Many people get nervous or self-conscious on occasion, like when giving a speech or interviewing for a new job. But social phobia is more than just shyness or occasional nerves. It involves intense fear of certain social situations—especially situations that are unfamiliar or in which you feel you will be watched or evaluated by others. These situations may be so frightening that you get anxious just thinking about them or go to great lengths to avoid them, disrupting your life in the process.
It is also the fear of being scrutinized, judged, or embarrassed in public. You may be afraid that people will think badly of you or that you will not measure up in comparison to others. And even though you probably realize that your fears of being judged are at least somewhat irrational and overblown, you still cannot help feeling anxious. But no matter how painfully shy you may be and no matter how bad the butterflies, you can learn to be comfortable in social situations and reclaim your life.
In this article like the topic states, I will be giving my two cents on how to take care of social phobia once and for all. I am certain that if all of these steps are practiced in no particular order, they will be a thing of the past.
Tip 1: Challenge negative thoughts
People with social phobia have negative thoughts and beliefs that contribute to their fears and anxiety. These can include thoughts such as:
“I know I will end up looking like a fool.”
“My voice will start shaking and I will humiliate myself.”
“People will think I am stupid”
“I will not have anything to say. I will seem boring.”
Challenging these negative thoughts is an effective way to reduce the symptoms of social anxiety. You can start by identifying the automatic negative thoughts that underlie your fear of social situations. For example, if you are worried about an upcoming LBS class presentation, the underlying negative thought might be: “I am going to blow it. Everyone will think I am completely incompetent.”
But it helps to ask yourself questions about the negative thoughts: “Do I know for sure that I am going to blow the presentation?” or “Even if I am nervous, will people necessarily think I am incompetent?” Through this logical evaluation of your negative thoughts, you can gradually replace them with more realistic and positive ways of looking at social situations that trigger your anxiety.
It can be incredibly scary to think about why you feel and think the way you do, but understanding the reasons for your anxieties will help lessen their negative impact on your life.
It is also important to ask yourself if you are engaging in any of the following unhelpful thinking styles:
- Mind reading – Assuming you know what other people are thinking, and that they see you in the same negative way that you see yourself.
- Fortune telling – Predicting the future, usually while assuming the worst will happen. You just “know” that things will go horribly, so you are already anxious before you are even in the situation.
- Catastrophizing – Blowing things out of proportion. For example, if people notice that you are nervous, it will be “awful”, “terrible”, or “disastrous.”
- Personalizing – Assuming that people are focusing on you in a negative way or that what is going on with other people has to do with you. This brings us to the next point.
Tip 2: Focus on others, not yourself
Focus your attention on other people, but not on what they are thinking of you! Instead, do your best to engage them and make a genuine connection. Remember that anxiety is not as visible as you think. And even if someone notices that you are nervous, that does not mean they will think badly of you. Chances are other people are feeling just as nervous as you—or have done in the past. Really listen to what is being said not to your own negative thoughts.
Focus on the present moment, rather than worrying about what you are going to say or beating yourself up for a flub that is already passed. Release the pressure to be perfect. Instead, focus on being genuine and attentive—qualities that other people will appreciate.
Tip 3: Face your fears
One of the most helpful things you can do to overcome social phobia is to face the social situations you fear rather than avoid them. Avoidance keeps social phobia going. While avoiding nerve-wracking situations may help you feel better in the short term, it prevents you from becoming more comfortable in social situations and learning how to cope in the long term. In fact, the more you avoid a feared social situation, the more frightening it becomes.
Avoidance can also prevent you from doing things you would like to do or reaching certain goals. For example, a fear of speaking up may prevent you from sharing your ideas at work, standing out in the classroom, or making new friends.
While it may seem impossible to overcome a feared social situation, you can do it by taking it one small step at a time. The key is to start with a situation that you can handle and gradually work your way up to more challenging situations, building your confidence and coping skills as you move up the “anxiety ladder.”
For example, if socializing with strangers makes you anxious, you might start by accompanying an outgoing friend to a party. Once you are comfortable with that step, you might try introducing yourself to one new person, and so on.
Tip 4: Make an effort to be more social
Actively seeking out supportive social environments is another effective way of challenging your fears and overcoming social phobias.
You can volunteer to do something you enjoy, anything that will give you an activity to focus on while you are also engaging with a small number of like-minded people.
In conclusion, do not try to face your biggest fear right away. It is never a good idea to move too fast, take on too much, or force things. This may backfire and reinforce your anxiety. Be patient, overcoming social phobias take time and practice. It is a gradual step-by-step progress. Use the skills you have learned to stay calm, always control your breathing, and do not forget to challenge negative assumptions head-on.