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Well-Being

Going back to normal – tips for social anxiety

Nervous about returning to normal life? Here are tips for dealing with your anxious feelings. Note, there are links to anxiety resources that you may find useful!

For many of us the return to normality is an exciting prospect, but it also conjures up a mix of emotions. For many of us, lockdown has felt like an unending slog – nothing to do nothing to say.

The opportunity to go back to the pub, to wine and dine with our friends is an exciting prospect. But for many of us, while lockdown has been isolating and depressing, it has also offered us the opportunity to indulge the avoidance side of our anxiety.

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For those with social anxiety there is a constant nagging desire to avoid situations that provoke our anxieties. Whether it be showing up to lectures, public speaking or something entirely different we always want to avoid the things that stress us out. Lockdown posed a unique situation in which we suddenly had all our triggers removed.

For a year now we’ve lived without the worries of our day to day life intruding as it used to. Yet now, with the UK opening back up many of us are facing a sudden and potentially uncomfortable reintroduction to life as it was before.

If you share this preoccupation with the anxiety of returning to life as we know it here are a few tips for if your anxieties makes an appearance.

1. Breathe

I always hate to see this ‘tip’, as it always seems like the most obvious thing. Mental health staff and resources love to say ‘take long deep breaths’ when you feel anxious. This may help. But what’s better is to focus on maintaining a full and relaxed cycle of breathing to reduce chances of anxiety taking hold.

2. Grounding techniques

If you feel your anxiety building up, try and engage in grounding techniques. Grounding refers to techniques you can use to distract yourself from your anxieties and prevent the cycle from reaching a full blown panic attack.

The details on grounding techniques can be found here. You can try apps for grounding or even name things you can see in the room. The point of these exercises are to show you that you can choose to divorce yourself from the wave of anxiety and focus on something else. Repeated use of these techniques can help ‘prove’ this to yourself and thus improve its effectiveness.

3. Tell a friend

If you’re going out with friends, talk to them about how you feel. If something in particular is worrying you about your plans, tell them if you can.

When I was anxious I would feel incredibly nauseous and developed a phobia of being sick in public. Naturally whenever I went somewhere it was the only thing on my mind, making the symptoms even worse.

Speaking to a friend made me relax, knowing they knew what was going on and that they understood if I needed to step outside or leave helped relieve my anxieties.

Which leads me onto the fourth tip.

4. Plan your escape route

It may sound dramatic, but often just knowing how to escape a stressful situation can make it more barrable.

When I felt anxious in lectures, I often got caught up in worries about how to leave without people noticing. This obsession of course led me straight to feeling anxious.

However, if you have a way of getting out of the situation that you have rationalised and know is safe, it can act as a comfort. I tried letting my lecturers know I may need to step out on occasions.

This can act as a comfort blanket, resulting in a reduction in overall anxiety.

5. Don’t go into situations expectant

In my experience, I often felt anxious when I went into a situation with high expectations and a high desire to control things.

In my head things ‘had’ to go to plan, i.e., I shouldn’t feel anxious and if I did that was the worst thing ever.

What’s more, I would go into situations telling myself I ‘had’ to be the most confident or sociable I could be, and if I didn’t live up to this I had failed.

The desire for control set me up to fail each time. Wanting to control everything and live up to my own standards made me hyper aware of how I wasn’t living up to these standards. Making me anxious about being anxious.

It’s better to be realistic. Socializing is not life or death. You can leave if you feel anxious, you do not need to live up to any standards – socializing is meant to be fun.

Paradoxical as it may sound, try to go into situations acceptant that things may not go to plan and they may go even better than if you try to make everything go perfectly to your pre-imagined idea of how it ‘should’ go.

Take it easy

Most importantly, try to enjoy this new freedom. Try not to be tough on yourself.

Rather than focusing on what you ‘should’ or ‘must’ do, try to think in terms of what you would like or prefer.

For more tips, look no further!

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