Life is rough for the socially anxious. Research suggests that people who struggle with social anxiety aren’t as successful at school or work as their non-socially-anxious peers, and they also (not surprisingly) tend to have fewer friends. Here are five ways to help you overcome social anxiety.
1. Do Good Deeds for Others
Social psychologists at the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University recently found that when socially anxious people were encouraged to perform little acts of kindness — doing a roommate’s dishes, mowing a neighbor’s lawn — they reported less daily social anxiety one month after starting the little experiment in niceness, when compared to others who did not undertake the doing-good-deeds assignment.
2. Learn How to Lucid Dream
Not many serious scientists are studying dreaming; even fewer are studying lucid dreaming, or the state of being aware you’re dreaming while you’re dreaming. But among those who are, some are putting forth an intriguing new theory — perhaps lucid dreaming could be used as a therapeutic tool to treat anxiety or phobias, a kind of exposure therapy that takes place safely in the subconscious.
3. Experiment With Exposure Therapy
Scientists are experimenting with exposure therapy as part of an overall cognitive-behavioral therapy approach to treating social anxiety. Think of the most embarrassing, most excruciatingly awkward thing you can imagine happening while you’re out in public. Now imagine actually having to do that thing. Exposure therapy for social anxiety encourages people to stop avoiding their fears, and start running headlong into them.
4. Play a Video Game
Playing video games is about allowing the player to become someone (or something) else — a hedgehog, a small mustachioed man in overalls, whatever. Some researchers, though, are banking on the fact that the opposite situation — playing with a video-game character exactly like you — may be a powerful therapeutic tool.
5. Use Talk Therapy
If you give someone a pill for their social-anxiety disorder, they may feel better temporarily; but if you teach them to manage their emotions, they’ll be more functional forever. That’s what talk therapy is all about. Therapists teach their patients to think more about how and what they’re thinking, and analyze their reactions and beliefs to the thoughts that they have. This understanding is key when using talk therapy to overcome anxiety.