By Ali Psiuk, MFTI
As the holiday season quickly approaches we are afforded ample opportunities for socializing…parties, dinners, gatherings of friends old and new, family reunions. It is a time for celebrating, rejoicing in the wonders of the season and for some, hiding sweaty palms and managing high levels of adrenaline as one navigates the discomfort of social anxiety.
For those that suffer, even being in a gathering of people you know well can invite irrational thoughts in to the mix. “What if people see how nervous I am? What if I say something dumb? What if I trip?” When it’s your turn to speak, you feel frozen with a dry mouth and a pounding heart. You think, “What’s wrong with me?”
Millions of Americans suffer from social discomfort, which can be defined by an overall pattern of shyness, or timidity that presents itself in most social situations, hypersensitivity to the disapproval or criticism of others, avoidance of situations that require interpersonal contact, and performance anxiety such as a fear of public speaking. When it rears its ugly head, social discomfort can lead to an increase in heart rate, sweating, dry mouth, and shakiness in social situations.
Psychotherapy is a highly effective method of treatment for social anxiety, also known as social phobia, and can help you gain understanding for the basis for your fears, teach you simple relaxation skills to practice in the moment, and help you begin to apply these skills to real-life events outside the therapy room.
Whether the discomfort feels completely debilitating or merely distressing, fear in social situations can present a major roadblock in our ability to freely express ourselves, form new relationships and reach our fullest potential.
Three easy tricks to deal with social anxiety:
1 – Shift the focus
Social anxiety is based on a fear of what others think of us. Try shifting the focus to other people in the room, get curious about them and you will find yourself start to relax.
2 – Would you like a mint?
Since social anxiety and some medications can contribute to dry mouth, keep hard candies, mints or water nearby to stay hydrated. Sucking on a mint or candy is also soothing and relaxing and can be a sweet distraction from a stressful situation.
3 – Take belly breaths
During times of stress, our breathing can become short and shallow. Take a moment for yourself, in fresh air if possible, to breathe deeply in through your nostrils, filling up your belly, ribs and chest, hold for as long as is comfortable and then exhale slowly out through the mouth, making sure you breathe all of the breath out. Do this five times and with each release of the exhale, try and extend the breath for a little bit longer.