What’s Your Relationship with Alcohol Like? What’s that got to do with social anxiety?
I know that mine has not always been ideal. In fact, from a very young age I suffered from social anxiety. I didn’t have a name for it then. I could only describe it as this horrible feeling of awkwardness that I would say or do something stupid and everyone would laugh at me.
It meant that in social situations I would be really quiet and shy. Then I reached drinking age and discovered the amazing ‘brave heart’ effect alcohol had on my ability to talk. This discovery turned my relationship with alcohol into a co-dependency that was both destructive and dishonest. Dishonest because I could pretend to be confident and funny when actually, I was nervous and shy.
One of the ways that I managed to hide my social anxiety for many years was by always being the ‘drinker’ at a party or BBQ. If I couldn’t, I generally just didn’t go. I could come up with all sorts of excuses why I couldn’t make it.
Signs of social anxiety include feeling an intense fear of social situations, worrying about them a lot beforehand (or avoiding them all together), blushing, having a racing heart, sweating and shaking when you’re around other people. It might even lead to a full-blown panic attack. It can have a huge effect on your life and hold you back at work and in your relationships.
Eventually I found myself in a situation where I was juice cleansing, so I wasn’t drinking alcohol and I was invited to an event that triggered all of my social nervousness. I had to make a decision. Face my fears and turn up or continue hiding. So, after years and years of hiding, something snapped inside me and I decided to change.
I still have some of the feelings of fear going into situations where I am around strangers but now I have some tools to manage the fear. Below are the top 5 tools I have used and still use to overcome social anxiety and have a much healthier relationship with alcohol as a result.
Face Your Fears.
This is like one of those things that I have heard thrown at people like it’s easy to do. Recently though I did learn a technique where I could actually face my fears in a controlled “safe” way. Either by yourself or with the support of someone you trust; run your story of fear out. This means start talking or imagining the worst case scenario of embarrassment and shame that you can think of that could happen at the event that is triggering the anxiety. Then imagine it being worse than that, then worse again, then worse again until you run out of terrible things that could happen.
Every time I have done this, I eventually start laughing at how silly my fears actually sound when they are run out to the end.
“I’m going to run out of things to say and then ‘they’ will find out that I’m actually really boring”.
This is the fear I often feel before an event with strangers. Using this tool of asking questions has resulted in me very rarely ever feeling like I am going to run out of things to say. People love to talk about themselves so this keeps the conversation flowing.
Attentive listening rather than trying to work out what you are going to say next leads to the person you are talking to feel more comfortable and relaxed. This in turn has made me feel more comfortable and relaxed.
Push your limits
Exposing yourself to the situations where you are most scared over and over again re-trains your brain into not responding with a stress response. The new pathway leads to a comfortable response to new situations that feels ‘normal’.
Don’t Drink at all
Mix your own highball soda waters with slices of lemon and lime. People will generally assume you are drinking. This is good in the beginning stages of facing your fears without the added pressure of having to explain to people why you are not drinking.
Bernardo J. Carducci, PhD, says that almost half of all adults would call themselves ‘shy’. Of course, social anxiety is not the same as shyness, but if you feel shy or socially anxious in certain situations, you might be more likely to have a drink (or five) to make things feel easier and less awkward.