Find out the struggles of this silent intruder and the small victories we can take to best help us manage social anxiety in our day to day lives.
There are so many tools, techniques, podcasts, books, exercises and teachers who can help us with our internal battles. I will try to share these techniques and tools, teachers and teachings, exercises and podcasts here, but first, let's look at What Social Anxiety is.
What Is Social Anxiety?
Social anxiety is an excessive fear of being negatively evaluated by other people. People with social anxiety worry that they will embarrass or humiliate themselves, and they worry about being judged for showing the physical signs of anxiety, like blushing, shaking, or sweating.
As a result, people with social anxiety avoid social situations or situations where they might be judged by other people, such as job interviews, parties, group conversations, public speaking, or even being in a crowded room. Generalised and severe social anxiety can lead to almost complete isolation.
It took me by surprise to learn that I suffer from social anxiety. It wasn't new to me that my heart would start racing, my hands would become sweaty, my throat would suddenly close up with my inner critic screaming when it was my turn to speak. And it wasn't new to me that my mind would suddenly go blank or for the whole time be plotting ways to escape as quickly as I could (if you're familiar with these symptoms, you'll know what social anxiety feels like). Then, after all that was over and I'd finally spoken, reaching the top of the highest mountain peak, I found that mountain after mountain was awaiting for me to climb with every new conservation I had.
So, it wasn't new to me but what was new to me was hearing that all of this was anxiety. It now had a name. A title. It was a thing. That shocked me a little, and still does. Am I really sitting with anxiety? How did this happen? When did this happen?
But as much as I asked those questions the mountains would still arise for me to cross. So I knew that asking the questions alone wasn't going to help me uncover the truths behind this.
So, I decided to do something truly remarkable. I spoke about it. And it was like a little candle had lit up in a very dark room. Suddenly things could be seen again, they could be witnessed, tenderly held and loved, nurtured and cared for. I would even sometimes hear the line - 'oh, me too!' be spoken back, often from people I wouldn't have expected it from.
This candle quickly blew out (or more precisely, I blew it out) and the darkness engulfed me again. But once I saw the treasures inside and knew a way back to them, there was no reason for that candle to stay blown out forever. This is why I've decided to write this blog. To firstly keep my own candle alight and then hopefully keep others burning bright too.
Now, I am super lucky to have an incredible partner who holds me the way she does, supports me to look into every dark corner of my being and amazingly asks for me to share it with her, and who is often the candle in my dark room when it becomes all consuming and there feels like no way out.
I also have some incredible friends who share their vulnerability openly too. They cry, they laugh, they share their fears, their concerns, their doubts. They share their joy, their love and their friendship in equal measures.
I am lucky I have these resources and lucky enough to see that I have somehow made these deep connections with some of the best humans on Earth. But the thing about anxiety is that it's not that sexy, nor inviting, nor all that accommodating. It can blindside you, slap you in the face with no warning, build into a rude frenzy or be with you as a constant companion. It's a silent intruder that feeds itself over and over.
So, even having the best resources available I know it's a lonely game. One that never really can be walked by anyone else but me. And if you suffer from anxiety I know you feel the same. It's beautiful and such a relief when someone understands, even walking side by side with me into those deep caves of my mind but in the end, the battle is an individual one.
So, what can we do?
Luckily there is so much around at the moment that we can fall back on, look towards and lean on that helps both support us and encourage us on this journey. Some techniques and writings help us separate ourselves from anxiety, while others look directly at it and tackle it face on. Some invite us to sit with and become friends with it while others invite us to reprogram our minds to create a new story.
My hope here is to give a few options to best help us manage anxiety. I will present some alternative ways to heal and share more of my story and how I try to manage social anxiety in my own life.
1. Speak Up, Ask For Help, Share Your Vulnerability.
For anyone whose ever suffered with even the mildest waves of social anxiety, we know that it can feel pretty lonely in there so speaking up, asking for help and sharing where you are at goes enormous ways to lightening the load that anxiety can carry.
Seek loved ones who won't judge and who will listen or find someone you may know of that's been through a similar experience. Light your candle to see what treasures are in the room with you.
It can a big step to really admit that you're feeling anxious. Or feeling anything at all. But I found that when I finally had admitted to myself that it was in fact anxiety that I've been living with this whole time and it comes out in these situations, it almost became a separate entity. I could say - 'oh, here is anxiety.' And then I could ask 'okay, so what do you really feel like?' And then I could list the things down and really look at it. It became less personal and more inquisitive. Less about 'I', 'Me', 'My Anxiety' and more about anxiety in general. It went from being 'I suffer from anxiety' to 'I am feeling anxious in this moment.' From being something that was permanent and fixed to something impermanent and passing.
