Make relaxing a habit It’s a vicious cycle for those who experience physiological responses to their anxiety. A friend described how her social anxiety, which only surfaced when she was in her twenties, caused profuse sweating whenever she had to attend lectures. The more she perspired, the more anxious she became, and then the more she perspired. It was all she could think about: there was no way to hide the evidence of her anxiety – would people notice?
Other common responses to social phobia are palpitations, trembling, tense muscles and headaches. If you experience these symptoms of anxiety it is difficult to address them directly, but relaxation techniques could really help to ease your distress. Practising relaxation daily allows the state to become familiar, and one you can get into more easily when you need it, says Johannesburg-based clinical psychologist Dr Colinda Linde. Even simple diaphragmatic breathing or meditation on the breath for a few minutes every day can become a powerful and effective habit.
Thinking that people do not like you or aren’t interested in what you have to say is a classic outcome of social anxiety.
TOP TIP: When you are about to go into an anxiety-provoking or stressful situation, take five to 10 breaths: breathe in fairly slowly and then exhale through your mouth, very slowly. This lowers the blood pressure and triggers a relaxation response, says Linde.
Try changing your thought patterns If you suffer from social anxiety, you are prone to automatic negative thoughts, says Dr Thomas A. Richards, director of the Social Anxiety Institute. You need to learn to catch these thoughts and make them rationally neutral, Richards says. And Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which restructures the mind by disputing irrational thoughts and beliefs and substituting rational ones in their place is the usual strategy. It can be a battle to try to do this, but it is worth focusing on.
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