On any given day, many of us spend the much of our time engaging in social interactions, from picking up our morning coffee at Starbucks, to shopping for groceries, to taking public transit. And let’s not forget class presentations, job interviews and blind dates! Our lives are riddled with social exchanges. While some may find joy and excitement in these interactions, others may experience fear and distress, especially individuals with Social Anxiety Disorder.

What IS Social Anxiety Disorder?

Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is a disorder that is characterized by an intense fear of embarrassing oneself in front of others, and/or being negatively judged by others. Social anxiety is about MUCH more than shyness and it impacts people in a variety of situations. Individuals with social anxiety may find talking to strangers, making eye contact with others, eating in front of other people and/or speaking in public incredibly stressful. Social anxiety can be debilitating, but it doesn’t have to be! Please keep reading to hear our tips & tricks for dealing with social anxiety.

Tips & Tricks for Social Anxiety

1. Challenge your negative thoughts.
One of key features of social anxiety is the fear of embarrassing oneself in front others, or being negatively judged by others. This anxiety often leads to negative thoughts that can be overwhelming. For example, let’s say that you are preparing for a job interview. You may say to yourself “I am going to be so awkward,” or “I am going to say something stupid,” or “I will never get this job.” If you feel yourself slipping into this negative thinking pattern – and sometimes we all do, try to challenge those thoughts with more realistic or balanced self-talk. Say to yourself, “I can do this!” or “Most people are nervous before a job interview, I’m just going to do my best and see what happens.”

2. Practice your social skills.
Social anxiety can sometimes make certain social skills very difficult. For example, introducing yourself or making eye contact, can be very stressful for people with social anxiety. Try practicing the social skills that are hard for you. For example, practice introducing yourself to a close friend or family member. After practicing these skills with people you are comfortable with, you can increase your confidence and then practice them with strangers!

3. Be mindful.
Practicing mindfulness can also benefit individuals with social anxiety. Mindfulness involves being in the present moment and acknowledging our emotions, without judgment. For example, if you are meeting someone new and experiencing social anxiety, pay attention to the present moment and acknowledge that anxiety rather than trying to fight it. When we identify and understand our emotions, they often lose their power over us!

4. Be kind to yourself.
When experiencing social anxiety, be kind to yourself! Remind yourself that nobody is perfect and remind yourself that everyone feels anxious sometimes. Experiencing anxiety is completely normal and is part of being human. Remind yourself that anxiety is a temporary response to a stressful situation; it will pass. After a particularly stressful social situation, do something nice for yourself! Watch your favourite movie, listen to your favourite music, and/or treat yourself to your favourite snack.

5. Step outside your comfort zone, one day at a time!
Finally, don’t let your social anxiety stop you from taking chances. Find opportunities to step outside your comfort zone but take it one day at a time. Start small. You could even start by smiling at strangers, going to a coffee shop, or browsing around a new store. By stepping outside of your comfort zone, you can test out whether your fears about others’ judgments are justified – you may be pleasantly surprised.

Want more information? Don’t forget to check out our list of resources, including books on anxiety and other topics here: http://waterloocbt.ca/resources/

Author: Lindsey Erin Feltis, MA Candidate.

Edited by: Dr. Dubravka Gavric, C. Psych. 

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Understanding Social Anxiety Disorder

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