Please, Not Another Party: Dealing with social anxiety

Although a source of excitement and enjoyment for many, being invited to big parties or social engagement can be very stressful for others. The thought of spending two or three hours around many different personalities is not only nerve-racking for some people, it’s downright terrifying. If you find yourself dreading such events, know you’re not alone. You’re probably just experiencing what is called social anxiety.

Social anxiety usually stems from feeling extremely self-conscious or nervous in social situations. It’s more than just feeling shy. It can actually be almost paralyzing. When social anxiety is at its worst, many people fear leaving the house at all. Left untreated, it can leave a person without fulfilling friendships and support that they require. Although the condition may not totally go away, there are many ways to reduce social anxiety and begin to enjoy social occasions more. Here are just a few.

Consult with a therapist
It should come as no surprise that my first recommendation is to consult with a therapist – after all, I am one. However, a therapist can work one-on-one to create a customized plan that is individually tailored to each client. In addition to helping a client discover what is causing the anxiety, there are many techniques and exercises that therapists can teach to reduce social anxiety. And the good news is that this work can be done in a relatively short period of time, in most cases.

Shift the focus from self to others
In most social situations, people are far more concerned about how they appear themselves than about others. This is an important point to remember! While it might feel like everyone is silently criticizing you, chances are they’re too busy managing themselves. Even so, if you find yourself overwhelmed by self-conscious thoughts, try turning the conversation around. Many people love to talk about themselves. Get curious about others! Try delivering a compliment, or asking questions. If you’re not comfortable talking about yourself, showing interest in another person is a social skill that actually works really well – and most people won’t even think twice about it!

Practice breathing
I know this sounds simple – but it works! Breath is something that is always with you, and there is plenty of. Even pausing for 30-60 seconds in the car before entering an event can help to manage social anxiety. And, it’s something you can do even in a group of people without looking conspicuous. By simply turning your attention to your breath and taking deep, intentional breaths, you can lower your heart rate and your blood pressure. If you need to step away for a few moments, excuse yourself and go to the restroom or step outside. Take two minutes to intentionally breathe. You may find that you’re able to rejoin the group with a little more ease.

Meditate regularly
Although this one isn’t something you can do right away, research shows that practicing meditation regularly helps improve vagal tone (a fancy word for feeling good) and reducing stress and anxiety. Some forms of meditation have been studied more thoroughly than others. Current research by the American Medical Association suggests that Transcendental Meditation, practiced over time, has the greatest effect on reducing anxiety and panic, lowering blood pressure, and improved cognition (thinking). Whatever form of meditation you choose, practicing regularly for 20 minutes, two times a day, may make help alleviate social anxiety.

Social anxiety can feel like a heavy problem that will never get better – but it can! I work with clients who deal with social anxiety every day. The most important thing is not to give up hope. You can feel good again – and who knows? You just might look forward to the next invitation to that Oscars party!

Jeremy Savage is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Denver, Colorado. He specializes in the treatment of social anxiety as well as depression. Jeremy can be reached at 303-834-7005.

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