You rehearsed it all. Planned it out perfectly in your head, long before you got to that cashier to order. You were so ready. Until you got there. "I can't believe I stuttered. My life is officially over. I might as well go hide under my bed for the rest of my worthless life". All right, perhaps that was a bit dramatic. But if this mental struggle sounds familiar, you are not alone. And contrary to what you may believe, your potential is endless.
Mental health is a serious problem for many people, and can affect us even in the most basic of actions. For those with social anxiety, the simplest of social situations can be immensely difficult.
From ordering your coffee at Starbucks, to interviewing for a job, the anxiety can be paralyzing. However, there are many things people who suffer with social anxiety can do to gain confidence. Below are some of the most common strategies for calming or overcoming your social anxiety in order to feel comfortable and confident in any situation.
- Be Aware. The first step to confidence is understanding. Anxiety is a good and healthy thing -- the natural response to prepare your body for danger. The problem for many arises when this protective reflex is triggered by things that aren't dangerous. These triggers vary broadly from person to person -- one person with social anxiety may feel entirely comfortable talking on the phone, while another would rather be deaf and blind than accept a phone call.
For this reason, it is important to understand your anxiety. What triggers it? What situations are you most likely to avoid? What happens when your anxiety has been triggered? What is your body doing? What is your heart rate doing? What is your breathing doing? Once you understand how your body is responding and what is setting it off, you can focus on overcoming it. One of the most common ways of tracking social anxiety is by writing down your triggering events when they happen for analysis later.
- Combat Your Symptoms. When you have outlined your symptoms, you can find the best coping mechanisms for each of them. Knowing you have these coping mechanisms in your back pocket can give you a sense of peace and confidence when walking into a social situation that usually sets you off.
Perhaps the most useful coping mechanism is learning to control your breathing. Different breathing patterns work on different parts of an anxiety response. By focusing on your breathing, you allow your mind to slow down and focus, helping to clear the disorientation that often arises with anxiety. Taking control of your breathing also aids in reducing the struggle of breathing steadily when experiencing anxiety. Finally, breathing exercises can be targeted at slowing the heart rate, alleviating perhaps the most uncomfortable symptom of anxiety.
Another excellent coping mechanism is the use of relaxation methods. If your social anxiety manifests as tension in your muscles, you can force yourself to relax by intentionally tensing your muscles and releasing them repeatedly. Many people will also use this to sharpen their focus, by starting at their toes and slowly working their way up. This method is especially helpful if, in your observations, you discover that you hold tension in specific parts of your body when you are anxious. By forcing yourself to relax, the warnings being sent to your brain will lessen as well, and the anxious response will decrease in turn.
- Experimenting With the Uncomfortable. Finally, the greatest (and hardest) way to gain confidence in public is to challenge yourself, and broaden your comfort zone. Social anxiety would have you believe that stuttering is the end of the world, the worst thing that could ever happen. It tells you that your friends and colleagues will only like you if you are perfect in every way. But in reality, everyone is just as messed up and weird and imperfect as you are.
Positive experiences can help you to overcome your anxieties, but to gain them, you have to expose yourself to them. This means challenging your mental process. When your brain says "if you mess this up, everyone will hate you," rather than letting it take control of your actions, ask yourself the question "is this really important enough that people would hate me if I messed it up?"
The next step is to act on these challenges. Allow yourself to make that stutter. Let your friends see your hand shake when you reach for your water. Let yourself talk without scripting it out in your head first, and see what happens. By letting yourself be imperfect, you will eventually discover that all those life and career ending consequences that have left you crippled with fear are merely exaggerations of the truth. You are a valued member of society, and you have the power to do anything -- social anxiety and all.
Become aware, target and practice your coping mechanisms until you know that they are there in case of emergencies, and take a risk every now and then. I promise it's worth it, and your future employer would agree.
- 5 Ways to Improve Your Mental Health in 2016
- Improve Your Mental Health and Happiness With These Tips
- Can Laid Back People Still Struggle With Depression and Anxiety?
- Wacko, Nut Job? How Does Trump Impact Mental Health Perceptions?
- Why Depression Frequently Goes Unnoticed
- Loving Someone Who Struggles With Anxiety
- Improving Your Mood Without Therapy - Through the Eyes of Your Pet