The first thing that you have to do when you start to realize that you might have social anxiety is to accept how you are. The solution to any mental illness is not to ignore it or hope for a quick fix that will magically sort itself out. Treat your mental health as you would your physical health and confront it head-on so you can live a better life. Here’s how to work through social anxiety – you can do it.
- Acknowledge that you can’t do it alone. Knowing that you need support and help even though you want to be independent is so important. You aren’t a burden to anyone for needing them. Mental health isn’t embarrassing or uncommon. Know your own needs and don’t be afraid to claim them. Don’t hide away and risk feeling worse for it. Sometimes, a few initial YouTube searches and explainer videos help you to feel less alone. To work through social anxiety, you must admit that you can’t do it on your own.
- Research it. Reading articles for scientific and cultural advice can be so helpful. It gives you a way of feeling productive and in control of how you’re feeling, even when you might be spiraling in all other ways. This will also help you to refine what you are feeling and articulate the way that you can seek help. Giving a name to things is a great way of learning how to adjust your life to accommodate your condition. Social anxiety can be managed in many ways, but it’s different for everyone. Do your research.
- Share your needs with friends and family. They all want to help and they all love you so much. Don’t worry about feeling vulnerable or asking for help – that’s what friends are for. They’re there for you through thick and thin. They saw you during your gawky teen stages, so don’t presume that they don’t want to hear about your problems. You will strengthen your bonds and it will be easier to ask for help in the future – on both sides of the friendship. People with anxiety express their love and concerns in different ways than neurotypical people, so make sure the people in your life know that.
- Have clothes and activities that feel safe. If your social anxiety manifests in meetings or assemblies or in events that are part of your daily routine, then give yourself a fighting chance and work with it. Introduce small items that make you feel safe that you can have on your person. These items will ground you and reassure you that the event will pass, but the soft toy or keychain or letter or fidget cube will be there for you. These can be purely to distract agitated hands, or an emotional tether – both are useful.
- Find people you trust. If your existing friends and family aren’t particularly close to you, or you don’t trust them, you don’t owe them anything. However, ensure that you can share your life with someone. Maybe it’s a therapist, or an acquaintance at a sports club, or a school mentor. Whoever it is, use them wisely. Or, find a support group for other people with social anxiety – you will feel seen and part of a community. They will also likely have some useful coping mechanisms for you to try out. Make sure you communicate with your partner too.
- Get a relaxing playlist. Or a show that you can have on in the background that you’ve seen a million times that can provide a buffer to the buzz around you. Failing that, try a podcast, or find a friend that you can sit with in silence – whatever calms you. Light a candle, do a jigsaw – unpack whether you can distracting or enriching; to rant without cause, or to problem-solve. Once we find the route of our emotions they’re easier to understand and address.
- Be kind to yourself. Say it again for the people at the back. You deserve grace and kindness. You can’t count on the world to give it to you, so you must give it to yourself.
- Try therapy. I know that therapy can be a scary word, where everyone thinks it’s for something between trauma victims and Millenials with a god complex. However, I personally think that everyone should have a therapist. You aren’t any more or less worthy of therapy because of your perception of your life. This can not only help you work through social anxiety but help you in other areas of life as well.
- Memorize coping mechanisms that help you. For some people, the five-step grounding method works. This is where you have to find five things that you can see, four things that you can feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. Find what works for you.
If you are experiencing social anxiety in any form and want to work through it, it’s possible. Reframe it as an aspect of your life rather than something you need to “correct” or “fix” and be kind to yourself.