- Being the center of attention
- Being embarrassed or humiliated and the physical indications like excessive blushing, sweating or even shaking
Social Anxiety Disorder or sometimes referred to as SAD (not to be confused with seasonal affect disorder) and is sometimes referred to as the “illness of lost opportunities,” since people may make life choices to accommodate their illness.
It is also the third largest psychological condition in the U.S., after depression and alcoholism.
When can it happen?
People with social anxiety can experience severe emotional distress under these types of situations:
- Making eye contact
- Starting conversations
- Talking to strangers or meeting new people
- Being watched when doing something
- Speaking in public
- Entering rooms
- Using public restrooms
- Going to school or work
- Eating in front of other people
- Going to parties
What are the symptoms?
Everyone is different. Some people have social anxiety right before the event, others will worry about the upcoming event in an obsessive way, while others will be paralyzed with fear after an event worrying about how they did or what they said. The worry and anxiety can also be accompanied by physical symptoms such as:
- Upset stomach and diarrhea
- Dizziness and lightheadedness
- An “out-of-body” sensation
- Inability to catch breath
- Rapid heartbeat
- Muscle tension
- Shortness of breath
- Feelings of shame and embarrassment
- Fear that the anxiety will not go away (it always does eventually!)
So how do you know if you have social anxiety or if you are just painfully shy?
Many people who are shy do not have the serious negative emotions and feelings that go along with social anxiety disorder. Shy people can and do live a normal life, and may not necessarily view shyness as a negative trait. While many people who suffer from social anxiety are shy, however, shyness is not a prerequisite.
You can be shy but not necessarily be that impacted when confronting social situations. Social anxiety is different because it can actually cause us to avoid social situations, thus limiting our ability to form relationships with others.
4 Tips to Overcome Shyness and Social Anxiety
Social anxiety can, in fact, be debilitating. It can stop someone from living their life. People with social anxiety end up avoiding “normal” social situations and closing themselves off from others. This can then lead to low self-esteem, depression and poor social skills with little to no way to improve. Many people with social anxiety disorder often self-medicate with alcohol and drugs, which can lead to their own issues of substance abuse and addiction if not managed properly.
Oftentimes, people with social anxiety know their fears are irrational. But intellectually knowing doesn’t reduce or eliminate the intense anxiety that grips their mind and body. Also, they hear, “just get over it” or “face your fears” a lot when sharing their concerns. To overcome social anxiety disorder takes time and persistence, but it can be managed, reduced, and defeated.
If you or someone you know suffers from social anxiety to the point that it’s debilitating, seek professional help, particularly a therapist that specializes in cognitive-behavioral therapy. If you would like some assistance in this area, I may be of help or could provide you a referral.
If you feel like you are on the low or moderate scale and considers yourself shy, here are a few tips to help you practice overcoming your shyness and social anxiety.
Be kind to yourself – practice self-love
Have you ever listened to the way your inner voice talks to you? Does that voice speak with loving-kindness or harsh criticism? Would you let a friend talk to you like that? Would you talk to a friend like that?
This is something to practice. But once you become more aware of your negative self-talk (the first step is to notice) then you can ease up and change that story. Give yourself a little more space and a lot more compassion. And, yes, literally embrace yourself! Yeh. I know. It may feel awkward at first but I can’t tell you just how many of my clients, family, and friends have found this to be a wonderful tip – even if they felt a bit self-conscious the first few times they tried it.
Practice self-love so that you know that no matter what social situation you are in, that you are worth loving – always, anywhere, anytime! Practice this three times a day for 30-60 seconds; every day for five days, and see what you notice about how you feel about yourself.
Don’t let your inner dialogue squash your self-esteem or rob your peace of mind. You can simply say, “Thank you for sharing, no thank you” and replace your inner voice with something kinder. You are the author of your own story. Your past doesn’t have to determine your future. You, in the present moment, get to say who you are now and who you’re going to be.
Secondly, be accepting of yourself. If you’re feeling nervous, shaky or sweaty, acknowledge it. Don’t try to push it away or deny it. Feel it and let it pass through you. What you resist, persists. So, recognize it like, “Oh hi. There you are.” Greet it, and move along.
You may have heard the quote, “It’s more important to be interested than interesting.” It’s been attributed to a number of people including Jane Fonda and Ann Landers. Nonetheless, when approaching social situations, get curious about the event and the people there.
In other words, take the focus off yourself and put it into others. This can help you start conversations, give you something to focus on and get you out of your own head. Plus, most people like to talk about themselves. Listen without judgment and you may be entertained. (Here’s an easy tip to help make a connection with someone.)
All too often, shyness and social anxiety can stop you before you even start by worrying about the forthcoming social interaction. Instead of worrying about all the different ways it could go poorly, spend just as much time (or more) thinking about all the ways it could go wonderfully. Shyness or anxiety doesn’t have to stop you.
What could you do (start with one then gradually add on) that could make the situation a success or go more smoothly? Maybe you need to prepare some questions to ask people or practice how you’d like to introduce yourself. But spend some time thinking about positive outcomes rather than going down a dark spiral of negative self-talk. Take control and end that “I’m shy, I can’t…” self-fulfilling prophecy.
This is one of those situations where “fake it till you make it” really comes in handy. Try confidence on for size. Practice it. Watch the people that you consider confident. What do they do that makes you think that way about them? What can you do to emulate that?
Start with putting on an outfit or a favorite piece of clothing that makes you feel good. How we dress can affect our mood, so start there.
Then be mindful of your body language. Confident people stand taller, engage with others and don’t slump or hide in a corner.
Make it a game with yourself that you’re role-playing (even if it’s for a short duration of time), but practice being confident and you may find that it rubs off you. Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanence.
Celebrate what worked!!!
At the end of the event, take some time to notice what went well. Even if it’s as simple as you survived and you’re still breathing. If you feel that you slipped up somewhere in the course of the event, it doesn’t mean that all is lost. Celebrate the good to stay out of the negative self-talk.
Remember when you learned to ride a bike? You fell a couple of times, even likely skinned your knee. However, eventually, you were able to ride your bike. So, celebrate that you even tried to do something different. Be kind to yourself. Give yourself some credit. Nobody said that this was going to be easy, but those who commit to these exercises often find that they work!
Getting over your shyness or social anxiety isn’t like taking a pill and “whoop” you’re better. It takes practice. So, try to have fun with it and remember to be patient and loving with yourself. You’re new at this.
I hope you found this article helpful. If there is ever anything that I can do to support you in this kind of practice or making positive changes in your life, please reach out to me. I’d be happy to connect with you during a free 15-minute consultation.