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OCD and Social Anxiety: How to Overcome Your Fears
The first time I ever experienced social anxiety was in my junior year of high school. I was this gregarious, bubbly individual, but underneath I was falling apart – stomachaches before and during school, a fear of someone looking me in the eyes and knowing there “was something wrong with me,” and obsessing about people watching how I walked and looked. These fears eventually led to debilitating panic attacks.
A Peek Into OCD and Social Anxiety
If you’ve never experienced social anxiety before, visualize yourself sitting in the audience at a live theater, and the spotlight falls directly on you. Everyone in the theater is now looking at you, and the walls start closing in on you. And though some individuals don’t mind being in the spotlight, it can be a living nightmare for individuals with social anxiety.
Social anxiety is a fear of being judged or criticized by others, creating feelings of inadequacy, humiliation, embarrassment, and depression. For example, individuals may fear saying something “stupid,” not knowing what to say, or understanding definitions used by others. Therefore, you will find that individuals who suffer from social anxiety feel better when alone. However, isolating yourself can lead to depression and prevent you from living a fulfilling life. To gain some tips on how to overcome OCD, you can find it here: Tips to overcome OCD – (ocdtalk.com)
Here are some tips to help with social anxiety:
Socially isolating from the world will not improve our lives if we don’t face it head-on. And I’m not saying all at once, but the more we isolate, the easier it becomes to withdraw. And though escaping from the world may sound enticing, it can negatively impact our mental and physical health. Therefore, having a therapist is essential, as they can teach you the necessary techniques to work through social anxiety.
2. Support from others.
Do you have a friend or family member who can support you? When we experience social anxiety, we struggle to be around other individuals. However, if you have a loved one you trust to talk with and who can accompany you, their support can make a difference. And though it may still be anxiety-provoking, hopefully, you won’t feel like you’re on center stage. To learn more about support, you can find it here: Find Support Groups for OCD | ocdtalk.com
3. Personal inventory.
Does being in restaurants or going grocery shopping make you nervous? Are you sweating more or feeling dizzy? It would be helpful to take a mental inventory or write down a list of situations that cause you significant anxiety – from greatest to least. If you have a therapist, I suggest discussing it with them and working through it together.
4. Changing negative self-talk.
Have you ever heard the expression you are what you eat? Similarly, you are what you tell yourself. In other words, if you think you will sound dumb, then you begin to believe you are. You have now set yourself up for failure.
Believe it or not, we can rewire our brains by changing how we speak to ourselves. You might not initially believe it to be accurate, but try visualizing or saying something positive about yourself daily, either inside your head or aloud. If you are comfortable, say it in front of a mirror. It takes 10 minutes of visualization a day for six weeks to rewire the brain.
5. Challenging your thoughts.
Do you worry that everything could go wrong when surrounded by others, such as spilling a drink, tripping over a rug, or saying something offensive to another individual?
Realistic thinking is one technique used to challenge your anxious thoughts without judgment. For example, if you have to attend a meeting at work and are afraid of saying something embarrassing, try asking yourself some of these questions.
- Did I say anything foolish at the last meeting?
- Did anyone look at me strangely the last time I said something awkward?
- What’s the worst that could happen if I say something awkward?
Social anxiety has a way of causing individuals to think that everyone is staring at them or waiting for them to mess up, but the probability is they aren’t. In today’s busy world, most people focus on what’s happening around them.
6. Start slowly.
I struggle with social anxiety and have a hard time making phone calls, going grocery shopping or to an appointment, or sometimes just being around others. I couldn’t do any of these tasks initially, but my anxiety decreased through therapy and hard work and taking it one step at a time.
No one says that you have to expose yourself to everything that causes you anxiety all in one day. Therefore, see if you can try taking small steps to start.
Here are some examples:
- Say hello to a passerby at the store
- Try initially picking up groceries just down one row
- Try asking a question at your meeting
- Make one phone call on your list of a dozen
7. Relaxation techniques.
Many physical cues are associated with social anxiety – heart pounding, palms sweating, rapid breathing, dizziness, headache, stomachache, etc. Therefore, here are some relaxation techniques that can help decrease anxiety:
- Deep breathing – is an excellent way to slow your heart rate and prevent or de-escalate anxiety. You can practice at home, sitting in your office or car, before walking into a meeting or store.
- Deep muscle relaxation – helps release the tension in our muscles that we carry when anxious.
- Physical Activity – activities such as dancing, walking, biking, and gardening can decrease anxiety. However, if you haven’t exercised before, I suggest taking it slow to start and talking with your provider first.
A final word on OCD and Social Anxiety
Ultimately, experiencing OCD and social anxiety can be a frightening and traumatic experience. However, it is also curable through treatment, footwork, and practice. It’s amazing what you can achieve.
If you need some support on your recovery journey, you are always welcome to join our OCD community. We have a wealth of information and support available to you. By entering our discussion forum, you can connect with others who understand what you are going through. You can also find helpful tips and advice from people who have been where you are now. You are not alone in this fight. You can overcome your OCD and live a happy and fulfilling life with the proper treatment.
Thank you for reading!
- About the Author
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I am a mental health advocate with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in mental health counseling. Initially, I worked as a therapist but shifted my focus and became a Certified Peer Specialist. Currently, I present at inpatient facilities through NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and other organizations. I am also a mental health blogger and web content writer, where I draw upon my personal history, education, and professional experience. My work has been featured on the NAMI blog and as a regular contributor to The Mighty blog.
You can find me at Bipolar Warriors – YOU ARE NOT ALONE