“Give them no reason to stare,
No slipping up if you slip away,
So I got nothing to share,
No, I got nothing to say”
– lyrics from Dear Evan Hansen, “Waving Through A Window”
High school student Evan Hansen sings these powerful lyrics in the Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen to share his debilitating fear of interacting with his fellow students.
But these are not simply lyrics from a Tony Award-winning musical. They bring to life the very real world of social anxiety, which affects approximately 15 million American adults according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). Social anxiety is the second most commonly diagnosed anxiety disorder.
What is Social Anxiety?
Also called social phobia, social anxiety disorder is intense anxiety, fear, self-consciousness and embarrassment toward everyday interactions for fear of being judged or scrutinized by others.
Many people feel normal nervousness in social situations – like job interviews, meeting new people, and giving presentations. However, the Mayo Clinic explains that completely avoiding situations out of fear and experiencing strong physical symptoms (rapid heart rate, nausea, trembling, sweating and panic attacks) are signs of social anxiety disorder.
During her junior year of high school, 17-year-old Rebecca experienced this first hand; her social anxiety spiraled out of control.
“I did not know how to be in a classroom anymore,” Rebecca says. “I felt a consistent sadness, and a helpless feeling. I was scared and unmotivated to talk to anyone. I could not stop crying and I would have to leave class.”
Like Rebecca, those with social anxiety disorder often recognize that their fear is excessive and unreasonable; however, they often feel powerless against their anxiety, according to the ADAA. The first step is to seek help from a medical expert or qualified psychotherapist. Additionally, there are ways to help make daily social situations more manageable.
Five Tips for Managing Social Anxiety
1. Start with the basics.
The Mayo Clinic suggests setting up healthy routines – including getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, eating healthfully, limiting caffeine and avoiding alcohol – to ensure you are healthy enough to manage your symptoms.
2. Take baby steps.
Identify situations that cause you the most anxiety. The Mayo Clinic recommends beginning with daily or weekly goals in normal situations: for example, practice eating with a close relative in a restaurant, call a friend to make plans, or purposefully make eye contact. By practicing these activities, gradually, you will better manage anxiety-inducing social situations.
3. Come in with a strategy.
Develop a plan to prepare yourself for upcoming social engagements.
“Having some plan can help instill a feeling of confidence and some much-wanted control over a situation that feels out of control,” Bill Koch, a licensed mental health therapist, told the Huffington Post.
4. Identify and use a mantra to refocus your thoughts.
Finding a simple one- or two-word affirmation and reciting it can give you a sense of control in a stressful social situation, according to Koch.
“Whenever you feel anxious, repeating a calming word or phrase can serve as a friendly reminder that anxiety is only a feeling created by thoughts,” said Koch.
5. Get the support you need.
Feeling supported and practicing coping methods may help ease your anxiety. Things like routinely speaking with friends and family, joining a support group, and participating in hobbies can help ease social anxiety.
As Evan Hansen discovers in Dear Evan Hansen, you don’t always have to feel like you’re on the outside looking in. Managing social anxiety disorder does not happen overnight, but the first step is realizing you are not alone, and finding the courage to reach out your hand, ask for help and take steps to be found.