Good Housekeeping – 5 Strategies for Coping With Social Anxiety, According to Clinical Psychologists

With the season of socializing and bare bodies upon us, social anxiety can creep up for even the most confident among us, especially our teens and young adults whose rates of social anxiety continue to steadily climb. Here are some key facts to understand about social anxiety, and best strategies to cope.
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“We don’t always know causation in psychology — especially without being able to measure something for a long time — but there are a lot of correlational studiesthat are pointing to social media and digital phone use,” says Alicia H. Clark, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist and author of Hack Your Anxiety: How to Make Anxiety Wok for You, in Life, Love, and All That You Do. “Think about what our devices have done to the fabric of our society. When you go to a restaurant, you’ll see an entire family on their phones. While I’m sure [the rise in social anxiety] is a combination of many factors, I think all of us intuitively understand that it has something to do with technology.”

How to Define Social Anxiety

Dr. Clark explains that social anxiety, which is also referred to as social phobia, is the fear of being judged. “This is what it boils down to and it extrapolates to any social situation,” she continues. “It can be specific to certain social situations, it can be generalized to all social situations, but the anxiety is about judgment, and ultimately not being approved of and not being liked.”

When it comes to measuring one’s social anxiety, Dr. Clark says the difference between any kind of anxiety and a disorder is the degree to which it causes difficulty in your life. “Perhaps you’re not going to work events and it has a consequence or you want to be in a relationship, but you’re not willing to go out — these would be examples of social anxiety getting in the way of a goal,” she explains. “On a continuum, it would be feeling mildly uncomfortable to all the way to panic.”


How to Break the Anxiety Cycle

People who suffer from anxiety tend to be stuck in an ongoing loop of avoidance. “It’s the classic dynamic of anxiety: When we avoid the things we’re afraid of, our symptoms tend to increase, and in turn this drives the anxiety up and makes the thing we’re afraid of scarier,” Dr. Clark says. But here’s the good news — the opposite is also true.

“The more strategies you use to deal with your anxiety, the better off you’re going to be and the more you’re going to protect yourself from developing a social anxiety disorder,” she adds.

Here, Dr. Clark and Dr. Hendriksen offer confidence-boosting techniques on how to slowly overcome this mental health challenge:

Choose your words carefully.

Dr. Clark emphasizes the following phrase: Words have power. “How we label an experience drives a big part of how we experience it,” she states. For example, saying, “I am panicked about going to this party tonight” will put you in a more negative state of mind compared to saying, “I’d prefer if I didn’t have to go to this party.”

“The worst thing we can do is say to ourselves, ‘I can’t handle it,’ while the best thing we can say is, ‘I may not like it, but I can handle it,'” Dr. Clark continues. “Start by nudging your words to the positive and to a point where you still feel it resonates.”

Seek help.

Keep in mind that those who suffer from this chronic mental health condition are at an increased risk for developing major depressive disorder and alcohol use disorders, but professional guidance can help reduce feelings of social anxiety. The treatment approach would likely include medication, as well as cognitive-behavioral therapy.

“Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, but sadly, there are a staggering number of people who do not receive help,” Dr. Clark states. (The ADAA reports this number hovers around 37%.) For this reason, she applauds Kaling for going public about her fear.

“What I love about celebrities disclosing their struggles is that it helps so much with stigma,” she concludes. “It’s important for people to know they are not alone, help is out there, and help works. You do not have to suffer in silence.”

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Alicia H Clark, PsyD