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Relaxation techniques, breathing techniques, mindfulness and “divided attention” techniques may help to reduce anxiety when in a challenging situation. Attention-based techniques share the idea that we may only have so much “working capacity” for thought. So focusing on colours, textures, objects, the feel of your feet on the ground may mean there is limited headspace to think about anxiety.
Be “mindful” and “present”
Try to concentrate fully and completely on the task in hand. Try and really listen. Get involved, ask questions to show others you are interested in them. The more you focus on the situation and people – rather than your anxiety – the more your anxiety should diminish.
Accept your anxiety
It might seem counter-intuitive, but sometimes the best thing we can do is accept how we feel and allow it to be. Fighting the anxiety just makes it worse.
Divided Attention techniques
• Savour food and drink. Notice how food and drink smell and the flavours on your tongue.
• Touching something with an interesting texture
• Smell – what smells do you notice? Sniff something with a strong smell
• Listen to your surroundings – take a moment to notice the sounds around you, the sound of a nearby ticking clock, traffic or birdsong.
• Draw a imaginary four sided box in your head – imagine each line joining up the four corners in order
• Focus on different parts of your body. Feel the weight of your clothing on your shoulders, notice your chest moving while you breath, the feel of your back on the chair, the weight and feel of your feet on the floor.
• Sight -look around -try and five 5 things that spark your interest
• 3-2-1 method. Use your senses to list things you notice around you. 3 things you see, 2 things you hear, one thing you smell
When anxious is so easy to get distracted and lost in the thoughts and feelings. Try comforting and calming yourself with affirmations. Find affirmations that work for you, gently repeat them and believe them e.g.
I am a good person and trying to do my best
I have a right to express myself and say “no”, “I don’t know”, “I don’t understand or even “I don’t care”
I have the right to my own values, opinions, beliefs and emotions
I accept myself, problems and all, the more I accept the stronger I become
I will gently wait and listen, when it seems my turn to speak I will gently say what I can
Hear your inner voice internally saying ‘I am calm, I will be ok’. Repeat it slowly and clearly three times.
Improve your posture and eye contact
Again, it might seem counter-intuitive, but sitting or standing more upright send signals to your brain that you are equal and strong and an equal part of the situation (social or otherwise). Yes we sometimes feel like we want to hide but doing the opposite – with good body language and eye contact will send a signal to our brain and remind ourselves of our self-worth. If eye contact feels hard – look at the middle of someones face, they won’t know for sure whether you are looking in their eyes.
Take a Mindful break
Take a short walk or a toilet break. Moving helps dispel adrenaline and cortisol – the fear hormones. Try and be “mindful”, concentrate on your steps, notice their rhythm, how it feels to put your foot on the ground and lift it again. Rejoin the situation with a renewed focus on fully engaging with the people you are with (not the anxiety).
Where you can – and if/where approriate – tell the people you are with
Coping with intense social anxiety thoughts, feelings, symptoms is really hard. It is even harder if you have to hide your feelings and pretend everything is ok when it really is not. Where you can – and where appropriate – tell the people you are with. Even just telling one person may take the pressure off. None of us should have to hide how we feel – if someone with other health issues were suffering disabling thoughts and feelings they would probably let others know. Social anxiety is really common – approximately 1.5. million adults in the UK in any given year – it is no shame to say you feel nervous with people sometimes.
Remember you are not alone
Although it may seem like you’re the only one who gets socially anxious but in reality there are millions of us in the UK alone. That means if you’re in some type of gathering, chances are there will be other people around you who are uncomfortable. Look around, you may not be the only one that is quiet or nervous or withdrawn. Even if you feel alone, not far from you, at work or in your street, is one of the millions of others that feel the same feelings too.
General relaxation techniques
• Picture something soothing: close your eyes, picture the voice or face of someone you love encouraging you. Or you can picture a place that brings you calm. What do you see there? What do you feel or hear?
• Practice kindness to yourself. Tell yourself that you are strong and you can move through difficult times.
• Celebrate your wins: acknowledge and congratulate yourself for your wins, no matter how small. Tell yourself you did well and you are proud of yourself.
Many other calming techniques are available and can really help calm the spiral of thoughts and feelings.
Please also see:
Aboutsocialanxiety.com – How to stop zoning out when people talk