How to Overcome Social Anxiety and Shyness
Giving presentations, interviewing for a job and meeting new people can all trigger stomach butterflies from time to time. However, for some people, anxiety in social situations can get in the way of enjoying life. Whether you’re shy or living with a diagnosed anxiety disorder, you deserve to experience the joy interpersonal connection can bring. Let’s examine these common issues and look at how you can overcome social anxiety and shyness.
What Is Social Anxiety?
Social anxiety disorder is defined by persistent and intense fear of social situations. People with social anxiety often avoid situations like parties or work functions due to fear of judgment or humiliation, though they may feel nervous in other contexts as well.
Social anxiety may also lead to a number of physical symptoms, such as blushing, sweating, dizziness and a churning stomach. For someone with social anxiety, just the thought of a stressful social situation could be enough to make them feel sick.
Social anxiety varies in severity from person to person. Some people are almost always distressed around others, while some may feel nervous only when speaking in public or making a phone call. Doctors usually diagnose someone with social anxiety when the condition is causing them significant distress or interfering with their life.
How Is Social Anxiety Different From Shyness?
Just as generalized anxiety is different from overthinking, social anxiety is different from shyness. Though the two overlap in many ways, they aren’t the same thing. Social anxiety is more severe and disruptive than a case of standard shyness.
When you know someone who prefers to sit quietly during a conversation rather than contribute, you might say, “Oh, they’re just shy.” Someone who is shy may prefer to sit on the sidelines. They like to observe and think before they act. Sometimes, they may even want to evaluate a person or situation before they dive in to say hello.
The difference between shyness and social anxiety is a matter of degree. While both groups may display similar behavior, a shy person is less likely to feel distressed by social situations. An introvert may be happy to let others do the talking. Someone with social anxiety is too afraid to interrupt.
It can be difficult to tell the difference between shyness and anxiety, especially because many people are labeled “shy” as children. If you feel like what you’re experiencing surpasses standard shyness, consult your doctor. They can help you identify what you’re feeling and recommend a course of action.
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How Can You Treat Social Anxiety?
Though social anxiety and shyness are different, they can both be worked through. Out-of-control anxiety can disrupt work, strain relationships and even hold your back from pursuing your ambitions, so getting better is vital.
Here are five things you can do to start working through your social anxiety for a better social life:
- Notice your thoughts: Social anxiety often stems from negative thought patterns that produce fear and reinforce habits. When you start getting nervous, notice what you’re thinking. Are you engaging in negative self-talk? Are you making assumptions about what other people are thinking? Observe your thoughts and identify which patterns affect you the most.
- Challenge your assumptions: Try to turn negative thought patterns into neutral ones. Avoid irrational certainties like everyone is going to hate me, and replace them with more rational thoughts like some people might like me and others might not. By challenging your negative thoughts, you can begin viewing social situations differently.
- Work with a therapist: Comprehensive Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can help people overcome social anxiety through carefully guided lessons and practice. A professional can help you work through your anxious thoughts and behaviors in a safe environment.
- Take baby steps: Some people may tell you to “face your fears,” but this advice usually isn’t helpful. When confronting new things, take baby steps. Start by conquering the smallest fear, such as saying hello to someone, and work up to larger fears, like giving a speech. You don’t have to throw yourself in the deep end immediately.
- Try, try again: When it comes to overcoming anxiety and shyness, practice makes perfect. Practice engaging in social situations until it starts to become more natural. You may also consider getting a self-help book with exercises that help you reinforce what you learn in therapy by yourself.
Social Anxiety and Shyness Don’t Have to Hold You Back
Struggling in social situations isn’t fun for anybody. If you’re shy or a person with social anxiety, you may have more difficulty engaging with others. However, this issue doesn’t have to hold you back. Through practice and persistence, you can improve your social skills and begin to feel more relaxed.
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