I was officially diagnosed with social anxiety disorder when I was 24 years old. However, I’d been showing signs from a young age.
The most obvious symptoms emerged when I started secondary school. Suddenly, I was expected to behave in a way that was deemed desirable, rather than what felt natural to me. Reading books out loud, working as a group, and being asked questions on the spot were all new and distressing. I’d freeze whenever a teacher drew attention to me, blushing profusely.
I felt exposed and vulnerable. Like everyone close to me, I hoped it was just a phase I’d grow out of.
Ten years, two degrees, and a dream job later, I was still plagued by my demons. Freezing at school was cute, but freezing as an adult in an important meeting was a problem. I foolishly chose to ignore my issues, which eventually lead to a nervous breakdown and a diagnosis from my doctor.
During my recovery, I was prescribed medication and therapy, which both helped. Yet the most important step for me was to finally acknowledge the fact that I had a problem, that I didn’t respond to social environments like everybody else. Once I did this, things became easier.
Here are my top tips for dealing with common situations that can cause you to struggle with social anxiety.
1. Don’t be late!
If you’re rushing around, your heart will already be pounding like a drum! It’s better to be slightly early and settle in to your surroundings.
2. If you are late, don’t rush in
Take a few deep breaths and allow yourself to acclimate a little. What’s an extra few minutes if you’re late? Better to prioritize your peace of mind.
3. Choose what you’re going to wear in advance
There’s nothing worse than trying to throw an outfit together at the last minute. Being well-dressed will also help boost your confidence. Choose something comfortable and that you feel good in. Now is not the time to try any new hairstyles or makeup looks!
4. Know your #!@$
There’s no need to prep like crazy for a meeting. But make sure you’re clued in on the basics. There’s nothing worse than getting called on if you don’t know what’s going on!
5. Make notes in advance of meetings
I usually make a few bullet points of the key things I’d like to say. I can then refer to them if I stall or if I find myself struggling.
6. Take charge with the venue
A guy once asked me to go bowling on a first date. Yeah, no thanks! I was nervous enough as it was without having to worry about being terrible at bowling. If a particular setting puts you on edge, you can always laugh the request off and say something like, “Maybe on the second date!” Then, suggest somewhere you’d feel more comfortable going.
7. Arrive first
I like to get there a good 10 minutes early. This gives me enough time to freshen up, get a drink, and calm down a little. I wouldn’t recommend any longer than 10 minutes, though. Any more than that and you might fall prey to overthinking!
8. Text friends and ask for encouragement
I usually say something like, “Tell me something wonderful about myself, please!” There’s nothing like a positive text from a friend to boost your confidence.
9. Distract yourself on the way
The journey to the party is often the worst part. Use distraction techniques to prevent your mind from going over everything that could go wrong. Phone apps and games are really good for this.
Keep reading: A day in the life of social anxiety »
10. Don’t go in alone
If you’re traveling solo, get a friend to meet you at the door or on the street. That way you don’t have to enter on your own. (Which is often the most daunting part!)
11. Work those power poses
We can learn a lot from Beyoncé. It might seem basic, but standing tall and keeping your head up will give you a boost. You can even place a hand on your hip if you feel like going the extra mile. In contrast, slouching and looking at the floor often makes you feel even more insecure.
12. Practice your small talk in advance
I do this when I feel tired and worry about being lost for words. Questions like did you travel far, what do you do, or have you got any holidays booked this year might seem boring, but they’re great conversation openers.
13. And remember: you can always leave if you need to
You’re not trapped. Try and stay for at least one hour to build on your confidence, but you don’t have to be the last one standing.
While it can be frustrating, social anxiety is something that can be managed with the right approach. With just a few changes to your routine, it’s possible to live a happier life with less anxiety. Accept it, embrace it, and work with it.
Claire Eastham is a blogger and the best-selling author of “We’re All Mad Here.” You can connect with her on her website, or tweet her @ClaireyLove.