Last week, we began discussing social anxiety, an increasingly common mental condition. Social anxiety is an intense and persistent fear of being watched and judged by others. And can lead to feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, self-consciousness, and depression. This fear can affect a number of aspects of your life. This includes work, school, and your other day-to-day activities. It can even make it hard to make and keep friends. But social anxiety disorder doesn’t have to stop you from reaching your potential. We dove into the general aspects of this condition, including symptoms and helpful therapy treatments. But this week, we wanted to discuss the tools you can begin cultivating on your own. Developing positive coping skills is crucial. And we don’t just mean for social anxiety. Having an array of skills can help you overcome almost any obstacle life throws you. Keep reading to learn ways to begin building your coping toolbox.
Building Your Coping Toolbox: Observation
A great first step in learning to manage your anxiety is through better understanding said anxiety. Those of us suffering from social anxiety disorder (SAD) tend to fear a number of social situations. These can include but aren’t limited to talking to co-workers, speaking in a meeting, or going to events or parties. Depending on the sufferer, they can experience a number of physical symptoms. Blushing, increased heart rate, sweating, and dizziness, for example, are all symptoms you may experience.
Use another skill in your coping toolbox, mindfulness, to notice which situations are causing you anxiety. Sit with your symptoms and take note. After doing this a few times, you may begin to notice patterns about yourself that you may not have seen before. It’s a lot easier to manage your social anxiety when you have a better idea of when you’ll experience it. One tip we have is to journal these situations in a chart. Make note of the day, the situation, and the symptoms you experience. Use the chart as a tracker as you get to know your social anxiety tendencies better!
Learning to Relax
We know, telling someone with anxiety to relax is never helpful. But tricking the body into relaxing is a skill that can change a situation’s outcome entirely. Feeling anxious isn’t fun. But by building your coping toolbox and learning to relax, you can make that experience less intense. And as a result, you’ll be able to face the experience with a little more strength and focus. There are two strategies that tend to be the most helpful in stressful social situations.
The first is through calm breathing. When anxious, we tend to breathe at a much faster rate. As a result, this can make us feel dizzy and lightheaded, and therefore, even more anxious. Calm breathing is the process of slowly breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. Many try to follow the square breathing method. Breathe in for four seconds and hold that breath for four seconds. Then exhale for four seconds and hold that pushed out lung feeling for four more seconds. Repeat as many times as needed. If that method doesn’t work for you, you can always try guided breathing tools such as this!
The second strategy aims to relax the entire body through muscle relaxation. This method involves tensing and relaxing various muscles. It can help lower overall tension and stress levels. The next time you begin to feel anxious, try doing an entire body scan. Start from your toes and tense and relax every muscle moving up the body. By the time you get to your head, hopefully, you’ll have relaxed a bit and can think more clearly.
The last tool in regard to building your coping toolbox that we want to discuss today is realistic thinking. If you’re someone with anxiety, you know that negative thoughts can reign supreme. Common examples of negative thoughts when it comes to social anxiety are:
- “No one will like me!”
- “I’m going to say something stupid.”
- “I’ll do something foolish and other people will laugh!”
- “I won’t know what to say.”
- “I’m not as smart/attractive as other people.”
- “No one will talk to me.”
- “I’ll get anxious and others will notice.”
- “Others will think I’m boring.”
- “I’ll make a mistake and others will think I’m stupid.”
The more you believe a social situation is going to turn into a dumpster fire, the more anxious you are going to feel. But the most important thing to realize is that your thoughts are simply (negative) guesses about what will happen, not actual facts. Those who suffer from SAD tend to over-estimate the negative details of what could happen. That’s why cultivating the tool of “realistic thinking” is so important when it comes to managing anxiety. But before you can start changing the way you think, you need to be able to identify the different kinds of anxiety-ridden thoughts you are having.
That’s Where We Come In!
CBT counseling or Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a form of psychotherapy based on the cognitive model claiming that “the way individuals perceive a situation is more closely connected to their reaction that the situation itself.” The goal is to boost happiness by modifying negative thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Unlike other forms of therapy that focus on a patients’ past, CBT counseling encourages problem-solving to change destructive thought patterns and behaviors. And through research has found to be extremely helpful for those that suffer from social anxiety.
How Can We Help You?
Negative thoughts and behaviors in regard to social situations can and do happen. But when we find ourselves in that negative state of mind, we may be basing our thoughts and reactions based off that negative view of the situation – often making the issue seem far much worse than it is. The goal of CBT is to help encourage problem-solving and coping skills to correct those misinterpretations. Cristina Panaccione and Associates Counseling has two locations in the South Hills of Pittsburgh. We are currently accepting a limited number of new patients, so check out our videos to learn more about how we can help you begin building your coping toolbox.
Jennifer Krause – MS, LPC
Jennifer is a Licensed Professional Counselor. She received her Masters of Science Degree from Chatham University. And has over 18 years of counseling experience with a wide range of patients in a variety of treatment settings. These have included: outpatient community mental health agencies, partial psychiatric hospital settings, both inpatient and outpatient drug and alcohol facilities, correctional settings, and an outpatient intensive treatment foster care program. Her clinical experience has been broad, treating both adolescents and adults struggling with: addiction, trauma, mood disorders, anger management issues, borderline personality disorder, depression, and anxiety. She also has experience with couples counseling, working with families, and group therapy.
She has extensive training in Motivational Interviewing, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and Trauma-Focused CBT.
Jennifer truly believes that laughter is an essential part of the human experience. While she recognizes that resolving issues can be serious and challenging, she knows that we can go through this process together, sharing laughter along the way. She strives to build an atmosphere that is relaxed and non-judgmental so that you will feel as comfortable as possible.