In my psychotherapy practice, I work with many people who experience social anxiety. Social anxiety disorder is an anxiety disorder in which a person has an excessive and unreasonable fear of social situations. Nervousness and self-consciousness come from feeling closely watched, judged, and criticised by others. Social anxiety disorder affects approximately one in eight Irish people at any one point in time. The following are tips I share with my clients in my private practice to help overcome social anxiety. I work with many teens experiencing social anxiety. With practice, social anxiety can be reduced with the following techniques but aiming for removing anxiety completely is unachievable. Remember that lots of people feel some level of anxiety in particular social situations and once you can accept the anxiety and not struggle against it, it will get easier. 1. Most clients coming for counselling for social anxiety will already have limited their social interactions because of the nervousness and anxiety they feel in social situations. It is understandable that we want to avoid uncomfortable feelings and therefore avoid situations where our anxiety increases. Remember that it is very unlikely that others notice your anxiety despite how obvious it may feel to you. It can be useful to check this out with a close friend or family member. It is best not to avoid social situations completely because of your anxiety- the more you expose yourself to what makes you anxious, the less power you hand over to your anxiety and the more confident you will become. 2. Ground yourself- remember to breathe in and out through your nose to help slow your breathing. Feel your feet on the ground and focus on the sensation of your breath coming in and out. 3. Instead of trying to be interesting to others, focus on being interested in what others say to you. In fact, the more you are aware of and monitoring symptoms of anxiety in your body, the worse it becomes. Become a good listener rather than focusing on your physical anxiety symptoms and planning what to say next. 4. Lifestyle- Caffeine and alcohol tend to make anxiety worse so avoiding stimulants and replacing them with calming teas and supplements such as L-theanine & Lemon Balm can be helpful. 5. Notice your self-talk in social situations- are you being hard on yourself? What messages are you telling yourself about how others may perceive you? Replacing negative self-talk with positive affirmations about yourself can really boost your confidence-e.g. ‘It’s OK to be myself’. Give yourself time to practice the tips above and remember that the more you practice these techniques in social situations, the faster your anxiety will reduce.
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