One of the worst aspects of suffering from Social Anxiety Disorder is the feeling that you are entirely isolated. It can feel as if you are cut off from the world and your inner self. Even worse that you have no control over the bad feelings and that you’re trapped forever in feeling anxious and alone.
It may be helpful to hear that even if you’re feeling alone, there are some symptoms that therapists have noted are the hallmarks of Social Anxiety Disorder and just about everyone suffers from them.
1. The feeling that no one understands you.
When you’re in the grip of social anxiety, it feels like you are cut off from everyone and that no one can understand what it feels like inside your head, not even your therapist or your best friend.
2. You’re trapped forever in anxiety
SAD transcends time and space. It feels as though you’re stuck in a cycle of perpetual anxiety, even though part of you knows that SAD doesn’t define you and that no matter how severe your current flare-up is, it will pass. Anxiety tells you that you are stuck and can’t move out of the trap you’re in, even if your rational mind understands it’s not like that.
3. You feel like a fish out of water.
Chronic anxiety feeds on negative messages that tell you over and over that you don’t belong, you don’t fit in, that there’s something wrong with you. The deeper you get into this negative mindset, the more isolated and alienated you feel, and you withdraw from friends and family. A vicious cycle sets in to keep you apart and deepen the feeling of alienation.
4. A negative mindset takes over
When you’re suffering from anxiety, you tend to look at the world through very gray-colored glasses. Your brain’s default setting becomes irrational and negative. You can misinterpret things people say or do, even kindly-meant advice from your therapist or counselor.
That can spill over into feeling like a failure. You can fall into a spiral of self-criticism and self-loathing, raking over perceived mistakes and failures from the past.
5. Overwhelming self-consciousness
Social anxiety can make you feel as though you have a layer of psychological skin missing. You feel self-conscious like everyone is looking at you and judging you. You worry over every little detail of your behavior, your clothes, what you say and what you do.
The self-obsession that comes with chronic social anxiety can make it virtually impossible to live in the moment and get on with enjoying life.
Practical Tips for Living with Social Anxiety
If you suffer from social anxiety, there can be times when it feels completely overwhelming. Even the smallest, most straightforward of everyday tasks like going to the grocery store can seem impossible and facing a meeting, or a party can bring on a panic attack. But there are some effective things you can do to help manage your anxiety and reclaim your life.
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.
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