Labor Day is coming up and it is all about parties, bbq, concerts in the park, beach days, etc. Families and friends will be inviting you to schmooze, laugh, and gossip. If this is your first holiday being single you might be worried about re-entering the world of dinner parties and luaus. Quite frequently people are struck with unexpected social anxiety, and overcoming social anxiety can be extremely difficult. Their mind creates irrational fears and they begin to wonder:
Was I invited out of pity
What do I say if people ask me about my divorce
Do I talk about the divorce
How should I respond if friends ask me about dating or offer to set me up on dates
Do I pose in those awkward group pictures with everyone’s spouse standing next to them
What if my ex is there
Rest assured that you are not the only one agonizing over this issue. It is quite normal to worry about what to expect as a newly single person.
Here are some tips on overcoming social anxiety.
Identify distorted thoughts and respond via inner dialogue with a balanced thought. Cognitive behavioral journals are great for catching maladaptive thoughts and correcting them (try online app called TrueMe (™)).
If you catch yourself being anxious relabel it as pure joy and excitement. The nervousness you are feeling could be adrenaline based.
Remain calm by shifting your breathing to your diaphragm.
Refocus on the baby steps it takes to get to your event. For example just focus on your attire, then on the car, then on the destination.
Here is some background on social anxiety disorder aka social phobia. Some people confuse social anxiety with shyness, however they are extremely different. Shyness usually presents itself as feeling awkward or worried but not enough to disrupt one’s life; whereas social anxiety causes extreme fear of meeting new people and being judged by them in social settings. Most people experience a sense of powerlessness to overcome these irrational fears.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) approximately 15 million American adults have social anxiety disorder. Earlier I outlined coping tools when anxiety arises but here are ways to diagnose yourself:
Do you know that your fear is excessive and unreasonable
Is there a fear that people will notice that you are anxious because of your pervasive sweating, blushing, talking, etc.
Do you worry that you will be humiliated by your actions
Do you go to great lengths to avoid participating?
Have you experienced a panic attack, which looks like Chest pain,”Jelly” legs,Trembling or shaking, Pounding heart, Sweating
Although the questions listed above are not comprehensive it gives you a rough idea of what to look for. If you believe that you are suffering from social anxiety contact and psychotherapist who can help you overcome your fears. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has been proven to be effective however other modalities can be used to uncover the root cause of anxiety and reinforce new coping tools. Successful therapeutic interventions will not only help in overcoming social anxiety but also help you gain confidence and the ability to navigate social situations more effortlessly.
Comprehensive cognitive – behavioral therapy begins by disrupting irrational thoughts and believes and replacing them with rational thoughts and believes. This is primarily done by helping client notice automatic negative thoughts and purposefully restating them as neutral statements. Switching negative to positive is too drastic and can result in frustration. Going from negative to neutral is more manageable. Consistency is key – transforming negative to neutral must be practiced to become organic. Because thoughts create feelings and feelings set the perspective of how we perceive the world and us in it, it is important to first change thoughts and then address feelings.
Overcoming social anxiety isn’t easy. Once positive thoughts become the norm it is important to identify feelings of guilt, shame, anger etc. that can contribute to social anxiety. Keeping a journal to identify triggering events and what feelings come up as a result is extremely useful. Catching yourself feeling confident and at peace is another good opportunity to instill positive beliefs. Eventually one just has to go out into the world and put into practice this new way of being.