social anxiety

What is social anxiety disorder: 4 expert-backed tips to cope with it

Numerous studies have demonstrated the growing prevalence of social anxiety disorder among young adults in India and across the world, but thankfully, there are ways that can help you deal with it.
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We have all experienced social situations that made us feel edgy. It may have been your first date or delivering a speech in front of a packed crowd in school. It’s normal to feel nervous in such situations. But if you experience anxiety, stress and fear during most of your social interactions, chances are you are suffering from social anxiety disorder. Sometimes referred to as social phobia, social anxiety disorder can cause extreme fear in social settings. People with this disorder can have issues communicating with others, meeting new people or engaging in social gatherings. They may also develop a fear of being judged and scrutinised by others that can cause embarrassment and self-consciousness.

“People with a diagnosis of social anxiety disorder feel intense worry and discomfort, enough to avoid social situations, cancel plans, eventually leading to missing out on a lot of opportunities to connect and feel like they belong and are safe,” says Vani Subramaniam, Counselling Psychologist, Azim Premji University. “These can intensify feelings of self-doubt, worthlessness and loneliness.”

A study, Social anxiety in young people: A prevalence study in seven countries—that explored the effect of social anxiety in Brazil, China, Indonesia, Russia, Thailand, US, and Vietnam—discovered that more than 1 in 3 (36 percent) respondents met the threshold criteria for having social anxiety disorder. It also suggested that, “levels of social anxiety may be rising among young people, and that those aged 18–24 may be most at risk.”

Another study, Social anxiety: prevalence and gender correlates among young adult urban college students, published in The International Journal of Indian Psychology that screened 472 college students, comprising 250 males and 222 females, found that 28.60 percent of students experience social anxiety—27.2 percent of males students and 30.18 percent of female students. Such studies have demonstrated the growing prevalence of social anxiety disorder, especially among young adults in India and across the world, which is an alarming issue.

Let’s take a look at different ways to curb social anxiety disorder.

Practice mindfulness meditation

Mindfulness meditation is an effective tool to sharpen your focus and train your mind to remain in the present. With the aid of mindfulness meditation, you can minimise getting side-tracked due to distractions and boost your ability to concentrate for longer periods by maintaining a steady focus. Research has also shown that practising mindfulness meditation can significantly reduce anxiety symptoms. It allows people to get attuned to their feelings and get a better grip on their emotions.

Pratice self-compassion

Self-compassion is an effective antidote against social anxiety, which can lead to self-criticism due to the fear of being judged by others. Research has found that people suffering from social anxiety disorder exhibit lower self-compassion. By practising self-compassion that aims to foster a self-accepting and caring attitude, one can reduce symptoms of social anxiety. Self-compassion goes beyond listing down positives, maintaining a gratitude journal, or repeating statements of affirmation. When it becomes a part of your daily routine, self-compassion replaces negative thoughts with positive ones.

Face fears but cautiously

The idea that people suffering from social anxiety disorder should face their fears seems to be in vogue on the internet. But how realistic is this solution? “Some forms of mental health support offer techniques of exposure to the fear, which could look like walking toward the fears, or confronting them,” says Subramaniam. “If done in gradients, in collaboration with the person we are working with, there is a possibility of listing the range of fears, steps they may take toward each of them, exit strategies and emergency support in a crisis.” Subramaniam says that this strategy can be useful if “safety and comfort are always prioritised.” However, she doesn’t recommend ideas such as dropping a child in the deep end of a pool and assuming that they will swim to survive. A balanced approach is a must when it comes to handling this situation.

Practice breathing techniques

Breathing exercises can be an effective tool to deal with social anxiety disorder. While experiencing a stressful situation, breathwork is “crucial to restoring a state of homeostasis,” says Subramaniam. According to Scientific American, homeostasis—which comes from the Greek words for ‘same’ and ‘steady’—“refers to any process that living things use to actively maintain fairly stable conditions necessary for survival.”

However, Subramaniam says that while breathing and slowing down is useful in a situation of heightened worry, “it is most effective when one is tuned into breathing as an everyday practice.” When you work on your breathing on a regular basis, you will find a rhythm. Notice if you are breathing from your diaphragm, mouth or nose? Also, focus on whether your breathing is even. This can help you tremendously while trying to cope with social anxiety disorder.

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