Raise your hand if you have felt nervous or uncomfortable in a social situation! It happens to all of us, but when that feeling is constant and the pressure to be in a room full of people if too much to handle, that is an indication of a health problem. Social anxiety disorder is defined as the constant fear of social or performance situations in front of unfamiliar people, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. While it might feel that you’re alone, this disorder affects millions of people every year.
Psychiatrist, mental health expert and educator Dr Rashi Agarwal recently took to her Instagram account to share all about social anxiety and how you can manage it.
Social anxiety, if left untreated, can be debilitating and may lead to severe consequences. Dr Rashi writes, “Anxiety can cause changes in your body that make you uncomfortable. For example, your breathing might get fast and shallow. This can make you even more anxious. You might feel tense, dizzy or suffocated.”
Social anxiety can cause uncomfortable physical changes that might affect your breathing as well. This is brought on by stress, which is why breathing exercises can help calm you down. Several studies, including the one conducted by Stanford University, found that breathing exercises can help ease social anxiety.
Regular exercise has been proven to reduce anxious thoughts and improve your mood. Dr Agarwal recommends exercise or progressive muscle relaxation to lower social anxiety. “Research shows that certain physical activities like jogging can help lower your anxiety,” she adds.
If you know you will have to face a social situation that might make you nervous, Dr Rashi suggests planning in advance. It may help you feel more confident. “You might feel the urge to avoid some situations because they make you anxious. Instead, try to prepare for what’s to come,” adds Dr Agarwal.
Do you feel anxious at bigger events? If you know that big situations can trigger social anxiety, you should try to start small and not jump into big social situations. Try to meet your friends and family members first so you can get used to showing up in public before you enter a meeting.
Sometimes, the situation is much better than we imagine it to be. The reason is that we are so bothered by our own thoughts that we lose track of what’s going on around us. Dr Agarwal suggests you shift the focus to what’s happening around you than what is going on in your head to help yourself calm down.
You might feel you can’t do anything about these negative thoughts brought on by social anxiety, but they can. These negative thoughts contribute to fears and anxiety, which make the situation worse. The best way to tackle and reduce social anxiety is by challenging these negative thoughts.
Dr Rashi recommends using all your senses like sight, sound, smell, touch and taste, which can help you calm down and keep you from feeling anxious.
If none of the above options works, you can always go for therapy. The best way to treat social anxiety is through cognitive behavioural therapy or medication, and often both suggest Dr Agarwal. As per the National Institutes of Health, cognitive therapy behaviour can be beneficial for people with suffering from the problem.
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