Dealing With Social Anxiety
Welcome to part three in our series about how to deal with social situations when you suffer from social anxiety. If you missed the others, you can find Part 1 here, and you can find Part 2 here.
Every good Boy Scout knows to be prepared.
But, even with all the rehearsals in the world, you’re going to find a time when the social anxiety overtakes you anyway.
In these situations, usually that “fight or flight” response kicks in. That’s when many of us retreat for home, usually with a great deal of negative self-talk regarding “not being able to handle it.”
What most people don’t realize is that social anxiety can happen to anyone.
In fact, with 40 million Americans reporting some level of anxiety you’re in pretty good company.
Howie Mandel, Whoopie Goldberg, and Barbara Streisand (among others) all experience anxiety disorders, and yet they still manage to have fulfilled and exciting careers.
The trick is not to let the anxiety defeat you before you’ve even begun.
Important: Before we go too much further, though, please keep in mind that Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is actually a medical condition. I’m here to help you with your Avon business and have no medical experience. If your social anxiety feels out of control, or if you’re experiencing severe social anxiety regularly, please discuss the matter with your doctor. There is help!
Let’s take a look at some strategies for handling social anxiety when you’re right there, in the moment.
Accept the anxiety
When you try to fight a panic attack or, or worse, pretend it’s not there, it’s only going to escalate. Things seem more out of control the more you focus on them.
Instead, acknowledge that you’re having anxiety, and then remind yourself that it always ends and it’s nothing you can’t handle.
Go to a quiet place where you can be alone to “embrace” the anxiety until it passes.
When anxious, we start breathing too fast and shallowly. This quickly makes the anxiety worse.
Soldiers in the military are taught ‘box breathing,’ as a way to handle severely stressful situations.
It’s named this because a box has four sides, all of the same length. It’s simple to do, and you can remember it even when feeling panicky.
- Breathe in for four seconds.
- Hold the air in your lung for four seconds.
- Breathe out for four seconds.
- Repeat this until you have done it for four times.
- If needed, go through another round or two until your breathing becomes normal.
Box breathing slows you down and enables you to find the calm space you need to continue. What’s nice about it is no one even needs to know you’re doing it.
Pay attention to negative thoughts
Social anxiety is always connected to a thought of some kind, even something simple like “everyone is watching me.”
Ask yourself what’s going on and what’s causing the anxiety, and then address it.
How true is it that everyone is watching you? Is it possible that you’re exaggerating the situation? And even if someone is watching you, is it a bad thing?
If you’re in a conversation with that person, you should expect them to be looking at you because that shows they’re paying attention.
Once you understand the thought, then rework it to something more positive, like “They’re watching me because I have something to say.”
Ask a question
If anxiety is making you feel put on the spot, then redirecting to someone else not only gives you a moment to calm yourself while you listen to their answer but takes the focus off you.
Remember a time when you did something well
When anxiety strives to make you feel like you’re failing on every level and that the situation is fast becoming just one more failure, then call to mind a situation when you did everything right.
Celebrate that accomplishment and expect this social situation to become another one of those successes.
Examine why you’re feeling anxious
Sometimes anxiety has nothing to do with the social situation but might be seated in something like being tired or cold or hungry. Are there other contributing factors?
Try being assertive
When you feel like no one is letting you into the conversation or even listening when you are speaking, it’s easy to feel a lot of social anxiety. In these moments you need to put yourself out there by being assertive.
Remember, speaking up does not involve shouting or becoming belligerent. Instead, calmly state your position in such a way as to assure good listening. Use a voice that is confident, and always make eye contact.
Share your struggle
Letting others know that you experience social anxiety not only raises sensitivity to your problem, but it builds allies.
You’d be surprised at how many people will understand completely and go out of their way to be helpful to you.
You don’t need to broadcast your problems though. Look for the people you feel like you can trust, such as a friend or your boss.
It helps if you’ve done your prep work beforehand so that they know what to do to help you by using the strategies that you’ve already put in place.
Quit trying to be perfect
Understand that a lot of anxiety comes from the expectations that we place on ourselves.
If you find yourself caught up in that nervous spiral of things not being exactly as you planned, don’t despair.
Even if you have rehearsed what to say, the people you’re talking to don’t know that, nor they have the script for what you’d hoped they say in return.
With that in mind, be ready to roll with the punches. Rewrite the script on the fly. Accept things not being what you imagined. So long as you keep trying, that’s all that matters.
Remember, you still have a lot of other strategies you can use to give yourself time to think, like asking a question or using another piece of rehearsed dialogue to give yourself time to figure out the ‘new’ plan.
Do something that helps you feel good about yourself
If you’re feeling like you’re failing fast in your social situation, look for what you’re good at.
Maybe you’re not good at small talk, but you’re excellent at telling jokes. Start looking for an opportunity to inject a little humor into the conversation.
If you’re not feeling the confidence from any of your social skills, then put your focus elsewhere.
Maybe you’re amazing at putting outfits together, and so you came in looking your best. Remind yourself that your outfit is fabulous.