I'm speaking in the past tense here as I recall the moments this has helped me. It certainly hasn't passed. There have been many moments where I have forgotten this simple technique, falling into the void, eyes shut, trying to grasp on to anything solid to hold me up.
But in the moments I do remember this technique, I soften and find compassion for myself and find compassion in the other who I have just opened up to. And then I realise that sharing my truth and vulnerability is the best gift to give to myself and to give to the other, as quite often it opens up a space of deep, truthful conservation, one that always leaves me feeling richer.
So, be courageous, share your anxiety with someone you love. Or someone who may understand. Anxiety doesn't want to be seen, it's a silent intruder that occupies far too much space inside of us sometimes. But it's got nowhere to hide once the light is shone onto itself.
2. Exercise - Run, Swim, do some Yoga
A key way to hep us in our battle with anxiety is to get from the mind and into the body. We can do this in so many ways. Exercising is the best way to get into our body, either by running, swimming, taking a walk, doing some yoga or any other form of exercise that you feel good doing.
Exercise stimulates the cells of our bodies and releases blockages by putting the body under stress. Stress in this way activates the nervous system and releases chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin that are known to give us those happy feelings. It also naturally relaxes the body into a more balanced state which can then relax the mind even more.
Dust off your old running shoes and go for a jog. Pull on a warm coat (if you're in the UK) and take a nice long walk, find a yoga teacher online and be guided through a session or get down to some water and take a swim.
Connect with your body so it can connect with your mind.
3. Take A Cold Shower
There's nothing quicker than taking a cold shower to bring us out of the mind and into the body. The first thing we do in cold water is take a full breath in (or gasp, more appropriately) and this provides our body with more oxygen which stimulates our cells and gives us optimum vitality.
Taking a cold shower won't necessarily help with anxiety when it arises but training the mind to come out of the mind and into the body in the moments we are not anxious, trains the mind to deal with stress once it takes hold. We can train our mind, much like our body, into a stronger, more productive organism. Taking a cold shower can help with this training.
Cold showers have so many health benefits that it becomes a quick fix in activating our days. The body goes into stress and responds in the way our bodies our designed to. Stress in this way takes us straight out of our thinking mind and into our body. It takes us back into our primal days, the cells come alive and the body wakes up.
So, for a quick, gasping fix, take a cold shower everyday and give your body a gift. Wake up the dormant parts that are easily fed in times of anxiety and give your mind a brief moment of rest to see a way out of thinking too much.
See Wim Hof - The Ice Man in his podcast with Russell Brand who will explain the benefits of jumping into icy waters in a way where it will almost feel fun.
4. Breath Work
Breath Work is my favourite technique as it combines meditation, positive affirmations and breath. By using our breath to connect to our bodies, it acts as a bridge to bring us into a deeply meditative state.
Becoming aware of our breath and bringing us into the present moment reduces the thinking mind and the internal dialogue down to where we can momentarily forget about what will we say, how we will sound or are they going to judge me, and connects us to a deeper truth that lies beneath all of that. Anxiety doesn't live in the present moment, it belongs to the future.
Breath work has been the most supporting technique I use and I hold it with deep reverence in its healing abilities.
If we can separate the breath into 3 parts after a full breath has been breathed in, we can separate it into the belly, the lungs and the throat. On a full breath, the belly takes around 30% of the air, the lungs hold around 60% and the throat around 10%. Anxiety normally lives in the last 10% with very short, quick breaths coming in and out. This is the most severe cases of panic attacks and high levels of anxiety but even the mildest forms, a less than full breath is being breathed.
Breath work helps us to feel this process and understanding it more deeply. It also shows us the quality of our breath, where we breathe from most (the belly, the lungs or the throat) and then it provides techniques to work on the areas that can best support us.
What's a quick, simple breathing technique I can use everyday?
A simple way to reduce stress and anxiety is to extend your exhale. If you breathe in for 2 seconds, breathe out for 4 seconds. As you relax more and more, you can breathe in for 4 seconds and breath out for 8 seconds. And if you want to extend it further, chant the sacred sound of AUM to add sound for opening up your throat too.
(keep reading the paragraphs below to find out more about chanting and AUMing).
So, what breath work techniques are there?
I trained with SOMA Breath who use specifically designed brainwave music, intention setting and rhythmical breathing that works to reprogram the mind and boost the bodies immune, digestive and respiratory systems. It's truly a remarkable technique that's gaining more and more attention for its healing capacities.
