Social anxiety

Five ways students can learn to deal with social anxiety 

All of us face social anxiety at some point in our lives. While most of us experience it only when we are under scrutiny, others have a social anxiety disorder, which can be defined as a persistent fear of behaving in a way that we think would be embarrassing or humiliating. 

This form of excessive stress is provoked by fear of certain situations and negatively affects personal, professional and social life. This is a disorder that is commonly seen in teenagers, affecting three to five percent.

Here are five ways to tackle it: 

Control breathing

Anxiety can cause several internal problems that can make one feel very uncomfortable. For instance, your breathing will quicken and become shallow, leading to dizziness and feeling suffocated and making you feel even more anxious. When your breathing is affected, try these steps in the following order:

  1. Sit in a comfortable position with your back straight
  2. Make sure your shoulders are relaxed 
  3. Put your one hand on your stomach and the other onto your chest
  4. Breathe in through your nose for approximately four seconds or so. The hand on your belly will gradually rise but there will not be much movement on your chest
  5. Hold your breath for 2 seconds and let it out slowly through your mouth.
  6. Repeat this process until you feel better.

Muscle relaxation

According to research, physical activities like walking, jogging and cycling can help in lowering anxiety. Another effective method is progressive muscle relaxation. This involves flexing and releasing sets of muscles in the body, paying more attention to the feeling of releasing muscles rather than tensing them. Another form of progressive muscle relaxation is yoga, which helps people calm down through a combination of breathing and movement. Studies have shown that just one session of yoga yields results in lowering anxiety. More practice of yoga compounds the benefits. 

Challenge thoughts

One of the main factors involved in social anxiety is thinking of situations in a negative way, leading a person to become stressed or anxious. Many times these negative thoughts and conclusions are wrong, based on misreading facial expressions and assuming people are talking or thinking about you when they are not. One way to fight this involuntary habit is to simply write down your thoughts. Whenever you feel anxious, think of the specific situation or thought that is triggering your emotion and write it down. Once you have written and read it, write down something that positively challenges this thought.

For instance:

Negative thought: Going to this party is making me feel very anxious. I don’t think I will be able to deal with it.

Positive thought: This is not the first time I have felt anxious about going to a party. I will do my best to focus on the positive aspects of this social experience.

Focus elsewhere

Whenever you feel you’re about to become anxious, try shifting your thought process and focus on something that is taking place around you, such as paying attention to someone else’s conversation.  People appreciate it when you appear attentive and interested – it makes you seem more genuine. So focus on being a good listener and let your negative thoughts take a back seat. And remind yourself that people can’t tell you’re feeling anxious simply by looking at you. 

Start small

Although the above tips are useful to control your emotions and thoughts, it is important to involve yourself in social situations slowly rather than jumping into large social events or gatherings. Meet up with close friends at a restaurant to slowly get used to eating out in public. At school or university, try making eye contact with people, perhaps just saying a small hello. If someone approaches you and starts a conversation, you could ask them questions about themselves and find a topic of common interest to keep the conversation going. Slowly attend larger activities as you feel more comfortable and outgoing.

Dr Sanjay Batheja is director and co-founder of Capital University College is for every body and mind in the UAE. This magazine is all about moderation, making small changes, little additions and the odd subtraction.



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