By Liz Lampkin, Crosswalk.com
Socializing. Spending time with people. Family, friends, colleagues, neighbors. Socializing involves interaction with people in a variety of ways and settings. Socializing can also take on the form of people conforming to behaviors that members of a society accept or small groups where a person may seek acceptance. Whatever way you look at it, socializing directly involves people engaging with each other. Starting conversations, initiating an outing, making a phone call, or arranging social gatherings comes naturally for some. This can be attributed to people having mature social skills they've developed over time by setting goals, learning identified social skills, and applying what they've learned in different settings. While this process sounds easy, many people find socializing difficult. Several characteristics define social phobia or social anxiety. It looks, sounds, and feels different for people. Starting conversations, dating, making eye contact, or even entering a crowded room can cause people with social anxiety to react in different ways. They may blush, sweat, and have a rapid heartbeat. In more severe cases, they may experience stomach trouble, muscle aches, or an inability to catch their breath. Social anxiety can be linked to several things. It can start at an early age because of bullying, abuse, teasing, neglect, etc. Nothing, in particular, causes social anxiety, but there are ways to cope with it. Take a look at the list below.
1. Get a Clear Understanding
Understand what social anxiety is and how it affects you. People often experience things but don't understand why or how they affect them. Take some time to figure out how social anxiety affects your ability to interact with people in different settings.
2. Get to the Root of What Caused or Causes Your Social Anxiety
Take some time to discover what may have happened in the past or present that allowed this anxiety to develop. If you are unsure of how to do this, seek out professional help, be open to what you learn, and take conscious steps to move forward with overcoming this form of social anxiety.
3. Affirm Yourself
Affirm yourself before, during, and after social interaction. Reassure yourself before entering a social gathering and walk in with confidence. Or better yet, before you walk out of the door, tell yourself that you are enough, you belong in the space you're entering, and you deserve to have a good time while you're there. During this time of socializing, open yourself to people and conversations you're comfortable engaging in. Even if you don't say a word, actively listen and laugh while others speak. When you leave the space, take a moment to reflect on what you liked or didn't. You may also want to check in with yourself to see how the activity made you feel. No matter what you do, always know that you are worthy of being in every space you decide to go.
4. Do Your Research
Before entering a social setting, make sure you know where you're going, who will be there, and what activities there are to engage in. It's always good to know what's going on in advance to ensure you will be comfortable.
Self-reflect on the types of activities that bring you joy. Recall and make a list of activities you found to be calming to your spirit. Once you've created this list, begin engaging in those ventures and write down how they made you feel. After this, take things a step further. Make a list of things you would like to do and begin slowly engaging in them.
6. Don't Overwhelm Yourself
If you're looking to work through this disorder, make sure you don't inundate yourself with too much too soon. You can start by engaging in small activities once a month or once a quarter. You can do things alone or in a small group. No matter what you decide to do, be sure it brings joy to your heart, peace to your mind, comfort to your soul, and puts a smile on your face. Pace yourself in all things, and don't allow others to pressure you into more than you are ready for.
7. Pray about This Anxiety
As we all know, prayer is communication with God. When you feel anxious before, during, or after engaging in social settings, take some time for prayer and ask God how these feelings of anxiety came about. Fervently pour out your heart to Him. Ask God to reveal the source of your anxiety and wait patiently for an answer. When God reveals the answer, accept it, and ask for guidance on how to move forward. As God gives you directions, follow them and be patient with the healing process.
8. Engage in Exposure Therapy
Exposure therapy is a cognitive or psychological form of therapy that reduces anxiety. It's also used to help people overcome their fears. There are variations of exposure therapy for people who experience social anxiety disorder to incorporate into their daily lives to help them manage their feelings in social settings. In vivo exposure, Virtual Reality, or systematic desensitization are three types of exposure therapy used for social anxiety disorder used in therapy sessions. If you're unsure of what type to use, ask a mental healthcare professional for guidance on which form of this therapy will work for the type of social anxiety you experience.
9. Give Yourself Grace
Be patient with yourself. Socializing is not as easy as people make it seem, no matter the setting. It takes confidence, preparation, patience, and discernment. Different situations may require different personalities and communication; however, this won't be an easy task if you struggle with socializing. As you walk through this journey, give yourself grace and discover all of who you are for yourself before you give yourself to others. After all, the anxiety disorder didn't happen overnight, so you should not expect it to go away so quickly.
10. Socialize with Trusted Friends and Family
Socializing is all about healthy interaction with people. Right? Take some time to identify people in your life who bring joy and add value to you. Start by planning short outings with them. Plan things you like to do and be open to their suggestions as well. To take things a step further, pray about having an accountability partner to help you on this journey. It's always good to have someone you can check in with when you're feeling anxious or to celebrate a social milestone. Whatever you decide to do, be sure the people you surround yourself with understand what you're going through, and they're willing to support you wholeheartedly.
Socializing is a necessary part of a healthy existence. It can be fun and overwhelming for anyone. If you pace yourself, know and understand your needs, and take things one day at a time, socializing will start to come naturally to you. However, if you find yourself drowning in anxiety and your reactions become too much for you to handle alone, always know that God is right there to help you with your struggles and guide you to the places and people that will help you along the way.
Author Liz Lampkin is an experienced writer, teacher, and speaker. She is an advocate for singles who encourages them to live their best life God’s way. Follow her on Instagram @Liz_Lampkin.