For some people, meeting up with mates brings excitement and an energy boost. For others, it can trigger sweating, shaking, nausea, a pounding heart, and excess worry that they’ll do or say the wrong thing.
These are all common symptoms of social anxiety.
Anyone can experience social anxiety – whether you’re a shy introvert or an outgoing extrovert. Research shows almost 11% of Aussies experience social phobia at some point in their lives. So if it’s something you live with, just know you’re not alone.
We hope our advice for social anxiety helps if you’ve been diagnosed with the condition or simply struggle in social settings from time to time.
Stop catastrophising in its tracks
It’s easy to get swept up in the worrying and ‘what ifs’ that social anxiety can brew in our brains. But treating these negative thoughts as facts can have us spiralling down a dark rabbit hole before any of them have even happened!
Fact: 85% of what we worry about NEVER happens. So next time a social invitation has you imagining all the bad things that could go wrong, take a deep breath and remind yourself that these are just bad thoughts. Unless you’re psychic, there’s a very low chance these scary scenarios are a realistic glimpse into the future.
Remind yourself of positive social interactions
Remember all those times you caught up with friends, presented in front of a group, or made an important phone call and everything went just fine?
We tend to focus on the negatives and forget all the successful social interactions we’ve had over the years. If you’re nervous or anxious before a social event, try to think of a few recent cases where you had a positive experience.
Start small with exposure
Interacting in a big group can be overwhelming. If you’re prone to social anxiety, try to ease yourself into socialising with one-on-one catch ups or smaller gatherings instead.
This kind of controlled exposure to social situations can help take away some of the fear and prepare you for larger events in the future, while avoiding social situations altogether can make these social interactions seem even more intimidating.
Avoid relying on drugs/alcohol to cope
There’s nothing wrong with having a drink or two if it helps you relax and feel more comfortable talking to people. In fact, the confidence boost gained from alcohol is commonly called ‘Dutch courage’. But relying on alcohol and drugs to get through social interactions can become problematic if it’s done irresponsibly or develops into an unhealthy dependence or addiction.
The misuse of substances can be damaging for you and the people around you. Becoming intoxicated at a party or social event can also cause what’s called ‘hangxiety’. Ever woken up after a night of drinking and feel anxious and panicked about what you might have said and done? That’s hangxiety – and it can make your social anxiety worse. So always drink responsibly.
Write down a script before phone calls
Can’t hear yourself think over the sound of your heart pounding? If making a phone call triggers your anxiety, it might be worth writing a script to get you through it.
Whether you make a general list of the topics you need to cover or write a word-for-word script, this is an easy way to avoid awkward pauses and/or mind blanks during those personal and professional calls.
Carry conversation starters
If your mind goes blank in social situations, this could be thanks to social anxiety’s close friend, brain fog. Brain fog messes with our thought process and makes it hard for us to remember things, which can lead to awkward silences at parties and gatherings.
A great way to combat uncomfortable silences is to be prepared with conversation starters before meeting with people, either on palm cards or in your phone notes.
These might include:
- How did the COVID lockdown/s impact you?
- What have you been watching and/or reading lately?
- What are you excited about at the moment?
You might also like to list some reminders about their lives, such as the name of their partner, what they do for work and other details. This might seem simple, but it could save you wondering whether their partner’s name is Tim or Tom when the brain fog kicks in!
If you’re struggling with social anxiety and need some extra support, talking to a counsellor can help. Our counsellors provide a safe and supportive environment to talk about your concerns and explore solutions. You can call 1300 364 277 to book an appointment, or learn more about counselling here.
Discover some of the main types of anxiety in this article.