Why Does My Anxiety Get Worse When I Avoid Social Experiences?
Are you worried about what can make social anxiety worse? Social anxiety can be made worse by certain situations, behaviors, and thoughts. While it is normal to feel nervous or uncomfortable in certain situations, it can be difficult for someone with social anxiety to manage their fear and discomfort.
Some things that can make social anxiety worse include avoidance, perfectionism, safety behaviors, and rumination. These factors can lead to a vicious cycle that can affect how you cope with social anxiety.
Whatever the cause of your social anxiety, it is important to reach out for help if you are not able to manage it on your own. Consider talking to a therapist or reaching out for support from family and friends. You don’t have to go through this alone! Below are some common contributors to social anxiety that you can work on.
Avoidance of Social or Performance Situations
Avoidance is a common coping mechanism if you have social anxiety, but it can make the problem worse in the long run. Avoidance of social situations reinforces fears and makes it more difficult to challenge negative beliefs about yourself, ultimately leading to more intense anxiety when you attempt to go into those settings. If a person with social anxiety does not receive help or treatment, the symptoms can worsen and lead to isolation, depression, and even agoraphobia (fear of leaving home).
Below are common avoidance traps if you have social anxiety:
- Staying away from social gatherings or events
- Not speaking up in class or during meetings
- Relying on others to do tasks that involve interacting with strangers (like asking for directions)
- Turning down invitations to go out with friends or family
- Failing to complete performance situations (public speaking, presentations, job interviews, etc.)
Using Alcohol to Cope
Although alcohol can temporarily lower your inhibitions and make you feel more relaxed in social situations, over time it can actually make the symptoms of social anxiety worse. Since alcohol is a depressant, it can lead to increased levels of depression, making it harder to face social situations and making you more likely to turn to alcohol as a form of self-medication. Additionally, heavy drinking and substance abuse can lead to physical health problems that may cause additional stress and further worsen your social anxiety.
Negative or Unsupportive Environment
The environment you live in has a large impact on your mental health. If you live or work in an environment that does not provide support or encouragement, it can worsen your condition. A negative or unsupportive environment leads to feelings of low self-esteem and inadequacy, which are common triggers for social anxiety symptoms. Below are some common unsupportive environments that can worsen social anxiety:
- Families or colleagues who are unsupportive and dismissive
- Working in a competitive environment that encourages comparison to others
- Living with family members who are critical or judgmental
- Social media usage that reinforces negative beliefs about yourself
Not Eating Healthy Food
What a person eats has an effect on their mental health, and the wrong types of foods can worsen social anxiety. Eating highly processed or sugary foods causes spikes in blood sugar levels, which can lead to mood disturbances and increased anxiety. Eating too little food also has an effect on one’s mental health as it can lead to low energy levels, fatigue, and cognitive difficulties that make it harder to focus and concentrate in uncomfortable situations.
To maintain your mental health, it is important to eat a balanced diet full of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats. Below are some healthy foods that can help reduce anxiety:
- Omega-3-rich foods (salmon, walnuts, chia seeds)
- Leafy greens (spinach, kale, Swiss chard)
- Fermented foods (yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut)
- Dark chocolate
Not Getting Enough Exercise
Regular exercise is an important part of maintaining physical and mental health, and it can make a huge difference in reducing symptoms of social anxiety. Exercise releases endorphins, which are natural mood boosters that help to reduce stress and improve your overall well-being. Additionally, exercise helps to increase self-confidence by improving strength, flexibility, balance, coordination, and overall appearance. All of these things can make it easier to face difficult social situations with less fear.
Below are some exercises for reducing social anxiety:
- Walking or jogging
Ignoring Professional Help
One of the best ways to manage social anxiety is to seek professional help from a therapist or counselor who specializes in treating this condition. Working with a professional can be beneficial for those looking to challenge their negative thoughts and beliefs, improve self-esteem, and gain effective coping strategies. Without seeking help, it can be difficult to manage symptoms in the long term, so getting professional assistance is essential for reducing social anxiety.
Spending Too Much Time on Social Media
Social media can be a great resource for staying in touch with friends and family, but too much time spent scrolling through feeds can have negative effects on mental health. Studies have shown that the more time people spend on social media, the more likely they are to experience feelings of isolation, loneliness, envy, and depression. All of these factors make it harder to face difficult social situations and exacerbate symptoms of social anxiety. To maintain emotional well-being and reduce levels of social anxiety, it is important to limit screen time and focus on activities that bring joy and connection in real life.