SOMA Breath Offerings:
Join a Free webinar
Join a Free 7 Day Intro Course
Join the 21 Day Awakening Program (use the promo code: somaathome for a 40% discount before March 31st)
Meditation is an intimate connection to our deepest selves. It brings us closer to the parts of us we may not be able to see and feel otherwise and it can create a silent mind to bring us peace. Anxiety can be confusing and questions of - why am I suffering with anxiety? What causes my anxiety? When did this happen? How did this Happen? Can easily arise. Through meditation we allow our mind to rest and sometimes in this restful place, we can begin to see the causes and solutions to our questions.
6. Positive Affirmations
This is a beautiful little tool we can use everyday to program our mind with positivity. Positive Affirmations come in all shapes and sizes so it's best to find ones that feel most authentic and true to you.
I Am Worthy
I Am Loved
I Have Everything I Need To Live The Life I Want
I Am Happy
I Am Peaceful
I Am Abundant
I Am Healthy
By choosing affirmations and speaking them over to ourselves or even writing them down and repeating them everyday, especially in moments of fear and doubt, we can change our mindset from a fearful, negative place into a more loving and positive one.
It's a simple technique that is yours to feed and nourish. We measure our relationships and the depths of what we tolerate by our own inner tolerance to how we treat ourselves. If the voice inside is strongly negative, self critical and doubtful then quite often when someone is negative and critical to us we allow it to be as it's not nearly as bad as our own inner criticism. We can change this by changing how we speak to ourselves which influences the relationships we bring into our lives, ones of positivity and love instead of judgement and fear.
Be the most kind, the most loving and the most compassionate person who is your life. And be that person to yourself.
This is how we can keep our candle burning in those dark moments.
It wouldn't be a list for me without chanting! I love it, sometimes to the point where I have to be told to turn them off. Mantras have been a consistent friend of mine throughout this journey and especially in times where anxiety locks the throat in seemingly relentless ways. Chanting provides me with the ability to open the throat up and let sound out. Mantras aren't to sound good singing them, they are to chant to something outside of ourselves which brings us to the deepest parts inside.
Anything rhythmical or repetitive brings a trance like state and can provide solitude in the midst of noise.
I find myself now chanting Aum (Aaaaah....Ooohhh....Mmmmm) whenever I'm feeling anxious. I take a deep breath in and chant AUM as long as I can on that breath. Extending the exhale and chanting for much longer than any inhale could be relaxes the nervous system down which has been proven to reduce stress and anxiety.
One of my real hurdles is speaking so chanting relaxes the muscles around my throat which is such a welcomed relief and it certainly lightens the feeling of anxiety.
There are some incredible people singing mantras all day long on Youtube such as Krishna Das, Snatnam Kaur & Deva Premal to name only a few of my favourites.
Chant, sing, AUM. Relax your throat, take a full breath in and let go with a sound that feels best for you.
8. Read, Listen, Learn
Read, listen and learn from as many sources as you can find. Use all the people who are teaching and guiding us on ways to heal. Soak up as many positive outlets as you can until they are deeply felt within. Surround yourself in positivity and that will eventually be what is felt inside.
Try to avoid anything that triggers anxiety - social media posts that you know will cause pain, health magazines that promote stick thin bodies, angry films or games that stimulate our bodies and mind into a more aggressive state. And instead, surround yourself with all the nourishment and teachings that support this journey to peace and understanding.
9. Eat Healthy, Use Supplements
What we feed our bodies is what we become. If we feed it sugar and high stimulants then that is what the body will run off. In highly anxious moments, the body is very stimulated anyway so feeding it soothing and grounding foods can provide the best environment for it to be soothed and grounded.
The mind and body have a feedback system that operates in a coherent state or an incoherent state. Just like meditation, yoga, breath work, chanting and positive affirmations nourish our mind into a coherent state, feeding our bodies nutritious foods and supplements creates a coherent state in our body. If one is out of balance, like anxiety in the mind, the body can be in coherence and provide stability and support for when we need it most. If we feel strong in our bodies, our mind hears and feels this and gains strength through this communication.
So, take care of your body so it can take care of your mind.
Let's keep our candles burning, encourage others to keep theirs lit and shine together in this collective change.
You are never alone, either when you think you are. Reach out, speak up, share your vulnerability and invite others to do the same. Surround yourself with positivity. Eat healthily, be kind and smile.
This is a life long communion with yourself. Be the most kind, the most loving and the most compassionate person in your life.
Be that person to your self.