Dr. Dawn-Elise Snipes PhD, LPC-MHSP, LMHC
Executive Director: AllCEUs.com
Podcast Host: Counselor Toolbox and Happiness Isn’t Brain Surgery
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Stimulants including caffeine, nicotine, decongestants, certain herbs and sugar can all give you a jittery feeling which you can mistake for anxiety.
Know your temperament
Extroverts love being around people and draw energy from them. Introverts get overwhelmed when there are too many people around. They prefer smaller gatherings. Additionally, some people prefer more structure than others. If you prefer structure and you are heading out with a group to do something you have never done before or just to “hang out” you may have more anxiety. If it is something new, remember that it was once new for everybody else. Look up videos on youtube about how to do it. If you can, go try it ahead of time. (That's what I did when my friends wanted to go to a rock climbing gym).
Know your triggers
Social anxiety may be worse if you are dealing with an authority figure or someone you are trying to impress. You may also feel more anxious in certain situations. My anxiety is the worst when I have to go to mixers or parties where I don't know anyone. I am just not comfortable going up and introducing myself to people. On the other hand, I can present to an auditorium of 700 people with no problem, because then I know they want to hear what I have to say about something.
Create an anxiety list
What types of things and situations stress you out? Figure out why they stress you out. (Fear of rejection? failure? loss of control? the unknown?) Then figure out how to deal with that fear. For example, if someone doesn't want to talk with you (rejection), does that mean something negative about you, or could there be other explanations? If you feel like people are staring or laughing at you when you are out in public, think about other, more likely things they could be looking at or laughing about. If you do figure out it was you (I accidentally tucked my dress into the back of my stockings one day at work), then go with it. Laugh. Other people have done embarrassing things too. Do you remember those? Probably not. Just the same, they will likely not remember what you did in a couple of days.
Create an exposure hierarchy
For those things that trigger your anxiety, first imagine yourself in that situation. Feel and accept your anxiety, then practice breathing, distress tolerance skills and visualizing a successful resolution to reduce your anxiety. Keep practicing this until you can imagine the situation without getting anxious…maybe you can even visualize it going well. The next step in the hierarchy is to go to the place. For example, if you have to give a speech, go to the auditorium when nobody is there and walk on stage. Feel and accept your anxiety, then practice breathing, distress tolerance skills and visualizing a successful resolution to reduce your anxiety. Keep practicing this until you can be on the stage without getting anxious…maybe you can even visualize it going well. The third level might be rehearsing the speech in front of a couple friends. Feel and accept your anxiety, then practice breathing, distress tolerance skills and visualizing a successful resolution to reduce your anxiety. Keep practicing this until you can give the speech without getting anxious…The next level might be to go to the auditorium when someone else is giving a speech and watch from back stage. Feel and accept your anxiety, then practice breathing, distress tolerance skills and visualizing a successful resolution to reduce your anxiety. Keep practicing this until you can observe without getting anxious… The final level in this example would be to actually give the speech in the auditorium. The day of the speech, work hard at staying busy/distracting yourself until it is time to go. Push away negative thoughts and visualize it going well. If you can have friends in the audience for support, even better.
Keep a rational outlook
Identify your catastrophic self-statements and correct them. For each statement, examine the evidence for and against that belief. Then ask yourself about how likely it is that it will end in disaster. Review the podcast on cognitive distortions if you need some help identifying and dealing with those thoughts.
Rapid shallow breathing increases your heart rate and your body thinks there is something to be stressed about (even if there is not). Slow, deep breaths send out the “all clear” signal. You don't have to exaggerate it, just focus on breathing slowly in for 3 seconds, hold for a 2 or 3 seconds then exhale for 3 seconds, while you are doing that, tell yourself positive things.
Work on distress tolerance techniques
Get involved in activities so you are not thinking about what other people are thinking. If you are busy doing something things flow more smoothly. At parties, volunteer to help the host or hostess. If you have to go to a business function, think ahead of time about a few things you could talk about and with whom.
Prime yourself with the opposite emotions. On the way there, listen to a comedian or music that helps you feel pumped, happy and confident.
Push away negative or unhelpful thoughts. You don't need that noise in your head right now. At the event, focus on one thing at a time, don't worry about what other people are saying or doing, focus on your conversation. If all else fails, take a break and just focus on something pleasant in your environment. What does it look like—really look at the details.
Remember FEAR = False Evidence Appearing Real
Examine the evidence for your anxiety. What evidence do you have that people were staring or laughing at you?
Mentally rehearse stressful social situations
Before you go to the event, envision yourself successfully navigating it. When you walk in, what will you do/say. What is the next thing you will do? Who will you seek out to talk with… (If you can bring a friend for support, all the better)
THINK to avoid offending someone
THINK means that before you speak, make sure what you are about to say is True, Helpful, Important, Necessary, and Kind. If they still get offended, it is likely more about them. Remember what Doctor Seuss has to say about judgment “Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”