There are certain behaviors that make my social anxiety go through the roof. This includes alcohol, sugar, not working out… and not telling the truth.
For the longest time, I didn’t think I could do anything about that anxiety. I thought it was just “the way I am”: nervous, sweaty, shaky, constantly nauseous… And, as a result, avoidant of people at all cost.
But I’ve realized recently that some behaviors either increase my social anxiety, or conversely, make it less prominent.
It took me many years of effort, self-exploration, trial and error, testing-removing-adding things to my life and/or my diet, to figure that out and finally understand what’s working for me in the context of my social anxiety. And what’s not.
The more I do the things on that list, the more my anxiety worsens, the more I dread social contact or encounters, and the more I find myself trapped in a never-ending loop of negative self-talk and over-analysis.
Now, people (myself included) are afraid of change. Or they are scared of trying and failing, especially publicly.
And the (not so) funny thing is that even if I were to tell you that you can do things to reduce the symptoms of your social anxiety, you would probably not do anything about it, merely dismissing these ideas as too hard, or “not for you”.
Yes, even misery can be comfortable.
It is important to realize that the first step to healing your depression or anxiety is to believe that you can improve and learn to manage your fear. You will then have to look for help, and then keep trying over and over again.
Healing, especially mentally and emotionally, is not easy, but it’s doable.
Disclaimer: I only share my personal experience here regarding my own mental (and physical) health journey. The information contained on this blog is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Please consult your doctor or other medical experts regarding your health. Thank you!
Okay, so with this out of the way, I thought I’d share a few of the things I must do at all times if I want to keep my social anxiety in check.
Coffee or tea
If I want to keep my social anxiety in check, I must avoid drinking coffee and tea like the plague.
Yes, even tea.
These beverages greatly increase the physical symptoms of my social anxiety: excessive sweating (especially my hands and my under-arms), fast heartbeat (that I constantly hear in my ears), upset stomach, dizziness, excessive trembling, etc. (Source: Mayo Clinic).
It even makes me stink more! Way more. (I’m talking about body odor, in case you hadn’t understood that).
The same goes for black tea, and even green tea (although their effect is more subtle than that of coffee).
So, the more my body displays the symptoms of anxiety, the more my brain starts to think that something is wrong; and the more it looks for ways to avoid whatever (social) situation that’s causing me such anxiety. And that’s how we enter into an endless loop of anxiety.
Now, the most annoying and common thing I hear among people who have the exact same symptoms as me and who drink gallons of coffee every day, is that coffee “has no impact” on them.
You drink 3 cups of coffee per day, on an empty stomach, have trouble sleeping and your hands are shaking… but you think coffee does not affect you?
Don’t just skip your coffee one day and say: “oh, it makes no difference”.
For you to notice if it has an impact on your anxiety, you must quit coffee and/or tea for at least a few weeks (I’d say at least 3 months, but hey, that’s just me).
And then, learn.
You may think that alcohol loosens you up, but I find it also increases my social anxiety, especially the next morning or the day.
After writing this sentence, I did a quick search on The Googles to see if there was any science-backed evidence to this. Turns out, there is:
“Although alcohol can temporarily reduce symptoms of social anxiety (…) [the authors] note that alcohol can also increase anxiety, irritability, or depression a few hours later or the next day. Even moderate amounts of alcohol can affect one’s mood and anxiety level” (Source: ADAA).
So, there you have it: alcohol increases my social anxiety.
Sugar is the same as alcohol, for me. Especially refined sugar but “natural” sweeteners (like honey, for example), if used liberally, can have the same impact.
“Added sugar is a contributor to overall anxiety. Added sugars cause your blood sugar to go on a rollercoaster of spikes and crashes (…). When blood sugar crashes, your mood sours and anxiety levels can spike” (Source: Healthline)
I just put that there to comfort you. I don’t need a study to tell me that.
All I had to do was to remove sugar from my diet and observe. And the results were DRAMATIC. Notably, my social anxiety or general level of anxiety has become 1 000 times more manageable (if not inexistent, at times), compared to what it was before I changed diet.
I’m not sure how to describe it, but it’s as though I feel “regulated” (physically and mentally) and even-tempered at (most) times. Provided, of course, that I’ve followed all the guidelines here.
Which is easier said than done. (Sigh).
Not working out (cardio)
If I don’t work out (intensely), then I don’t expel or release my energy. If I don’t expel my energy, it remains sort of “stuck” inside my body, where it accumulates, and transforms into something (usually) negative: anxiety, restlessness, anger… or skin rashes.
