Socially anxious people may avoid public situations because of the fear of criticism and the possibility of social rejection. They often struggle to control and hide signs of nervousness like blushing and emotional displays of distress. During the pandemic, a lot of anxiety symptoms were alleviated as people were practising social distancing, and often managed to hide their face behind a mask, hence most social tasks became less anxiety-provoking. Now that masks are no longer required, and people are going back to office more regularly, with summer social events going on, it is normal to feel a bit awkward and self-conscious after 3 years' of disrupted social life.
Here are a 3 quick psychology techniques to help you get over your anxious feelings:
1. Name your fear - first of all, it's normal to feel anxious and uneasy in social situations, especially after practising social distancing for over three years. One technique that a lot of clients find helpful is to name their fear: telling people that you are feeling nervous or awkward. For example before delivering a speech in social event, rub your hands and say "Ooof, I am actually feeling a bit nervous standing here right now." Address your feelings helps ease the tension and build rapport, chances are that the crowd is going to applause or cheer you on.
2. Be aware of the Spotlight Effect - we typically tend to overestimate how much other people notice us. In social psychology this is called the Spotlight Effect. When you are feeling anxious, you might have a heightened sense of feeling that everyone is watching you and looking for flaws. Here is a question for you, last time you went out wit your friend, what clothes were they wearing? And what's the colour of their shoes? Not really sure? Now you might realise that 90% of the time, people pay attention to only themselves, not others. People are barely judging you, because they are busy worrying about how they look and how they present themselves!
3. Colour Breathing Technique - this is a popular visualisation technique that sport psychologist teach athletes to manage their pre-match anxiety, and here's how you do it:
Make yourself comfortable whether sitting or lying.
Close your eyes, and bring your attention to your breathing.
Anytime that other thoughts, images, sounds or sensations come to mind, just notice them, and then gently bring your attention back to your breathing, and your colour.
Perhaps imagine that you have a balloon in your belly, and notice how the balloon inflates as you breathe in, and deflates as you breathe out. Notice the sensations in your abdomen as your belly rises as the balloon inflates on the in-breath, and falls as the balloon deflates on the out-breath.
Now visualise your colour, perhaps in the form of light, or mist. If it’s difficult to visualise that colour, just imagine, in your mind’s eye, something that is that colour – for instance green grass, or blue sea or sky, orange sunset, pink dawn. See it in front of you, over you, surrounding you, enveloping you.
As you slowly breathe, become aware of breathing in your colour, into your nose, your throat, your chest and abdomen. Imagine now that colour spreading out within you, into every part of your body, and notice the effects that it has.
Notice the sensations in your body, as this coloured light or mist, flows into and spreads throughout your body and mind.
Notice how the colour is affecting your body, and your mind, as you allow it to gently flow and infuse your body and mind.
Continue to notice the colour and the sensations that it brings.
Anytime that your attention wanders, simply notice that it’s wandered, then gently bring your focus back to your colour.
Whenever you’re ready, start to bring your attention back to the here and now, where you are. Open your eyes and look around, noticing what you see and what you hear.
Take a couple of breaths and notice the pleasing sensations that accompany this relaxing coloured breathing.
Download the full script here
If you continue to experience anxiety in social situations and constantly found yourself getting "stuck in your head", speak to a mental health professional to seek treatment. Common treatments for anxiety includes Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT).