Social anxiety affects you in a lot of ways, and sometimes can hit you without warning. You may be aware of all of your common triggers and still find yourself having trouble in situations that don’t contain any of them. These situations are the worst, since they can lead to you heaping on self-doubt that just makes things that much worse.
It’s bad enough dealing with social anxiety brought on by major triggers, but when it blindsides you in everyday situations it can seem that much worse.
That doesn’t mean that your social anxiety has to win, though. While it isn’t always easy to keep your anxiety under control, here are a few things you can try to shut it down before it can shut you down.
You’re probably well versed in deep breathing by now, as it’s a pretty common suggestion when trying to get social anxiety under control. There’s a reason for this, though: It works pretty well. Yes, it’s not going to work all of the time, but a lot of the time you’ll be able to center yourself and calm down through deep focused breathing.
Breathe from your abdomen, inhale through your nose, hold the breath and then exhale slowly through your mouth. Focus on the process, and the control that you have over it. If you can, step away from others while you do so… that will keep you from missing out on some bit of conversation or some other awkward social situation that would just make your anxiety worse.
Shift your focus
Social anxiety is great at making you focus on yourself, your flaws and how your anxiety is affecting you and your body. This focus is part of what drives your anxiety, and why it feels like it’s just getting worse and worse. If you can shift your focus to something else, it robs your anxiety of its power and it can’t tear you down. Find one specific thing to focus on, giving it all of your attention for the moment.
Examine its colors, any fine details that you can see, its texture (if you’re able to touch it) and anything else that you are able to notice about it. If your object is set apart from the crowd or is truly unique in its surroundings, all the better.
This might seem odd at first, since social anxiety can make everything around you so loud… how are you supposed to listen when everything around you is turning into an ocean of noise? That’s actually the trick, though. Find one sound, preferably one that’s pleasant, and focus on it exclusively.
It may be hard at first as you’ll be straining to hear it through the din, but as you keep focusing on that one sound it will become clearer. As it does, you’ll start to phase out all of the other noise. Just like focusing on one object around you, stopping to listen to a single sound will pull you out of your anxiety and shift all of your focus to what you’re hearing. If necessary, you can close your eyes (provided that it’s safe to do so) to block out more input as you listen.
If you have trouble finding something to listen to, don’t be afraid to bring along some earbuds for your smartphone and provide your own sounds to drown out the world.
Change the experience
Social anxiety tells you that you’re responding to stimuli in a negative way, and it all goes downhill from there. It seems obvious, since all of the physical symptoms of social anxiety are pretty negative. Those symptoms aren’t exclusive to your anxiety, however.
Take the time to analyze what you’re feeling, identifying the specific reactions you’re having and telling yourself that they’re part of a more positive experience.
Excitement is a common one, since it can result in most of the same physical symptoms as anxiety. It might seem weird to be telling yourself that you’re excited at work or at the grocery store, but if you can spin it then your body will believe it; you may just be picking up some groceries, but you’re getting really excited about the dessert you’re going to make for after dinner. Change the experience and your anxiety won’t get the better of you.
Feel the call of nature
Sometimes, it seems like nothing you try is helping. Fortunately, in most situations you can still find an escape route. Excuse yourself, saying that you need to visit the bathroom. Sure, it’s not necessarily the cleanest destination, but you’re not likely to find anyone in there who wants to strike up a conversation or confront you in any way.
Find a small bathroom with a locking door, or an empty stall if there are only larger bathrooms available, and separate yourself from the world for a minute. Once you’re alone, retry some of your other techniques to break your anxiety cycle.
Don’t start feeling like you’re running away from your problems, either, since no one’s going to fault you for going to the bathroom.