Prospering With Social Anxiety, Part 2


Last month we discussed the definition of social anxiety and my personal experience with it, and presented a detailed scenario of what it feels like. This month, we ask, “What does social anxiety look like? How does one overcome it or work with it and still be prosperous and successful?” Social anxiety is more than generic shyness – it’s an overwhelming fear of being judged, negatively evaluated by others, and being put in social situations.

Social anxiety is triggered by meeting new people, initiating conversation, eating in front of people, using public restrooms, performing in public or public speaking, dating, making phone calls and talking on the phone, meeting authority figures, being the center of attention, and going to parties or social gatherings. When a socially anxious individual encounters one of these situations, she experiences physical symptoms such as blushing, racing heartbeat, nausea, shaking or trembling, shaky voice, and sweating. Emotional symptoms include self-consciousness, fear of embarrassment, excessive worrying for days or even weeks before a future social situation, and fears that others will see her nervousness.

As great a hurdle as this may seem, it is possible for one to push social anxiety aside and do what she has to do. She can make those phone calls at work, entertain a stranger, attend a social event and befriend someone, or even host an event. If not treated, social anxiety may never go away. Here are some things to keep in mind when working on overcoming social anxiety.

Social anxiety is based on just that: anxiety and fear. It is fueled by overthinking. So a great way to push it aside is trying not to overthink what has already happened or what has yet to happen. For example, say a socially anxious person is captivated by another person’s outfit, and she really wants to compliment her. She may be afraid that the stylish person will give her a strange look because the two have never met before. Or she may be afraid that her voice will squeak with nervousness and get embarrassed. In order to overcome any of those fears, the socially anxious person will have to realize that random compliments—even from strangers—make many people feel good. So it’s also a matter of being selfless because those with social anxiety are more concerned with their own performance. The same thing goes with public speaking. One must remember that the audience did not come to watch the speaker flop and have an anxiety attack, but the audience genuinely came to hear what the speaker has to offer!

Another way for a person to minimize social anxiety is to gradually do what scares them. There’s a wise quote from Seneca that says, “We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.” This means that the socially anxious person spends more emotional energy worrying about the imagined outcome of a social situation than actually acting upon it. Facing these anxieties make people feel so much better, and they realize their wild predictions were totally irrational and unrealistic. What is easier, worrying about the unknown of any social situation or feeling the relief of engaging in it afterward?

It’s also helpful for one to act confident even if she doesn’t feel that way at all. For instance, one could pretend to look and sound confident when making a speech, initiating conversation, asking someone out, or ordering food at a restaurant. Acting confident takes some of the nerves away and makes one appear more confident.

Here are some additional moves to make when working to overcome social anxiety:

  • Make more eye contact with others and be the first to greet them
  • Call a close friend and make plans with her
  • Ask for a refill
  • Give someone a compliment
  • Ask a stranger for directions
  • Ask an associate for help when shopping
  • Practice stress management and relaxation techniques

One must remember that social anxiety only imprisons people if they let it. They are in control of their social phobia, and they should try not to let it control them. As wild as it may sound, learning how to put social anxiety aside more often, whether for a few hours, minutes or even seconds, will gradually but definitely make for a more peaceful life.