Lots of people face social anxiety and with the world opening back up, you may be experiencing it for the first time. Fortunately, there are ways we can all deal.
You’re not alone. Social anxiety is the third most prevalent mental health disorder, after depression and substance abuse. Recent studies show that social anxiety is on the rise but also underreported. Many people suffer in silence, fitting the criteria of having social anxiety but not realizing it.
Dr. Sabrina Romanoff is a clinical psychologist with three tips on how to tackle social anxiety.
“Social anxiety involves an irrational fear of everyday social interactions,” Dr. Romanoff tells In The Know. “There’s a spotlight effect of social anxiety where you feel like you’re being watched or judged, and that others notice your mistakes way more than they actually do.”
The doctor says the pandemic has caused a decline in social skills, which has led to unintended mental health challenges.
“Social skills have significantly atrophied during this past year of isolation,” Dr. Romanoff explains. “There’s more concealed side effects of the pandemic that we’re observing now due to the social isolation, like paranoia and fear. So for many, there is a lingering association between social activities and danger.”
1. Challenge those negative thoughts
A lot of our unproductive thinking can be changed with some self-reflection.
“Notice and then challenge unhelpful thoughts and replace them with more realistic alternatives,” she says. “For example, you might think, ‘If I pause while speaking, then everyone will think I’m struggling.’ Notice when you’re having a critical or biased thought and then come up with an alternative, like, ‘It’s OK to pause. The silence may seem longer to me than to other people.'”
2. Test your negative assumptions in the real world
If you have a fear of what may happen during a social interaction, your best bet is to actually confront it.
“Conduct behavioral experiments to test out some of your assumptions in real situations,” Dr. Romanoff says. “For instance, striking up a conversation with someone in the park to test whether the feared consequence, like them laughing or mocking you, actually happens.”
3. Practice grounding techniques
“Use grounding techniques to break out of the vicious cycle of anxiety,” she advises. “My favorite is the five, four, three, two, one technique, which involves all five senses.”
The technique requires you to list five things you can see, then four things you can feel, three things you can hear, two you can smell and one you can taste.
“By refocusing on your body and your environment, you decrease the intensity and divert your mind away from anxious or stressful thoughts and into the moment,” the doctor says.
In the end, social anxiety can be managed if you’re willing to put in the (sometimes scary) work.
“When it comes to social anxiety, it’s really about finding bravery, practicing and proving to yourself that you can manage much more than you thought you could,” Dr. Romanoff says.
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