3 tips to help ease social anxiety

If crowds and social settings make you nervous, you’re not alone. Try these strategies to help cope

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nervous woman anxiety

Uncomfortable in social settings?

Almost every one of us has experienced symptoms of social anxiety at some time or another: sweating or trembling when we're about to deliver a speech, blushing or breathing fast when we're asking someone out on a date, a hammering heartbeat or nausea when we're getting a job evaluation.

For most of us, social anxiety isn't a full-blown disorder. It doesn't interfere much with our normal routines like work and family activities. But neither is it a joyride. Up to 95 percent of us sometimes get nervous and uncomfortable meeting people at parties, giving work presentations or speaking up in study groups. Even if social anxiety isn't taking over your life, wouldn't you like to feel more confident in these situations?

So how can you push past the palpitations at your next fundraising gala or doctor's appointment? Here are three approaches that can help.

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yoga meditation

Fix what you're physically feeling

Social anxiety can be associated with physical symptoms like perspiring, trembling and an increased heart rate. So maybe, if you're worrying about your keynote speech, this isn't the time to pour that third espresso or quaff that extra energy drink. "You're setting yourself up to have a physiological response that's just going to feed into that anxiety," says Dr. Barry Wiser, a clinical psychologist in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.

Instead, treat your body to aerobic exercise, deep breathing, meditation or yoga - activities that are all linked to relaxation and reduced anxiety. Stanford University researchers found that giving training in mindfulness meditation to people with social anxiety disorder actually helped to decrease their symptoms.

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woman thinking

Fix what you're thinking

When you're getting ready for a job interview, that running commentary in your mind can definitely up your anxiety level. Are you thinking, "I'd better not make a mistake," or "I must make a perfect first impression "? Those kinds of internal instructions are hard to live up to and won't do a thing to keep you calm.

The trick is to become aware of those messages and then challenge them, says Dr. Wiser. "Are those thoughts realistic? What's the worst thing that could happen, and why would this be so terrible? Even if I go out on this first date and the person never wants to see me again, is that the end of my life?" Use a pen and paper if that helps you identify your inner thoughts and examine them realistically.

Another strategy: Imagine yourself handling the social situation well. Don't picture it being perfect, since that'll only increase the pressure. But just as a professional athlete might do a mental rehearsal of an upcoming race, try visualizing things going smoothly at the meeting you're going to be chairing.

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healthy party

Fix what you're doing

You may always get a little nervous before public speaking. But the more you talk in front of other people, the less anxiety you will feel. It's all about practice. "You'll gain confidence, and you'll gain skills to be able to handle those situations," Dr. Wiser says. Work yourself up gradually. If you have an intense fear of performing the piano, try playing in front of a few friends or colleagues before you launch yourself onto a stage in front of an audience of ten thousand. Speechmaster workshops and assertiveness training courses can also help you develop certain social skills.

Dr. Wiser adds that it's important not to let a fit of nerves stop you from being social, because humans needs regular contact with others. "If we're cut off from others, it doesn't work. We're more prone to a whole host of problems." Social isolation is linked to depression, emotional stress and increased risk of coronary heart disease and mortality.

"Everyone, from time to time, thinks, I don't really want to go to that party. But if you start doing that too much, then that anxiety is just going to increase," Dr. Wiser says. If, on the other hand, you apply these techniques to your physical symptoms, your thoughts and your behaviour, you have a real chance of reducing your anxiety in social situations.

 

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