As someone who suffered from Social Anxiety for many years, I use to be very good at avoidance and safety behaviors. Even the smallest, most straightforward of everyday tasks like going to the grocery store seemed impossible. Facing a meeting, or a party felt completely overwhelming. Avoidance is a natural reaction to something that feels bad, and I did whatever it took to avoid those situations. Unwittingly I was reinforcing my anxiety and even making it worse.
Have a look at the common avoidance behaviors, and see if in trying to minimize exposure, you’re feeding the beast.
Some experts say that avoidance is one of the biggest obstacles people with social anxiety face. True avoidance means doing anything not to have to face the feared social situation. That can range from just not turning up to parties and refusing invitations, to changing jobs so as not to have to give presentations or even dropping out of college.
2. Partial Avoidance
Partial avoidance is a less obvious safety behavior because the sufferer still seems to be participating while still keeping themselves safe. These behaviors include:
· Sitting in the back of the room
· Keeping your eyes lowered and looking like you’re absorbed in taking notes
· Protective body language like crossing arms, or avoiding eye contact
· Drinking or taking drugs.
Not surprisingly, people use escape as a safety valve for anxiety. As in partial avoidance, the sufferer seems to be participating but gets to a point where the stress is unbearable, and they have to leave. This sort of behavior includes leaving a party or other gathering early, pretending to get an urgent message so they can leave a meeting, or hiding in the bathroom.
What can you do?
While such avoidant behaviors help in the short term, they act to reinforce your vulnerability. They keep you in a hypervigilant state, constantly on the lookout for danger or fearful situations.
Avoidant behaviors keep you stuck right in the middle of social anxiety. They stop you from trying and failing, but they also prevent you from working and succeeding. You won’t learn how to overcome your fears or learn that you’re pretty good at giving presentations. If you never speak up in meetings, all your good ideas stay in your head. If you hide your light under a bushel, you never get the chance to shine. But there are some effective things you can do to help manage your anxiety and reclaim your life.
An easy gateway technique to start overcoming your social anxiety is to try the five-minute strategy. When you feel the urge to avoid or run away or shrink down, give yourself five minutes. You can put up with pretty much anything for five minutes, right? Just give it a try, be kind to yourself and encourage your real self to take it easy.
To help you stay away from your avoidance techniques, try these practical tips:
Most people don’t breathe properly. When stressed your breathing can become shallow and fast, feeding the anxiety and tipping you into a panic. You can regain some control over your anxiety by learning to control your breath.
Try sitting quietly and allow your shoulders to relax. A lot of tension gets held there and makes breathing more constricted. It can help to raise your shoulders to your ears as you breathe in, and then, as you exhale, allow them to drop down, down, down.
Put one hand on your tummy and the other on your chest. Breathe in slowly and gently to the count of four, don’t force or gasp, allow the breath to flow down into your tummy.
Hold for a second or two before gently releasing to the count of six. Repeat this exercise a few times until you’re feeling more relaxed.
2. Get prepared
You will feel much more in control if you make some preparations before you have to face a scary social situation like a party, a date or even a work meeting. Imagine yourself in the scenario, handling it calmly and well. It might be a good idea to write yourself a script or at least a few dot points. It might help to know that some people get so nervous about public speaking that they make sure they write their name in their speech in case they forget it!
Do some meditation or breathing exercises beforehand, and you’ll feel much less nervous.
3. Bat down those negative thoughts
Negative messages are part and parcel of social anxiety. Turn that script upside down by challenging each negative thought as it comes up. Remind yourself that you have dealt with challenging situations before and done fine.
4. Stay in the moment
If the negative mindset threatens to turn into a runaway train, take a moment to step aside and use mindfulness to keep coming back to the present. Check off what you can see, hear, touch, smell, even taste in your surroundings, to ground yourself in the present moment. That can anchor you in the here and now instead of being carried by worries into a scary future, or into brooding over past failures.
To help you manage your thoughts, download my free guide: 11 Self Defeating Thoughts and how to overcome them.
If you need help with social anxiety, join my community where I will be sharing more tips and techniques to overcome social anxiety by showing you how to communicate better in your interpersonal and professional relationships, to have the social life and the career you want.