If you suffer from anxiety, you are probably all too familiar with the way it constrains your life. What seems second nature to others can be a monumental challenge for you, which might lead you to try and entirely avoid certain situations.
This can make activities meant to be enjoyed turn into a burden, as your anxiety or the threat of panic attacks keeps you from being comfortable. For many, this aversion has its most profound effects in their social lives. The fear of being judged, criticized or rejected leads them to hesitate to engage in simple social interactions, such as holding conversations, attending school or going to group gatherings. This can be a particularly big challenge for teens who are tying to find themselves in a world that sends so many different messages about what we should be.
However, just because social interaction makes you uneasy doesn’t mean you don’t want to do it; it simply means you might have to work a little harder to socialize without letting your anxiety overtake you.
Here are some tips that can help.
The first step to making an improvement is to understand what you hope to achieve. Start by asking yourself questions such as: What do I want to accomplish? How am I going to accomplish it? Is there a timeframe for reaching this goal?
Even if you don’t complete all of your goals or work on them immediately, writing them down will be helpful. Defining what it is you want to do, as well as looking back on your notes regularly, makes it easier to stay motivated.
Start small—the confidence you will gain from making even tiny steps forward will empower you to go further. Too often we overextend expectations of ourselves due to our anxiety, and this can make us less comfortable around others and more vulnerable to disappointment, which damages confidence and hinders progress.
Create a plan for yourself by writing a to-do list in a weekly planner. Open it daily and try to accomplish the goals you have set for yourself each day. Check each task you’ve accomplished off the list at the end of the day, and don’t be afraid to reward yourself for your effort, even if you don’t meet all of your goals.
Take Things One Step at a Time
Taking things one step at is crucial with anxiety. Attempts at drastic change can backfire since bad experiences can hurt and make trying again even scarier.
If you find yourself struggling to work towards daily goals, try reducing the pressure on yourself by instead focusing on a few weekly goals. Remember, a small step forward is still progress. Over time, these tiny changes will result in dramatic improvement.
Don’t forget to step outside of your comfort zone, but refrain from avoiding social situations when you’re anxious—pushing yourself when you’re just not feeling it will only make things worse.
Chat Online or Through Text
Chatting online or through text reduces some of the stress around social interactions and can often be a good way for you to be yourself with others. Because of this, it’s a good place to start socializing with your friends or classmates. Spelling mistakes, hacked accounts and a lack of etiquette are all pretty common online, so there’s no need to be worried or embarrassed about any mishaps.
You also don’t have to face anyone in person, which removes many of the potential anxiety triggers you might typically experience. Social media makes it easier to connect with people. Browse through groups or forums to join, or if you can’t find one you like, start one of your own. Teenagers already do this incessantly, so it shouldn’t be a big challenge to get them to try it out. Consider using a secure network if you’re worried about what your teenager might be doing online.
Meditate Before Leaving Home
Meditation is a great way to de-stress, and it can have a positive effect on those with social anxiety. Regularly meditating will help you quiet any negative thoughts you might have, and when used in combination with affirmations, you’ll quickly find yourself thinking more optimistically about both yourself and the world around you.
Before you enter a social arena, even if it's just a store or you’re going to class, meditate for at least 10 minutes. You can find a lot of guided meditation videos on YouTube for free, and if you download the YouTube app, you can begin listening to them anywhere you go.
Eventually, you’ll be able to easily meditate without guided meditation recordings, bringing you to a relaxed state of mind more quickly. This will allow you to approach situations without the usual flood of unsettling thoughts associated with socializing.
Redefine Your Standards
A common struggle for teens with social anxiety is the concern they’re doing something incorrectly or are somehow humiliating themselves. Anxious thought patterns cause them to set specific standards for themselves, which can be overwhelming to maintain and often more detrimental than helpful.
Because of this, redefining your standards is crucial. How can anyone expect to communicate without anxiety overtaking them when they are subconsciously criticizing and eating away at their own self-esteem while socializing? Accepting yourself, your manner of communicating and your imperfections will determine your success.
Confidence can help you avoid anxiety when socializing, and sometimes it’s necessary to act confident before you even truly feel that way. Don’t be afraid to answer questions with whatever comes to mind instead of stopping to re-think what you’re saying; there is no “right” answer, and you’ll notice there is nothing wrong with how you communicate and that people respond better to your more candid way of interacting.
By practicing self-acceptance, redefining personal standards, meditating as needed and taking small steps towards your goals, you’ll soon notice how socializing isn’t so hard after all. This isn’t to say that overnight you’ll turn into a social butterfly, but rather with some focus and attention to who you are, there is no need to fear being social.
Do you have any advice for others who are struggling with social anxiety? Have you found anything that has helped you socialize without anxiety overtaking you? Let us know in the comments below.
About the Author: Cassie is a health and wellness blogger who struggled with social anxiety as a teenager. It wasn’t until she began therapy and found Dr. Elaine Aron’s book, “The Highly Sensitive Person,” that she began to understand how to effectively manage her condition and live a more fulfilling life. She now works to spread awareness about ways to overcome social anxiety so that people can be more comfortable with themselves.