If you've ever found yourself sweating it out at a party, or hiding in the corner at a networking event, then you could probably benefit from some ways to relieve anxiety in social settings. We've all been there, and feeling super nervous is certainly no fun, so the sooner you can learn to cope, the better — especially if you think you might have true social anxiety.
So, let's start there with a quick definition of what you might be dealing with. As counselor and relationship expert Julienne B. Derichs, LCPC says, "Social anxiety is when a person feels highly anxious about being with other people and has a hard time talking to them. They often feel very self-conscious in front of other people and worried about feeling humiliated, embarrassed, or rejected, or fearful of offending others, being very afraid that other people will judge them."
If this sounds like you, you might also catch yourself avoiding social events, having a hard time making friends, and/or experiencing physical symptoms of anxiety like blushing or sweating. While Derichs tells me some of these feelings are normal, you definitely don't want them to get out of hand. "Being able to calm and manage our emotions is an essential aspect of feeling a positive sense of control in life," she says. Read on for some ways to do just that, so you can feel a little bit better at your next event.
1. Take Notice Of Your Surroundings
The next time you're feeling a bit woozy or panicked in public, slow down and try to notice your surroundings. This is what's known as a "grounding technique," and it can really help you to calm down. "A quick example is looking at a picture on the wall and naming all the colors or types of flowers in it to yourself," psychologist Dr. Nikki Martinez tells Bustle. "It is fast, it is distracting, and it is calming."
2. Really Feel Your Feet On The Floor
Anxiety can certainly make you feel "stuck in your head," which is why you need to focus on bringing yourself back to reality. One way to do it? By focusing on your physical sensations. "Someone might ... dig their heels into the ground and focus on the presence and the sensation of it," Martinez says. "Again, it takes you out of the moment and the anxious thought." (Plus, it's incredibly subtle, so nobody has to know.)
3. Try To Challenge Your Thoughts
If your brain's telling you that your current situation is extra bad and dangerous, try flipping those thoughts upside down. "Challenge your thought and replace them with more realistic ones such as 'I'm going to be OK here,'" says Derichs. Sometimes a little tweak like this is all it takes to calm down.
4. Remind Yourself It's Totally OK To Leave
Anxiety has a way of making you feel trapped, even when you aren't. So go ahead and remind yourself you can totally go home any time you want. Remembering that you're free to come and go will help you feel a lot less stressed. (And maybe even comfy enough to stay and have a little fun.)
5. Remember That Nobody's Perfect
You know all those other people at the party? The ones who seem like they don't have a care in the world? A lot of them are just as anxious as you. As Derichs says, "Everyone has their own set of unique worries that cause them anxiety, things none of us can see." It can be a comfort to know you're not alone.
6. Lower Your Expectations, Just A Little Bit
If your anxiety is cropping up due to high expectations, go ahead and give yourself a break. Derichs suggests thinking to yourself, "I don't have to talk to everyone and not everyone has to talk to me." This'll hopefully free you up to relax and enjoy what does happen, and what conversations you do have — even if you don't end up being as social as you would've liked.
7. Try A Self-Soothing Technique
It can be difficult to snap your brain out of panic mode once it's begun, but that's not to say it's impossible. Sometime a "self-soothing technique," like putting on some lip balm, can make a huge difference. "Creating sensations that say there is no emergency helps calm the body’s alert system so the brain can regain its ability to think and plan," Derichs says. "If you are putting on hand creme or sipping tea, this behavior sends signals to the brain that you are not in danger and therefore anxiety decreases." Pretty cool, right?
8. Remember To Take Some Deep Breaths
The last thing you want to do is feed into your anxiety by holding your breath, so remember to let it all out. "Take some deep breaths," Derichs suggests. "Breathe in slowly through the nose, hold for a few seconds, and then slowly exhale through the mouth." While doing so, you can challenge your thoughts, as I mentioned above. "This allows you to evaluate your thoughts and hear, feel, and see if there are ways to challenge them."
9. Visualize Yourself Being More Social
If you're having a hard time getting a convo going, and it's upping your anxiety, try visualizing it first. "Take a moment to visualize how you would like to interact with others," says Lianna Tsangarides, LCSW, in an email to Bustle. "Practice what you would say, role play it in your head. Take the time to use imagery to feel more comfortable and prepared." Then give it a go.
10. Apply Some Logic To The Situation
Anxiety has a way of bringing to mind the absolute worst-case scenarios, which is why a little logic can come in handy. As Derichs says, "Ask yourself, 'What am I afraid will happen at the party? How likely is it that this will happen?'" You'll likely realize that even though you feel incredibly anxious, nothing bad is actually going to happen. And even if it does —maybe no one talks to you, or you say something "embarrassing" — it doesn't truly matter.
11. Accept That You're Feeling Anxious
Sometimes tamping down anxiety can make it feel one hundred times worse, so go ahead and allow yourself to feel what you're feelin'. "Acknowledge you are feeling anxious," Tsangarides says. "Acknowledge you are feeling anxious and create a safe space to feel anxiety." It's not going to hurt you. Allow yourself to ride it out.
12. Try To Remember Past Successes
I know it's tough, but try to call to mind all the successes you've had during past outings — even if your brain's being super pessimistic. "Anxiety [tends] to shift our outlook negative with unrealistic thoughts and irrational beliefs," Tsangarides says. If that seems to be the case, she tells me it can help to keep a journal of past and current experiences. Flip through it for examples of some successes.
13. Step Away For A Moment Or Two
While you want to give it your best go, there's no need to grin and bear it for the entirety of the party/networking event/etc. So if you feel bad, go ahead and let yourself have some time alone. "Calm your anxiety by finding a safe place away from the situation that is triggering the anxiety so you can have some space to be aware of your own thoughts," Derichs says. "This could be in the [bathroom], out in the garden, or stepping out of the venue." It really is NBD.
Once you learn how to cope with anxiety, it can be easier to deal with — and have less of a grip on your life.
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