For people with social or situational anxiety, normal everyday occurrences like making phone calls, taking exams, or attending an office meeting could provoke feelings of distress. In many cases, the person will try to avoid these situations, often to the detriment of neglecting their relationships or hurting their career.
But there are a number of ways to manage situational anxiety and face your triggers feeling more empowered. From planning ahead to considering medication, explore 10 steps to better manage social and situational anxiety.
What Causes Social Anxiety?
Like other mental health conditions, there is no definitive cause of social anxiety. But researchers have suggested a few possibilities:
- Family history: People with a family history of social or situational anxiety may be more vulnerable to developing the condition. This may be the result of genetics or learned behavior, or both.
- Brain structure: When a person becomes anxious, the fight or flight response becomes initiated, which is initiated by a part of the brain called the amygdala. Studies show that in people with social anxiety, the amygdala is overactive.1
- Environment: A person may become socially anxious after a negative experience like being bullied, embarrassing themselves, or being publicly ridiculed. Children who are shy or withdrawn are also at risk of developing social anxiety.
Listening to Your Body & Figuring Out Tips to Help Situationally
The esteemed psychologist Carl Jung once said that “what you resist not only persists, but will grow in size.”2 When you are triggered by a situation, it’s important that you don’t minimize what you feel or escape the feeling altogether by evading the situation.
In cognitive behavioral therapy, one of the most effective ways of managing anxiety is to face the uncomfortable feelings provoked by anxiety-inducing situations or environments. Instead of running away or judging yourself, try paying attention to your body and focusing on what you can control, like slowing your breathing, or loosening clenched fists. This will help you root yourself in your body (instead of your head) and practice tools that can help you calm down no matter what’s going on around you.
Mindfulness can be extremely helpful when it comes to calming the physical sensations of anxiety. From mindfulness meditation to deep breathing exercises, the more you practice mindfulness, the more you train your brain to quiet negative self-talk, feel at home in your body, and be empowered in the present moment.
Here are some other ways to prepare for an anxiety-inducing situation and gather tools you can use when you feel anxious in the future.
Step 1: Recognize the Triggers
Triggers are different for everyone, but they may include: a public speaking event, a social gathering, a job interview, taking an exam, going on a date, or visiting the doctor. Take some time to think about situations in the past that caused you anxiety and make a list of your triggers. Becoming aware of what your triggers are is one of the first important ways you can start preparing for them ahead of time.
Step 2: Plan Your Social Calendar Ahead of Time
Now that you know what your triggers are, mark them in your calendar. This isn’t to create an anxiety-inducing countdown, but to give you time to practice tools and improve your lifestyle habits in the days leading up to the events. This might include talking to a therapist, settling into a daily meditation practice, starting an exercise routine to burn off nervous energy and boost your confidence, and sticking to a solid sleep routine. Planning your social calendar will also help you avoid the last minute panic of remembering about an upcoming social event.
Step 3: Move Your Body Ahead of the Situation or Event
Research shows that certain physical activities like yoga or jogging may help lower your anxiety. Progressive muscle relaxation, a mindfulness practice in which you flex and release different parts of your body, can also help you feel more rooted in your body while slowing your breathing and heart rate.
Step 4: Nourish Your Body & Mind
In addition to getting adequate sleep and practicing mindfulness, making tweaks to your nutrition before anxiety-inducing events can also make a powerful difference in how you feel. A diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, and fruits is a healthier option than eating a lot of simple carbohydrates found in processed foods. Eating regularly is also important as it can help you avoid drops in blood sugar that cause you to feel jittery, and add to your anxiety. According to research from Harvard,3 the following foods have been proven to lower anxiety:
- Leafy greens, such as spinach and Swiss chard, which are high in magnesium
- Foods rich in zinc such as oysters, cashews, liver, beef, and egg yolks
- Fatty fish like wild Alaskan salmon, which contains omega-3 fatty acids
- Probiotic foods, which promote a healthy gut
- Spices like turmeric and ginger
Proper nutrition, along with adequate sleep, controlled screen time, and mindfulness, is one of 5 Pillars outlined in Brillia’s holistic approach to managing anxiety of all types, including social and situational anxiety.
Ready to try Brillia?
We have found that combining healthy lifestyle habits with homeopathic medication offers a gentle and impactful approach for reducing symptoms of anxiety without harsh, synthetic chemicals or harmful side effects, which can be especially useful for those who are sensitive to prescription drugs. Brillia does not work the way anti-anxiety medications like Xanax do; it is not intended for rapid relief of anxiety, and it should be taken at least three to four weeks leading up to an anxiety-inducing event. During this time, its active ingredient consisting of antibodies to the S100B protein, helps to restore balance in brain chemicals like dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, resulting in calmness and focus. Its accumulative effect means that when you are ready to face an upcoming triggering event, you will feel more at ease and more equipped to manage whatever emotions arise.
Step 5: Arrive Early & with a Friend
Walking into a crowded room can be daunting for anyone, but especially a person with social anxiety. Arriving early can help you become familiarized with your surroundings and face your fears slowly instead of bombarding yourself with too much at once. If you’re able to bring along a friend, this can help you feel even more supported.
Step 6: Assess the Room and How You’re Feeling
In efforts to focus on the present and not get carried away by anxious thoughts, take some time to assess the room when you do arrive. Take note of everything you see and feel. Is it a high-energy place? Or is it low-key? Do you feel any tightness or restraint in your body? How is your breathing? What can help you feel safer besides running away? Taking in your surroundings and your feelings is a good way to externalize any discomfort that arises.
Step 7: Attempt to Turn Your Attention Outward
When you start to feel uncomfortable during a conversation, chances are you’re thinking too much about yourself. Try shifting your perspective to the other person and how they might be feeling. Ask them questions about themselves and truly listen to their answers instead of worrying about what to say next.
Step 8: Socialize with Comfortable People
Sometimes, we absorb the energy of someone else. So if you’re talking to someone who also feels anxious and uncomfortable, you could be making matters worse for each other. By socializing with people who already feel comfortable, their energy might bounce off you and you may even learn some social skills they use to express their confidence and comfort.
Step 9: If You’re Feeling Anxious, Fake it Til You Make it
Springing into action and pretending to be confident and sociable may actually trick your brain into thinking you are confident and sociable. Because faking it til you make it is actually just practicing until you’ve perfected it. Once you do it enough, the behavior will just start to feel normal.
Step 10: Leave on the Earlier Side
Don’t feel the need to overdo it. Once you’ve had your fill of the social event, give yourself permission to leave on the earlier side so you can refuel your energy if you feel depleted and take some time to self-care. Also feel free to feel proud of yourself for facing the anxiety-inducing situation and sticking around as long as you did.
Find more tips on how to manage anxiety at the Brillia(nce) Resource Center.