Before discussing interventions regarding overcoming stress and anxiety a key aspect is to get to grips with what is exactly happening when a person is feeling uncomfortable, stressed or anxious in certain situations. We must get used to the fact that stress and anxiety is part of our everyday lives, it’s normal and this normality helps us prepare for danger, for example primitively speaking the heart beats faster to pump blood to our muscles to ensure we are up for it if any fight or flight decision is to be made to reduce the possibility of danger. Therefore we need anxiety to survive, and but simply understanding this point already starts tackling the route of the problem.
If you experience high stress and or anxiety levels then you may be aware that it can become a problem or impact on our lives negatively when our body is telling us there is danger when there is no real danger. Having these fight or flight feelings in situations where it is not necessary or not rationale can affect our day to day living quite significantly.
Fear of Evaluation
The heart of social anxiety is the fear of evaluation, and I don’t always mean negative evaluations, but just as importantly positive evaluation too. When seeking to overcome this social anxiety a top tip is to create objective behavioral goals, for example, when I get on this bus I am going to say hello to the driver, take a seat at the back, put my headphones in and listen to music. This goal setting game can give you great feedback regarding how well you’re doing by using this opportunity to judge your personal progress. In which case you immediately stop focusing on the how you feel, am I nervous, am I anxious etc. but rather how well are you performing in regards to completing the tasks or goals you have set. This in turn will boost confidence and snowball towards being successful in that specific situation. What really matters in this situation is that you did say hello to the driver, you did take a seat and you are now listening to your music on a bus that may have caused you great difficulty in the past. This is personal achievement; you did what you wanted to in a situation, and did not concern yourself with other stimulus in that environment that’s out of our control.
Developing an understanding, learning, getting to grips with, whatever you may call it all works in your favor. By understanding high levels of stress and anxiety, what causes it and how can you manage it not only increases your confidence but gives you the tools to overcome it. People with heightened stress or anxiety tend to fear and avoid social situations. It is normal to feel anxious in social situations from time to time, it’s the unknown. However stress and anxiety becomes a problem when it becomes quite distressing and gets in the way of your ability to function and enjoy life. It is important to note that everybody suffers with anxiety and stress at some point; it is how it is dealt with and managed that can cause an issue. By learning life lessons the unknown can certainly become known. And then it doesn’t become so scary. By understanding your triggers of high stress, or what situations creates high anxiety you are halfway there to controlling it. By building a toolbox to equip yourself with strategies to deal with anxiety, you may well still feel anxious in the short term, but now you will have the tools to deal with it. Anxiety is there to be overcome, that’s lesson one, however unhelpful thoughts, avoidance and using safety behaviors stop us from doing so.
You can start to build your toolbox by learning to relax, this enables you to ‘tone down’ the physical symptoms of stress and anxiety, and stop them spiraling out of control. By managing physical symptoms such as heavy breathing, twitching fingers can make it easier to face social situations. A further tool is adapting realistic thoughts as people within heightened states of anxiety or stress can have negative or irrational thoughts about themselves or what could happen in a worst case scenario.
If a person believes that a social situation is threatening or dangerous, then they are more likely to feel anxious. However, it is important to realize that these are indeed simple thoughts and guesses and made up ideas about what could possibly happen, they are by no means facts. Developing realistic though patterns can help overcome social barriers, talking a situation through with a friend or getting to know a certain area or environment in more depth can provide help to challenge negative thinking.