We all experience butterflies, but when do they become a problem?

Social anxiety is where a person feels intensely nervous in the build-up to, during and after a social interaction. It can range from the milder forms of blushing and butterflies, to extreme cases where sufferers will lose sleep worrying about all the negative possibilities weeks in advance of an event. It’s the fear of any situation where they might be the centre of attention, or perhaps even in the peripherals.

Sufferers want to remain as inconspicuous as possible, blending into the background where they can’t be judged

It can be a toxic cycle, where the fear of social encounters leads the sufferer to withdraw from people, magnifying the fears of venturing back out. Nowadays it’s easy for sufferers to perpetuate the problem with online activity: shopping, food, live chatting so you don’t even have to call customer services. Withdrawing from public attention can be comforting for some, but engaging with other people is more beneficial to your overall wellbeing.

When this terror of constant social scrutiny arises, it can negatively affect a person’s life, meaning they miss out on opportunities for fear of embarrassing themselves, or being analysed by others. It can be a hard thing to address, as many people won’t necessarily understand the extent of the anxiety and the level of fear it evokes. For those who can recognise this in themselves and want to tackle the issue, there are some positive steps you can take:

1. Your nerves aren’t as transparent as you think

Your body reacts to your internal emotions and the more you feel yourself getting anxious, blushing or shaking, the more anxious you become. But remember, what might seem like a big thing to you isn’t anywhere near as noticeable to anyone else. Humans are naturally self-centred, so whilst you’re worrying about stumbling over your words, the person you’re talking to is probably worried whether their breath smells.

2. Talk to someone

It may sound simple, but having social anxiety can make you feel alienated. Even though people will experience different levels of anxiety, you are definitely not alone. Just the act of sharing may alleviate some of the pressure you feel, and regardless of whether you speak to someone who knows you, or a professional who is outside your usual social networks, it’ll help you to get to the root of the issue and find the best way to tackle it.

3. Try hypnosis

Many people associate hypnosis with swinging pocket watches and looking deeply into someone’s eyes. But in reality, it’s a therapy that helps tap into your subconscious and suggests positive changes to help overcome the anxiety, whether it’s helping to calm your mind in stressful situations, or boosting self-confidence.

4. Build up your tolerance to social situations

Facing your fears is naturally a horrifying thought, but easing yourself into situations means that you maintain control. The situation isn’t coming as a surprise, and therefore you can tackle it as you feel comfortable. Whether it’s making a phone call, going for a walk or into a shop, the fact that you decide to do it means you can take each step at your own pace, and choose to leave if you need to. If the first few social activities are manageable, build yourself up to something bigger.

friends talking together in a coffee shop

5. Set yourself goals

This could be the list of social situations you’ll expose yourself to, or goals within social interactions. Having a plan of something achievable will help take your mind off the anxiety and nerves, focusing on actions instead, and gives you that positive feeling of ticking something off the list.

6. Focus on the conversation

Really listen to the person you're interacting with, and lose yourself in the conversation. The more you distract yourself by being present in the moment or ensuring you're completing your goals, the less time you have to worry about nervous physical ticks.

7. Look after your body

Nerves can put you off food when your stomach is full of butterflies, but putting the right stuff in can help calm you. Avoiding stimulants like caffeine and sugar helps to regulate your body, as these increase your heart rate and exacerbate feelings of anxiety. Regular exercise will boost endorphins that improve your mood, and help you to sleep better (combating those nights tossing and turning). Exercises such as yoga and pilates look at relaxing the mind as well.

If you recognise symptoms of social anxiety in yourself or someone you know, remember there are plenty of people out there feeling the same way. Try some of the tips above that you are comfortable with, and take back control of your own social life. Don’t let the fear of judgement from others stop you from living to the fullest.

To find to a professional counsellor in your area, please visit the Counselling Directory