Imagine being asked out on a date by someone that you really like but you cancel because you have horrible anxiety of what the person might think of you.
Of how you look. Your inner meal girl comes up with the most horrible scenarios of all the things that could go wrong, of how you’ll look so fat and ugly. To spare yourself the misery, you say “no” even though deep down you are intrigued and would like to get to know the other person better. And when you send that SMS to decline, you sit and analyse how the other person might react, whether you should have explained yourself better, and how it might have been perceived by the other person. Your thoughts are racing and the anxiety gets stronger and stronger.
In my coaching practice, I often work with people who struggle with exactly these issues. Especially girls and young women who are in the grip of an eating disorder and have to deal with lots of social anxiety. Being social often includes being surrounded by food/alcohol and how you look/what you wear.
ED aside, many of us are highly critical of ourselves and always feel like others are judging us. And so we become extremely self-conscious, which can quickly leave us feeling overwhelmed in social situations, especially when we are in the spotlight.
The thing is: telling someone with social anxiety to “just relax and enjoy yourself” is like telling someone suffering from a drug addiction to just “just snap out of it”. From their perspective, a party is essentially a minefield.
The tips I am going to give you below are things I work on with my clients going through all types of eating disorders, but they can also be applied to any and each of us.
Concentrating on the breath helps you become centered in the present moment. It activates the nervous system’s relaxation response, slowing the heart rate and increasing oxygen intake and circulation—which, in turn, increase calmness and clarity. Next time you are about to step into a social situation that you are nervous about, try alternative nostril breathing, which is a fantastic breathing practice for on the go.
Here’s how: Using your right hand, close off your right nostril + inhale through the left nostril, then close the left side and exhale through right, inhale back through the right + exhale through left. That makes one round, now repeat this for nine rounds or until you feel ready to confront whatever situation you’re about to enter.
Ditch the coffee
You think there’s no connection between your daily morning mug and getting the jitters when you have to give a presentation in your afternoon team meeting? Think again: coffee has been repeatedly linked to increased anxiety. There’s people who can handle caffeine better than others, so my suggestion is to really tune into your body and see how much, if any at all, works for you.
Get outside and be active
Honestly, this is one of my favourites! How can anyone possible feel anxious and self-conscious after a good workout? Take a yoga class, go for a walk in the park, join a dance class, just get moving! The endorphin release will have you feeling like yourself again in no time and it’ll do wonders for your mind, body and spirit. Plus, seeing physical improvement over time gives you more confidence, which in turn helps you navigate social settings better.
Heal your gut
Did you know that up to 90% of your serotonin is produced in the gut? In case you didn’t know, serotonin is your “feel good hormone”, so if your gut is unwell and subsequently not producing enough serotonin, it can lead to mood swings, anxiety and even depression. Try to incorporate more gut healing foods like miso, tempeh, fermented sauerkraut and bone broth, and see if you notice any difference.
Stop caring about what other people think of you
This one is probably the most important. You can do all the other steps above, but if you’re not working on dropping the constant internal dialogue of “What do people think of me?!”, then you will never feel 100% at ease in social situations. I know it is easier said than done and it’s probably something that comes with the years, but you have to start working on it now. Start by doing the following: whenever you feel anxious in a social setting, become aware of your emotions. Observe them within your mind and ask yourself why you are feeling this way. Recognise your thought pattern and try to overwrite with a healthier habit instead. For example, when you over-think a situation because you are worried of how you might be perceived, force yourself to compliment an aspect of your personality instead.
If social anxiety is sabotaging your goals and stopping you from living the life you want, give these tips a go. Things will get easier over time and you will learn so much about yourself in the process.