Social anxiety is a common condition, but it can make you feel like you’re on the outside looking in.
Since childhood, I have struggled with shyness. In fact, in my early days of school, I was so shy that I would only speak to teachers and other adults. It wasn’t until college that I began to make friends with people my own age.
I’m also an introvert.
However, there is a difference between being shy and being an introvert. In short, when you’re shy, you’re timid around others; when you’re an introvert, you prefer calm environments, because socializing and busy environments drain your energy. While being an introvert is an innate part of your personality, if you’re shy, you can work to become less so — but this is not the case if you’re an introvert.
You may be one or the other, not necessarily both. Or, in my case, you may be both.
Learning I Had Social Anxiety
Even in college, I struggled with being around new people. The first time I met someone new (and had to talk to them), my heart would race and my palms would sweat. My stomach would feel like it was in knots for hours after each encounter.
It wasn’t until recently that I realized this was due to what psychologists call “social anxiety.” My personal experience: I live with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD). As far as my diagnoses are concerned, there is no clear distinction between these two disorders. Sometimes, they overlap each other; other times, I experience them separately.
Basically, social anxiety is an extreme fear of embarrassment or humiliation in front of others. It can happen at any time, and in any situation, whether it’s meeting new people, giving a presentation at work, or even going on a date!
Nowadays, social anxiety is a common condition, but it can make you feel like you’re on the outside looking in. It’s hard for me to admit to this experience because it makes me feel weak and vulnerable. The truth is, however, that it has been holding me back from reaching my potential in life!
As an introvert, social settings can be a challenge for me, too, and there are times I avoid them. I’d feel nervous, self-conscious, and have a hard time making friends or engaging in conversation.
In addition to identifying what triggers my anxiety (like a lack of sleep), I have found that the key is to build up confidence and have the right tools at hand to combat my fears. Over the years, I’ve learned some great ways to manage my social anxiety that have helped me feel more confident in the face of new social situations. Here are some of the techniques I use to manage my social anxiety, and perhaps they’ll help you, too.
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5 Ways to Manage Your Social Anxiety as an Introvert
1. Don’t force yourself to go to every social event — you can’t be at your best all of the time.
If the social event at hand is something that’s not important to me, like a party or a get-together with friends, I’ll avoid it unless someone personally invites me and makes me feel welcome. This helps me relax because then I know that they want me there — they’re not just being polite by asking me along with everybody else.
It’s understandable that no one can be at their best all of the time. If you know that going to a party will make you feel overwhelmed and anxious, don’t force yourself to go! You can still enjoy a friend’s company by staying in and watching Netflix together or by doing something introvert-friendly another time, like meeting up for coffee or browsing a new bookstore.
But… I would recommend not skipping all social events. After all, they give those of us with social anxiety practice with being around people — and, as a result, help lessen our anxiety. Just pick and choose which events you’ll attend and then have a hard stop when you need to leave.
2. Surround yourself with familiar faces.
This might sound like a no-brainer, but it’s important to surround yourself with people whose company you enjoy, because it will help make you feel more comfortable at an event (at least initially). This technique is especially needed for us introverts since we feel overstimulated around unfamiliar faces and then get pressured into engaging in small talk. Uh…
Such situations, even in a relaxed social setting, can emotionally drain us. The fear of being wrongly judged by a stranger — and the fear of embarrassing ourselves in front of new people — can affect a socially anxious introvert for weeks to come. (We’ll think and think and overthink about it… a lot!)
But, by being around familiar faces, it makes us feel more confident. Having said that, we introverts usually do not lack social skills. As a matter of fact, we can be good listeners because of how we observe others and our surroundings. (We just may prefer to listen rather than speak ourselves!)
However, when you do speak, have some subjects ready in advance — we introverts are passionate about topics we know a lot about.
If there are going to be people at the party who don’t know each other well, then I try to find someone who’s also alone and introduce myself. That way, we can talk while everyone else mingles around us. The more people you get to know at an event (especially if they’re all introverts), the easier it will be for you.
3. Get there early or stay late — these are usually times when the get-together will be the least crowded.
Large groups and gatherings can be overwhelming for introverts and can make us feel subdued and inexpressive. If you know that these situations make you nervous, try to arrive before everyone else does, or stay late after most people have left, so you can avoid feeling overwhelmed by the crowd.
Introverts usually prefer consistency over sudden changes — we prefer knowing what to expect out of social interactions and our surroundings. So it is better to “scan” the environment beforehand or stay until the party becomes less crowded. This practice can also enable us to mindfully enjoy the event more.
Is social anxiety holding you back?
Although social anxiety is not the same thing as introversion, many introverts experience this painful and isolating condition. The truth is you can beat social anxiety, and our partner Natasha Daniels can show you how. This means more relaxed conversations, more enjoyable work/school days, and more social invitations that you don’t immediately decline (unless you want to, of course!). Click here to check out her online class for kids and adults, How to Crush Social Anxiety.
4. Eat something before going out — it will help keep your energy up and lessen (some) anxiety.
Getting hangry (hungry + angry) is a real thing, which is more prone to happen if we’re hungry. Not just that, but knowing what to eat (and what to avoid) before an event can help manage anxiety better. For example, eating protein-rich food can help you feel satiated, which calms the mind. Similarly, having something rich in magnesium is proven to have relaxing effects on the brain, too, which is also why it is known to improve sleep quality.
Also refrain from having caffeinated drinks before social events, as they can make you jittery and nervous, thus, adding to your anxiety. Diet is definitely not a cure for anxiety, but mindful consumption of nutritious foods (and drinks) can certainly help.
5. Drink plenty of water.
Drinking a lot of water helps keep me from getting dehydrated, which is one of the things that makes me feel especially nervous when going out among large groups of people (who are likely drinking alcohol). I have also noticed that my caffeine consumption has significantly lessened since I started having more water. (And, like I mentioned earlier, caffeine can make us more anxious!)
Plus, dehydration is known to cause stress, anxiety, sleeplessness, fatigue, and, in some cases, increased heart rate. All of this can not only make social anxiety worse, but can have adverse effects on your health. Health professionals suggest drinking 6-8 cups of water every day. Clear skin, high energy levels, and feelings of relaxation and calm are just some of the many benefits of being properly hydrated. So fill up your water bottle and drink up!
All in All, Cut Yourself Some Slack if You’re Feeling Too Anxious to Be Social
Even after taking all the steps above, some days, it’s still difficult to make myself leave the house to be social. And that’s okay.
In these instances, instead of trying so hard to fit in, I cut myself some slack, meditate, and remind myself that there will be more opportunities to interact with these people. I then go for a walk or engage in a hobby to calm my nerves.
Managing anxiety, especially in social situations, can be a long and arduous process. Attempting to manage it on your own might not work out for everyone. In these cases, you may want to seek out a therapist who can help you make it more manageable.
Introverts, what did I miss? I’d love to hear your coping mechanisms, too, in the comments below!
You might like:
- What It’s Like Being an Introvert With Social Anxiety
- A Counselor Explains How Introverts Can Lessen Their Social Anxiety
- 4 Meditation Tips for Introverts Who Struggle to Focus
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