Anxiety and depression, along with other mental health issues of greater magnitude, have been stigmatized since time immemorial. From a witch’s curse to divine punishment, people have attributed all sorts of reasons to mental health problems. Similarly, from baptisms to exorcisms, they have tried all possible solutions.
Today, we are moving towards a better understanding of what causes issues like social anxiety, generalized anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, and many more. We now know that our empathy and support will go a long way towards making our loved ones feel safer in this terrifying world.
Let’s look at some tips we can use to help our loved ones learn how to overcome social anxiety.
The First Step
But before we dive into that, we must talk about what is, perhaps, the most important step towards helping anyone with anything: validation.
To validate someone is to sit with their pain and allow them every right to feel it. We must make sure that the person in front of us knows that their problems are valid. We may not understand the complete extent of these problems, but we are here to lend a shoulder and do our best.
Extending validation requires us to draw on our empathy. Here are a few examples of what you could say to make your friend feel safe.
- “Whatever you are feeling is okay, and we will get through it together.”
- “Please take your time to be comfortable with your feelings, and then we can figure out what to do.”
- “This is a safe space to talk about what you are feeling. What you are going through is valid.”
Although simple, such reassurances can build the trust required for you to be able to help your friend with their social phobia.
Some Helpful Tips
Helping your loved ones learn how to overcome social anxiety is a long-term process. It requires trust and patience. Following these tips can help build that over time.
1. Pay Attention
When out with someone who experiences social phobia, there are some signs you can keep an eye out for. They might become fidgety, withdrawn, or dissociated. Moreover, if they are already hesitant to go out with you, make sure you pay attention so that they do not become very uncomfortable.
People with a fear of social situations often also find it difficult to express their boundaries. Therefore, you must try to keep a close watch. Careful not to become too overbearing, though.
2. Talk to Them
A simple and easy way to help someone deal with their nerves is via conversation. People become less focused on their surroundings and their associated triggers when their attention is diverted.
This is especially useful if the person in question is a close friend. Talking to them, especially if you are accompanying them to any social situation, can greatly alleviate any stress they might be feeling.
3. Take Breaks
Need to attend an important fundraiser, and your coworker with a social phobia is having a hard time coping? Your best bet at helping is a nice, old-fashioned walk in the fresh air.
Taking a small break from an overwhelming social situation helps lower the intensity of social stimuli for your friend. When they return to the social setting, they can feel much more at ease. By building a pattern of taking short breaks at intervals, you make sure that your friend does not get too overwhelmed to function.
4. Hold Space for Them
Holding space for someone means accommodating their quirks and issues. However, it is not something we easily do with just about anyone.
But if you are to genuinely help your friend battle their social phobia, you need to make room for their nervous episodes and anxious moments. Learning to accept, accommodate, and move on from these issues is crucial to building an environment your friend feels safe in with time.
5. Do Not Push
Establishing and respecting boundaries is an important skill. As discussed before, people with social anxiety also often feel nervous when communicating their needs and limitations. In high-stress situations, you must figure out the right balance between encouraging and accommodating your loved one.
Too much encouragement can turn into pushing and nagging, leading to withdrawal. On the other hand, they might never break out of their comfort zone if all one does is accommodate their fears.
6. Take the Lead
Understandably, socially anxious people find it hard to be in the spotlight, much less perform optimally under it. Most of the time, they would prefer to be far away from it.
Moreover, being under the spotlight does not necessarily mean conquering their fears. Social fears can be more successfully overcome in safe environments by taking little steps rather than under a high-stress spotlight.
Therefore, your friend would most likely appreciate you taking the lead in situations like these. However, it is always good to make sure what they are and are not comfortable with. Tread accordingly.
There is no harm in having a backup plan and then another backup plan in case the first one fails. Before going out, it can be useful to make a game-plan with your friend, especially if you are headed for a social event. It can help you and your friend navigate around their social anxiety.
For example, you could settle for a code word for when the situation becomes too overwhelming for them, and they require an out. Having an escape plan never backfired!
Helping someone learn how to overcome social anxiety can be a very challenging task. Their anxiety is relatively manageable for some people, and only a little support is required for them to feel okay. For others, it is a slippery slope to navigate.
Whatever the case may be, it is always advised to get guidance from a therapist. They can understand the nuances of one’s social anxiety on a different level and guide you accordingly. Until then, we hope these tips help you in lending support to your loved ones.