Does your heart begin to race at the thought of having to stand in front of an audience and speak? Do you get cold chills or avoid eye contact when you meet new people? These signs are common symptoms of social anxiety. If you are uncomfortable in social situations, you’re not alone. I suffered from social anxiety for years, without knowing what it was, thinking that I was alone in this situation.
Concerns about public speaking, visiting new places or meeting new people are common fears. According to a 2013 study widely reported in the London Times, most of us fear speaking in public more than we do dying or going to the dentist! That use to be me, but since I joined Toastmasters 4 years ago I did more than 70 speeches which is something that I never thought I could ever accomplished. If I can do it, anyone can do it.
Luckily, there are positive ways to cope with the anxiety you feel in social situations.
Try these steps to build your courage and defeat your social fears:
1. Practice positive visualization. Many of the fears that we face in social situations involve imagining the worst thing that might happen. Practice imaging the best thing that could happen the next time you feel nervous in a social situation.
· When you replace a fear with a positive vision, you put the power of your subconscious mind to work for you rather than against you.
2. Avoid stimulants. Caffeine, sugar, and other stimulants can all increase the amount of anxiety you can feel during a social situation. Limiting their intake and following a healthy diet will increase your sense of wellbeing.
· Try to get a good night’s sleep the evening before an upcoming social event. You’ll be well-rested and less prone to anxiety the next day.
· Avoid the temptation to drink alcohol excessively at social events as it can contribute to feelings of anxiety and stress.
3. Learn to relax. Discover how to focus on your breathing. Take slow, deep breaths and consciously relax your muscles.
· Yoga, Tai-Chi, and meditation are all excellent disciplines that can help teach you how to relax and naturally lower your anxiety levels.
4. Practice interacting with others. You can feel more confident by practicing what to say and do in various social situations.
· Get started by asking a close friend or loved one to help you practice saying hello, shaking hands, smiling, and making eye contact with others. As you gain confidence from these short interactions, slowly increase the number and duration of your social encounters.
· Focusing on others in social situations will also help reduce your stress.
5. Repeat positive affirmations. Rather than focusing on the things that you feel are flawed about yourself, focus on your positive qualities and traits.
· There is incredible power in the spoken word! Create your own affirmations by making lists of your positive traits and repeating them out loud to yourself each day.
· Examples of affirmations to decrease your anxiety are statements such as: “I can handle any social situation because I am brave,” or, “I enjoy meeting new people and interacting socially with others.”
It can be difficult to cope with social anxiety, but it is not an impossible task. You just have to take the first step. The more you practice these methods, the easier it will be to overcome your anxiety and begin to enjoy social situations.