If you’re worried about any upcoming social events, help is at hand. Pablo Vandenabeele provides the best self-help strategies you can use to help manage your virtual social fears.
It’s normal to occasionally feel nervous or self-conscious in certain social situations, like a job interview or a big presentation in front of your team. However, social anxiety disorder – a common type of anxiety disorder – is more than these nerves or shyness.
It can leave you experiencing intense worry before an upcoming social meeting, fear that you will embarrass yourself, or panic that others may notice that you’re nervous. You may also experience physical symptoms, like blushing, shortness of breath or nausea.
With many of us still working remotely, social anxiety may look a little different. If you’re experiencing any of these emotional or physical symptoms before an online meeting or social gathering, you may be suffering with virtual social anxiety.
Coping with this mental health condition can be difficult at any time of year, but at Christmas there are extra events and demands that can leave you feeling even worse than usual.
A great way to keep your fears at bay is through regularly practicing relaxation and breathing techniques
Perhaps you’ve got a virtual Christmas party to attend over the next couple of weeks, or your team have planned social video calls to catch-up before the festive break. A video call can be particularly daunting, especially as it can feel like everyone on screen is looking at you all the time when they have their cameras on.
If you’re worried about any upcoming social events here are the best self-help strategies you can use to help manage your virtual social fears.
Recognise your fears
Try to understand more about your social anxiety by writing down when you’re experiencing it, what the exact symptoms are and what is going through your mind. It can be helpful to start a diary, so you can identify any patterns, or any situations that trigger your symptoms.
For example, if a particular online meeting has left you feeling sick, sweating or with a pounding heartbeat, make a note of these, along with exactly why you’re feeling this way. Was it because of the other attendees, or did you feel anxious about the content you were presenting?
It might not always be possible to work out what’s triggering it but try and write down as much as possible, as it can help you observe trends later on.
It is a lot easier to manage your anxiety when you have a better understanding of it.
Learn to relax
A great way to keep your fears at bay is through regularly practicing relaxation and breathing techniques. When you feel yourself becoming anxious, or if you’re on a particularly stressful virtual call, try some gentle breathing exercises. These should help to bring you back to the present moment.
Breathe slowly and deeply from your stomach and focus on having a steady breath. Not only will this slow your heart rate down and calm any palpitations you’re experiencing, but it should relax any negative thoughts you’re experiencing, too.
Over time, regularly practising mindfulness, meditation or any other relaxation techniques will help you face social situations – both virtual and face to face.
Face your fears
If you’re struggling with virtual social anxiety, one of the best ways to overcome your fears is to face them. Whilst this may be daunting, situations that cause you anxiety may actually help you to overcome these challenges, as they’ll give you a chance to try relaxation techniques or strategies, and identify which ones help most.
That said, you don’t need to expose yourself to social situations all at once – the key to overcoming your virtual anxiety is to face it gradually over time. Perhaps start off in the weeks ahead by participating in calls with smaller groups.
Then, when it comes to your virtual social Christmas gathering – you could prepare by making a list of possible icebreakers or any questions you could ask your colleagues.
Seek additional support
If you’re still experiencing physical and emotional symptoms and it’s impacting your daily life, it’s time to seek support. Social anxiety in any form is a common form of anxiety, so you’re not alone.
Asking for help can be difficult, but it’s important to speak to your GP, as they’ll be able to help. They’ll ask you about your feelings, behaviours and symptoms to find out more about your social anxiety. Alongside your doctor, opening-up about how you feel to a loved one or close friend can really help, too.
There are also several treatments available for social anxiety, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, also commonly known as CBT, or medication.
About the author
Pablo Vandenabeele is clinical director of mental health for Bupa UK Insurance