By putting the focus on your strengths, you ramp up your confidence level, which then spills over into your interactions with those around you.
Find someone positive
It could be your social anxiety is connected to someone who is in the immediate vicinity.
When you’re already a person with anxiety, being around people who are negative or nervous tends to rub off.
Gracefully move away from the person triggering your fear and find someone positive to befriend.
If you’ve confided in someone there that you have SAD, find them and let them know you could use their support.
This is not to say you can’t be friends with people who are going through a rough time, or who might be otherwise emotional in negative ways. But if you’re feeling fragile at the moment, a strategic withdrawal might be what you need to protect your peace of mind.
You can come back to that person later, when you’re feeling more able to deal with them, without taking on their excess baggage.
Don’t go it alone
It becomes vastly more comfortable to manage anxiety when you have support.
Confide in someone you trust that you’re having an anxious moment and ask them to sit with you until you’re calm. By having someone there, the anxiety won’t seem so bad.
If they’re someone you’ve talked to about this beforehand, then maybe they can help you with whatever strategies you’ve laid out for yourself when feeling anxious (like box breathing).
Tell yourself that if you get through this next moment you can have a reward.
Give yourself something you like. If you’re at a party, maybe that’s something chocolatey off the buffet.
There’s nothing wrong with bribing yourself to get through an anxious moment.
Look around for someone else that might need help
Anxiety is always worse when you focus on it. By helping someone else through an awkward moment, you’ll find you don’t have the resources to worry about your anxiety.
Keep in mind that because you suffer from social anxiety, you’re in the unique position to know what that feels like for others. Use this empathy to direct your actions.
Look around the room. Is there someone else who looks like they might be struggling? See if you can spot the stragglers hiding in the corners and introduce yourself.
By doing this, you’re not just helping one person, but two.
Compete with yourself
Make the situation a game. If you’re struggling in a conversation and feeling like you’re just standing there not contributing anything, give yourself a point for each time you speak up. Then when you engage with a new group of people, see if you can beat that score.
This is an excellent strategy for those who are competitive by nature.
Visualize what you want
What does your social success look like in the next five minutes?
Picture the situation in your mind then backtrack through it. How do you get to that point? Visualization tells you that success is possible.
With the vision clearly in your head, you are more likely to attain success than if you foresee failure.
Visualization is an important technique, especially when you feel like you’re floundering.
You might not be feeling it, but laughter is one of those magical things that really will change your mood. Neuroscientists have proven that laughter engages different parts of your brain and releases feel-good hormones.
Maybe your laugh will be a little forced initially, but soon enough it becomes genuine. It will raise your mood and the mood of those around you.
Nothing funny in the conversation around you? Tell a joke. Getting others to laugh is a surefire way to trigger your laughter.
Quit waiting for that knight in shining armor
Expecting to be rescued will only lead to disappointment and a downward spiral of anxiety that’s just going to get worse.
Sitting and doing nothing and seething while no one seems to see your plight is a waste of time and energy.
It’s up to you to change the narrative.
Call to mind a favorite motivational quote or pull up some on your phone to read. Reminding yourself of something positive will blast that anxiety away.
Sometimes all it takes is a little movement to help the social anxiety dissipate.
Take a walk around the room or go outside for a breath of fresh air and walk briskly around the block. Better yet, if you’re at a party and there’s dancing, join in.
Remember, exercise is what triggers dopamine in your brain, a chemical that’s responsible for your happiness and well-being. Anxiety can’t stand up to that kind of assault.
Try progressive muscle relaxation
This technique helps best if you’ve practiced it at home beforehand.
If you’re feeling stressed at the moment, focus on various muscle groups while tensing and relaxing them in turn.
It’s also very subtle, so people around you aren’t likely to notice, but it’s highly effective.
Redirect those around you
If you feel anxious and believe others have noticed, give them something else to think about.
Introduce a topic of conversation or ask a question that you know will be engaging.
The discussion can take off without you for a few minutes, giving you the time and space to calm down.
Give yourself a break
Sometimes the best thing you can do is to retreat.
If you’ve tried other tactics but can’t get a handle on your anxiety, retreat to the bathroom. Shut yourself in a stall and breathe. Give yourself as long as you need to pull yourself together.
If it helps, surf your phone for some positive reinforcements. Text a friend if you need to.
Do what it takes to get yourself back on track and then emerge calm, focused, and ready to face the world again.
When social anxiety is overwhelming
If you’ve read this far and still feel like you can’t handle any social situations, then it might be time to seek outside intervention. Talk to your doctor. Remember that Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is a documented medical issue.
There is nothing shameful in asking for help, just as you would for any other medical concern. There are a variety of therapies and medications that can change your life for the better if you will only reach out.
Remember that everyone suffers from social anxiety from time to time, and so it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Everybody is different. Some things that work for me, may not work for you. I hope you’ve found something in here that will help you gain control of your social anxiety so that you can build your Avon business.
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By Lynn Huber
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