Tools to Combat Social Anxiety

Humans are incredibly social creatures, but we’re out of practice.

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We’re all a little out of practice when it comes to dealing with other humans. 

That’ll happen when you spend a year trying to avoid close contact with anyone you don’t live with. 

Now that things are (thankfully) beginning to reopen, the walls we’ve put up around us will come crashing down. 

For some of us, this is the best news ever. 

For those of us who experience bouts of social anxiety, it’s a mixed blessing. 

Re-Entry Anxiety

Being anxious in social situations is very common. 

About 15 million adults in the US have a diagnosed Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD), and the number of undiagnosed cases is probably much, much higher. 

That was before we were all self-isolated for the better part of a year. 

recent poll by the American Psychological Association found that 49% of Americans were feeling anxious about how they’ll adjust to in-person interactions.

Humans are incredibly social creatures, but we’re out of practice. There are also new norms we’re all adjusting to; Do we shake hands? Do we hug? Do we stand outside in an awkward semi-circle? 

We all have to deal with these changes together and it’s going to be uncomfortable at times. 

So if you’re feeling a little nervous about accepting that first dinner party invitation; you are not alone. 

Thankfully, there are a few tips and tricks that can help ease social anxiety and re-entry anxiety. 

Reframe Game 

Reframing is a powerful tool for combatting anxiety and stress. 

This doesn’t mean that you suppress your fears and anxieties about being at a party. Instead, you recognize that your anxiety is just a natural, yet false alarm. 

Dr. Jeremy Jamieson, a psychology professor at the University of Rochester says that “those feelings just mean that our body is preparing to address a demanding situation. The body is marshaling resources, pumping more blood to our major muscle groups, and delivering more oxygen to our brains.” 

Your body is simply preparing to fight or flight; even though there is no physical danger. 

Reframing allows you to view your thoughts and emotions in a different way.

Here’s a quick example. Imagine this is your thought: “I’m freaking out about going to this party, I can’t go.” A reframe would be “I’m nervous about going out, but it’s body’s response to danger. There is no danger and this actually might be really fun.” 

If you want further help in reframing your thoughts, check out this exercise

Celebrate Small Wins  

If you’ve been dealing with social anxiety for a while, you probably have an idea of what you’re comfortable with.

If you’re new to the game, it’s a good idea to test the waters and ease yourself into these new social situations. 

For example, you probably don’t want to go straight from lockdown to a nightclub if you’re feeling a little nervous. 

Start with a small gathering at a friend’s house and then celebrate that accomplishment. Congratulating yourself on small wins releases dopamine into the brain and helps create new neural pathways. 

This strategy will encourage your brain to seek out similar situations and help you to feel more at ease around other people. 

Breathwork to the Rescue 

Conscious breathing is perhaps the quickest and most effective way to counteract anxiety. 

Neuroscientist Dr. Andrew Huberman says that “When we can’t control the mind, we must do something mechanical. We must breathe.”

An exercise like Box Breathing activates the Parasympathetic Nervous System which slows down the heart rate, reduces blood pressure, and calms the mind. 

Doing a few rounds of box breathing before or even during an event that causes anxiety is a fantastic way to ground yourself and feel more comfortable. 

For those moments of heightened anxiety, where it feels like you need to take a break from the situation, there may be no exercise better than the Physiological Sigh

We also talk about using the breath to control the mind in this week’s podcast.  

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