Anyone who struggles with social anxiety understands the unpleasant symptoms that it produces. There can be everyday battles facing irrational fears and feelings of inferiority, embarrassment and self-consciousness. Learning how to overcome social anxiety is a healthy step towards mastering control over one’s life, making it easier to form social connections and improve mental wellbeing.
Social anxiety often includes an experience of excessive worry about being teased, watched or judged. Virtually all of us are familiar with the normal human emotion of anxiety on occasions. But a person who has social anxiety can find great difficulty with otherwise normal daily activities like using public toilets or public transport, talking in front of people, waiting in a line, speaking on a phone or eating and drinking in the presence of a stranger. Blushing, twitching, sweating, trembling, dry mouth and rapid heart rate are just some of the commonly associated physiological signs.
Some people may have a genetic vulnerability towards anxiety while in others it is more likely to develop later in life. A person with social anxiety may live with it for many months, or years, and in some cases, it can span the course of a lifetime.
Try and imagine how tiring and disruptive to life’s routines to be experiencing an ongoing fear of social connection. Surprisingly, it is a common challenge. Social anxiety affects millions of people all over the world.
You may know people who are struggling with social anxiety, or perhaps you wrestle with it yourself. Important to know, is that there is help. There are solutions. It is possible to learn how to overcome social anxiety. Of course, it takes courage and commitment. That’s always the case whenever anyone wants to overcome any kind of fear.
With effort, social anxiety, which could be perceived as a stumbling block to living a richer, fuller life, can be turned into a stepping stone towards finding freedom from fear and feelings of improved health and wellbeing. To launch off on the healthy journey of conquering social anxiety, here are 5 key steps…
- Act Early: When symptoms are happening regularly and severely and impacting your life then take quick action. Discuss what is happening with your GP, get their guidance. Be aware that anxiety can often be linked with other mental health conditions such as depression which may also require treatment. Evidence-based Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) in particular, has proven an effective treatment for social anxiety, so talk with a therapist specialising in this area. Studies show only a small percentage of people seek treatment at the early signs of social anxiety and many delay getting help for years. Allowing a long delay before seeking help is likely to cause symptoms to adversely worsen. So early intervention is really a crucial key.
- Knowledge: Take time to learn and develop your understanding and awareness of social anxiety. Grow in your own self-awareness. Build your knowledge base and know what helpful resources are available to you.
- Commit: Be open, willing and resolute in committing to a quality cognitive and behavioural therapy program. A professional skilled therapist will introduce you to strategies and concepts that will equip you to embrace rational thoughts, master emotions, and clarify beliefs. Practice and persevere with these new learnings. Your brain is amazing, and its functioning and neural pathways can adapt and change to accept new patterns of thinking.
- Connect: You’re not alone. Reach out to social anxiety support groups ― people with a lived experience who know what you’re experiencing. Their understanding and support may be invaluable as you gradually resolve your fears, and gain confidence and optimism. Find a support group that offers a setting that is positive, encouraging and motivating, and that allows you to progress at a pace you are comfortable with.
- Continuity: Continue with therapy as long as it takes. Avoid putting a timeline on it. Some people might learn to overcome their social anxiety in a short time while for others it’s a longer process, but it’s well worth staying the course. Once you’ve learned the methods, concepts and strategies it is a case of daily practice. The difference between impossible and possible can be summed up in one word, “determination”.
Want to know more about how to tackle anxiety? Download our FREE Anxiety Help Pocket Handbook.
ROHAN WATSON is a member of the Australian Counselling Association and a general member of the International Association of Applied Neuroscience. He holds qualifications in Psychology, Counselling and Education from Monash University and USQ. As a Psychotherapist, Counsellor and Mental Health Researcher, Rohan is dedicated to helping unlock the potential in people to live life happily and more purposefully.
Rohan provides specialist counselling and wellbeing coaching services to people from all walks and seasons of life by phone, video or face-to-face. He has facilitated and delivered mental health programs across rural and remote Australia and provides professional psychotherapy services to employees at all levels nationally through EAP based services. Rohan has a special interest in the online delivery of mental wellness programs and his current research is focusing on early intervention mental wellbeing in the workplaces of Australian SMEs. Learn more.