In a school setting, the pressure of social anxiety might affect you in many ways so how does one overcome this?
Making new friends at the start of a new semester might appeal to most, but what if some of us are merely paralysed by the thought of meeting new people for the first time?
When it comes to social anxiety, some of our peers might find themselves shying away from social settings to avoid embarrassment. According to the Social Anxiety Institute, signs of social anxiety include being overly soft-spoken, having an increased heart rate, suffering breathing difficulties, and having intense fear and anxiety in social situations.
Struggling with social anxiety can lead to a poor quality of life and a lack of motivation or ambition. But there are ways to cope, as I’ve realised.
GROUNDING YOURSELF: GETTING IN TOUCH WITH REALITY
When we become anxious in the moment, there are a lot of inner thoughts being processed. As a result, we are more focused on our thoughts rather than what is happening around us.
These thoughts are often shaped by past experiences and involve anticipation of what is going to happen or fear of something bound. As these thoughts begin to cripple you further, one way to tolerate them is by getting in touch with reality and focusing on the present moment.
For example, drinking water and sensing the environment through touch by simply touching any object near you can help to shift focus of the mind back to reality instead of the made-up situations in our heads. When we do this, we are less focused on those crippling thoughts but rather are present in the moment with the external environment and the people we are interacting with.
On top of that, you can try to understand your inner situation by evaluating the severity of your anxiety level at the moment – with the scale of one being the least anxious and ten being extremely anxious. As you are more aware of these levels, you can grasp when you need to excuse yourself from social situations to calm yourself down if it becomes too intolerable.
CONTROLLING THE PHYSIOLOGICAL ASPECT
At times, anxiety causes us to have increased or irregular heart rates and difficulty breathing. It may feel as if you are choking on your own breath. The Social Anxiety Institute also noted other physiological symptoms such as excessive perspiration, blushing, muscle tension and a weak shaky voice.
What you want to do to ease your situation is to have a sense of control over your body. For instance, I find myself choking up and having a shortage of breath during presentations. This makes me sound very shaky and soft when speaking thus not delivering the intended message well.
The best way to counter this is through controlling your breathing and pacing yourself. Deep breaths will help ensure you are breathing in enough oxygen and intentionally help to slow down your heart rate. To cope with perspiration, you could try to wipe your perspiration with a tissue or handkerchief and for muscle tension, you could massage the tensed area or try to calm yourself down by taking some time out to release the tension.
SOCIAL SETTING: A MUST-HAVE
Practice makes room for improvement and development. Ultimately, the cause of social anxiety is also the remedy. Being in a social setting surrounded by people is not a preferable situation for those who experience social anxiety.
However, we do need to realise that it is one of the only ways to overcome social anxiety eventually. You can start by committing small actions such as having lunch with your friends and talking to people. If you have trouble making friends, take the first step to say hello to a person and initiate a conversation.
Once we start to stretch our tolerance for social anxiety, our bodies and minds start to adapt to situations you previously found difficult. When we begin to talk to more people and immerse ourselves in social settings, it eventually gets easier to cope. You may find that talking to people is not as hard as you imagined it to be in your mind.
This sense of familiarity will soothe your mind, reassuring you that you have done it before and believe you can do it again, maybe a little better this time. Avoidance does not help, you have to try to tolerate being around people and social situations. Slowly, but surely.
As every semester begins, overcoming our social anxiety will prove to be an asset enabling us to have a more enriching school experience. If you find that these steps are still very difficult for you, fret not as the doors of the RP counsellors at the Student Care Centre are always open to help you.