Working out religiously, especially cardiovascular activities such as running, jogging, swimming, or jumping jacks, are key in maintaining my social anxiety in check.
If I don’t work out, I cannot face social situations calmly. If I do work out, I’m almost a different person. Calmer and much less prone to anxiety or anxious thoughts.
But for it to be effective in helping manage my social anxiety, I must work out every day or every other day at least.
Not telling the truth, wearing a mask, or being inauthentic sends my social anxiety through the roof!
The “problem” is, showing up as yourself, in an authentic manner, especially for the first time, is anxiety-inducing as well. Except that it’s not entirely the same thing.
But that’s a topic for another post.
I’ll just say that finally showing up as my true self in social contexts caused my anxiety to fade away significantly.
I used to never truly reveal myself to other people, thinking that in doing so, I was protecting myself. Well, I was wrong.
All the lying, hiding, constantly avoiding, and not being authentic were increasing my discomfort in social contexts and my social anxiety.
So now, I make it a point to always try to be honest with others. Because I know that as soon as I stop, anxiety comes back.
Not spending time exploring my feelings before (or after) showing myself out in the world
By this I mean journaling. Regularly.
If I don’t take the time to be honest about my deepest fears and vulnerabilities and express them before or after social encounters, then the discomfort accumulates and my social anxiety worsens.
Even when I don’t feel like journaling, my (resurfacing) social anxiety acts as a constant reminder that I should.
But I’ll be honest, 3 years ago, I had to journal many times per day just to be able to survive my day and appease my social anxiety. Now, I can go for weeks (perhaps even a couple of months), without journaling, and I’m fine.
So… it gets better.
Being around the wrong people
One thing that drastically increased my social anxiety was hanging out with the wrong kind of people.
This isn’t to say that they were bad people. But for some reason, my anxiety increases tremendously when I keep certain people in my life: highly judgemental people, or people who seem to have strong opinions about everything, including how I lead my life… for example.
I finally understood that, and let these friends go and I’ve been feeling a lot more at peace since.
- Should I remove this person from my life? The complete guide to help you figure it out
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You think weed makes you more relaxed or “chill”? Think again.
It took me YEARS to finally understand the true impact of weed on my life, thoughts, perception of the world… and overall, how anxious weed made me. Especially in social settings.
Not ecessarily because I was smoking at that moment. Just that I was smoking in general.
It just made me a more…. nervous, antsy, anxious person. Even my “phobias” were heightened. And yes, I was A LOT more uncomfortable in social settings when I was smoking weed than once I stopped for good.
Consuming content (versus being present or building self-awareness)
I won’t even try to dig up studies or medical articles here.
Let’s just say that, when I actively consume content daily (through YouTube, streaming platforms, or social media), my social anxiety + overall sense of restlessness and dissatisfaction increase.
I cannot tell you exactly why, but it does.
Consuming content has the same effect on my anxiety as other behaviors (like smoking weed, for example), that are meant to help me “avoid life”.
By the way, constantly avoiding the present moment through behaviors that keep you away from yourself, is a way of defining addiction.
These behaviors leave me in a perpetual state of wanting more, of never feeling satisfied, and I get anxious in the absence of these things.
To put it simply, any type of behavior meant to help me avoid the present increases my social anxiety.
Overthinking/not thinking enough in advance about what I’m going to say
Finally, if I over-think what I will say to someone before a meeting or a social gathering, then my social anxiety will worsen. Conversely, If I don’t prep enough ahead of time before having certain conversations, my anxiety increases.
The key here is to find the right balance. Most times I have to think in advance about what I will say, that way I feel more prepared and at ease. But at some point, I must learn to let go of the “preparation” and just jump in the pool. Sometimes, thinking about the conversation or encounter instead of just doing the thing, is a sure way to increase your social anxiety.
So, try both, and try to find the right balance for you.
All these things have helped me reduce my social anxiety significantly.
The challenge here, however, is that I cannot do things halfway.
I cannot “just” work out once in a while when I feel like it, and I can’t “just” drink once or twice per week. If I were to drink once or twice per week, for example, it would then take me a few days to set myself straight again. And as soon as I would barely start feeling good again, I would go for another round of drinks, and it would go on, and on.
It’s counterproductive and unbelievably frustrating (because it takes A LOT of effort!).
So, to keep my social anxiety in check, I must lead a clean life at all times.
And that is hard.
How do you manage your social anxiety? Do you avoid people altogether, or have you figured out ways to keep it under control?