Clammy hands, a racing heart, thoughts spinning out of control, worrying about what others are thinking about you– these could be a few symptoms of social anxiety. Unless you are a natural born casanova, odds are, you probably experienced social anxiety in some way or form. It could be triggered by going to a new school for the first time, attending a meeting with persons of great importance, or a large party with a big crowd. There are many situations where social anxiety can present itself and many different ways a person can experience it.

Social Anxiety Holding Me Back

There is a difference between not being a “people person” and genuinely suffering with social anxiety. The easiest way to make that determination is to reflect on the functionality of one’s life. Indeed, you might feel discomfort in social settings; but, does it hold you back? Do you find yourself going out of your way to to avoid social activities to the point that it’s starting to impact your life? Struggles with social anxiety can sit on a spectrum. For some social anxiety goes as far as becoming reclusive, losing jobs, skipping school, and total lack of relationships with others. This lifestyle can be isolating and lonely. Many may wish things were different and crave connection, but are simply too afraid, nervous, or anxious to get out and satisfy that desire.

Be Your First Friend

Often the source of the anxiety is a lot of negative self-talk and forecasting the social interactions to come. A great place to start is to be your own best friend. Examine those negative thoughts and fears and question them. A common fear is being afraid that others will judge us. To that, ask yourself, “Am I a mind reader?” Am I psychic? Do I genuinely possess the ability to know what other people will or are thinking about me?” Your answer is probably, “NO.” Recognize that all the thoughts running in your head about what other people are going to think about you aren’t real thoughts from other people. Those thoughts are YOUR thoughts.

We can take this a step further. Let’s say your negative, worst case scenario actually does pan out in real life. How would the impact you? How could you recover from it? Will the world stop or continue spinning? How would your life continue on? It may be challenging to argue with yourself and answer some of these questions with a positive mindset, but the reward of connecting and discovering the social interaction that you need is so worth it.

Practice Makes Perfect

“Practice makes perfect” holds true in this situation as well. The more positive social opportunities and experiences you have, the greater your confidence will become, and the better you will become at socializing. Making conversation is a gift some have, but a skill that can be acquired. Practice talking with someone you do feel comfortable with. Make a friendly phone call. Go to the closest Starbucks and try to strike up a random conversation. Stay at that party 15 minutes longer than you wanted to.

Expect that there will be awkward moments, but be kind and forgiving to your trying self. Encourage yourself to be resilient. Get to know who you are and what you have to offer. You may be the friend that some nervous person may need.

Seeking Help for Social Anxiety

Social anxiety, again, can be a spectrum of symptoms and manifest itself in many different ways. If it is a concern and especially if it leads to feelings of depression, affecting one’s ability to function, and induces thoughts to harm oneself, seek professional mental health assistance/ counseling. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is available 24/7 and always just a phone call away for anyone who may have thoughts of suicide. You can reach them at 1-800-273-8255.