One of the most common reasons people begin drinking alcohol is to ease their nerves and give them confidence in social situations. For people who suffer from social anxiety, events that should be fun and celebratory can induce dread and crippling fear. Unfortunately, because alcohol is so normalized and accessible in our culture, drinking is often the first way sufferers of anxiety learn to self-medicate. Choosing to drink to manage social anxiety may seem like a temporary fix, but alcohol use worsens symptoms of anxiety over time and can lead to the devastating consequences of addiction. If you commonly use alcohol to relax in social situations, and you are considering becoming sober, you may be wondering how to cope with your anxiety. Luckily, there are many effective strategies for managing social anxiety that don’t involve an addictive substance.
One of the most empowering strategies for dealing with any form of anxiety, is to learn as much as you can about what anxiety is and how it works. Many people who experience anxiety don’t immediately recognize symptoms when they first arise. Anxiety can be a very physical experience that can manifest as chest pain, shortness of breath, and numbness or tingling in your extremities. Many people experiencing an anxiety attack for the first time will even begin to believe they are having a heart attack or a stroke. In social situations, anxiety can make you feel like you have a hard time finding the right words in a conversation or like your nervousness is visible to everyone around you, which is usually not the case. By understanding what these symptoms mean and gaining the power to recognize anxiety as it presents itself, you can prevent further panic and even learn to stop the symptoms in their tracks.
Understand that You are Not Alone
Having social anxiety can feel like you are the only one in the room worried about embarrassing yourself or feeling like others are judging you. In reality, social anxiety is very common, and it is likely you aren’t the only one experiencing it when you attend social events. It helps to remember that most people are far more concerned with themselves and how they are being perceived than with judging and criticizing the people around them. The more open you become about your social anxiety, the more you will find other people around you who struggle with the same fears and self-doubt.
Practice Mindful Breathing
Anxiety symptoms can escalate quickly in social situations where half the battle is easing the visible symptoms of your attack. A natural response to anxiety is rapid breathing as the body attempts to increase oxygen levels and prepare for fight or flight. One of the most effective ways to counteract the physical symptoms of anxiety is to start taking slow, deep breaths through your nose. This can help eliminate the dizziness and lightheadedness that often accompany anxiety. If you are in a social situation and find yourself feeling faint or panicky, it can be helpful to take a moment alone in your car or the restroom, and practice a calming breath until your symptoms dissipate.
Check in With Reality
Anxiety is a natural human reaction to a perceived threat. For people with anxiety disorder, situations that seem normal and mundane for others can feel incredibly threatening. Social anxiety usually stems from circumstances and events we anticipate might occur, but usually don’t come to fruition. It can be helpful to give yourself a reality check before social events that may trigger anxiety. Try writing down all your worries regarding the event before you go. You may find that writing down anxious thoughts takes away some of their power immediately. After the event, check the list again to see how many of your fears became reality. Chances are, reality will represent little to none of your anticipated threats, and over time you ill prove to yourself that your anxiety is not an accurate predictor of the future.
Face Your Fears
The most important step in overcoming any fear or phobia is to face it head on. Exposing yourself to people and situations that make you nervous will desensitized you to the anxiety you have built around a false perception of reality. By proving to yourself again and again that a threat does not exist, you eliminate your body’s need to respond to your surroundings as if you are being attacked. You can start small, by pushing yourself to engage in activities that make you uncomfortable, and work your way up to social situations that usually cause you a great deal of anxiety.
There are many ways to cope with your anxiety and enjoy life without the use of drugs or alcohol. Substance abuse can worsen anxiety and even induce new symptoms of mental illness, as well as lead to a lifelong battle with addiction. If you believe you or someone you love has developed an addiction to alcohol, now is the time to seek help. At Burning Tree, you will find knowledgeable and compassionate professionals that structure treatment to fit individual needs, including the identification of co-occurring disorders. Through accountability and commitment to the 12 steps, each client will develop the tools to create a sober lifestyle and find lasting recovery. We specialize in the treatment of chronic relapsers, and believe with the right support you can experience true and permanent healing. For more information, call us now at 512-285-5900.