Too Much Caffeine
Caffeine is a stimulant that can give people an energy boost, but too much caffeine can lead to feelings of restlessness and increase your heart rate. This can make physical symptoms of anxiety more pronounced, making it harder to manage difficult social situations. To reduce social anxiety symptoms, it is important to limit caffeine intake and find other ways to stay alert during the day such as getting enough sleep or taking short naps. Below are some drinks that are lower in caffeine:
- Decaffeinated coffee
- Green tea
- Herbal teas (peppermint, chamomile, ginger)
- Sparkling water with a splash of juice
Stressful Life Situations
Stressful life events can create a feeling of uncertainty, fear, and dread that can worsen anxiety symptoms. These events could be anything from work or family problems to significant changes in one’s life or unexpected tragedies. When faced with these situations, it is important to take time for self-care and find healthy ways to manage stress. Taking care of yourself during difficult times helps to reduce the chances of social anxiety becoming overwhelming. Below are some ideas for self-care:
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- Deep breathing exercises
- Meditation and mindfulness practice
- Talking to friends or family members
- Going out in nature
- Creating art or music
Ruminating About Social Situations After the Fact
Rumination is the act of dwelling on negative thoughts or situations for an extended period of time. It can be difficult to break free from this kind of mental spiral, and it can make symptoms of social anxiety worse. To reduce rumination and its effects on social anxiety, it is important to practice acceptance and self-compassion while reminding yourself that mistakes are part of being human. Additionally, engaging in activities that bring joy and pleasure can help distract from the unhelpful thoughts and feelings associated with ruminating. Below are some ideas:
- Reading a book
- Going for a walk
- Watching a movie or TV show
- Playing an instrument or singing
- Doing a crossword puzzle
Negative Thinking Patterns
Negative thinking patterns can be a major factor in social anxiety. Those who struggle with this condition often view themselves and the world around them in a pessimistic light, viewing any kind of criticism as an attack or setback. To reduce the effects of these negative thoughts on social anxiety, it is important to challenge them by looking at situations objectively and realistically. Additionally, learning techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness can help those struggling with social anxiety learn to manage their thoughts more effectively.
Using Safety Behaviors to Hide Your Social Anxiety
Safety behaviors are small, seemingly innocuous actions that people with social anxiety use to mask their symptoms in public. Examples include avoiding eye contact, avoiding social situations altogether, or using drugs or alcohol to numb the anxiety. While these behaviors can bring short-term relief, they usually cause more harm in the long run by reinforcing feelings of self-doubt and shame. Below are some examples of safety behaviors that may make social anxiety worse:
- Not speaking up in groups
- Hiding your face
- Trying to avoid being the center of attention
- Not asking questions or joining conversations
- Avoiding eye contact
- Relying on drugs or alcohol
Trying to Be Perfect All the Time
The pursuit of perfectionism is often driven by a fear of making mistakes or being judged by others. Unfortunately, this kind of thinking can make social anxiety worse by increasing self-criticism and making it harder to take risks. To reduce the effects of perfectionism on social anxiety, it is important to learn to accept imperfections and embrace them as part of being human. Additionally, setting realistic expectations and learning to let go of things that are out of your control can be helpful.
Focusing on the Future Instead of the Present
Those with social anxiety often focus more on what could happen in the future than what is happening in the present. This can lead to anticipatory anxiety and an inability to enjoy experiences due to worrying about potential negative outcomes. To combat this tendency, it is important to stay grounded in the present moment and focus on the here and now.
Additionally, it can help those struggling with social anxiety to learn to accept uncertainty without needing immediate answers or solutions. Taking time for self-care activities will also help keep thoughts focused on the present rather than dwelling on future worries.
People Pleasing as a Coping Mechanism
People pleasing is a common coping mechanism for people with social anxiety. It involves doing favors for others, often to the detriment of one’s own well-being, in an effort to gain validation. This behavior can actually make social anxiety worse by reinforcing feelings of dependence and lack of control.
To reduce this type of behavior, it is important to practice setting healthy boundaries and learn how to say no without feeling guilty or anxious. Additionally, engaging in activities that bring joy and connection can help provide more meaningful forms of validation than what comes from people pleasing.
Comparing Yourself to Others
Comparison can be a major factor in social anxiety, as those struggling with this condition are often overly critical of themselves and tend to compare themselves to others in a negative light. To reduce the effects of comparison on social anxiety, it is important to practice gratitude and self-acceptance while reminding yourself that everyone is unique and has their own strengths and weaknesses. Additionally, focusing on building meaningful relationships rather than trying to compete or “keep up” with others can help reduce feelings of inadequacy.
Trying to Control Social Situations
People with social anxiety often feel a need to control the outcome of social interactions. This can manifest as attempts to “fix” or manage conversations in an effort to avoid criticism and gain acceptance. To reduce these behaviors, it is important to focus on being present and open-minded rather than trying to direct the conversation. Additionally, learning how to be assertive and communicate effectively can help those struggling with social anxiety express their needs in a healthy way and gain more confidence in social settings.
By understanding what can make social anxiety worse, you can learn how to better manage your symptoms and work towards overcoming this problem. By challenging unhelpful thoughts, setting boundaries, engaging in meaningful activities, practicing self-compassion, and communicating effectively, you can take steps toward reducing the effects of social anxiety on your life.
Finally, don’t forget to reach out for help if needed. Talking with a therapist or joining a support group can provide valuable resources and guidance in navigating these challenges. With the right tools, you can learn how to better manage social anxiety and lead a more fulfilling life.
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Here are some of my favorite social anxiety tools
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