Today’s Solutions: January 17, 2022

As we slowly emerge into the post-pandemic era, we may find ourselves out of practice when it comes to socializing and interacting with others who are outside our bubble. This may lead to feeling shyer than you would normally, or feelings of social anxiety. Though social anxiety and shyness aren’t synonymous, there is a lot of overlap between them.

Social anxiety disorder is a relentless fear of being judged or watched that can escalate to high levels of intensity, while shyness is the feeling of discomfort in social situations. Both interfere with work, school, and other everyday activities that involve interacting with people. Here are some ways to overcome feelings of shyness and social anxiety.

Incorporate probiotics

Consuming probiotics and fermented foods have many physical benefits such as aiding digestion and cardiac health, but it turns out that they also support mental health.

At least one study demonstrates that those who have more fermented foods in their diet display fewer symptoms of social anxiety. More research is needed to determine just how effective probiotics are in boosting mental health, and it is unlikely that probiotics alone will be enough to treat social anxiety. That said, eating more probiotics could be a small and simple way to lower your social anxiety.

Reduce caffeine and alcohol

Research has shown that caffeine can amplify feelings of panic in people who are already prone to anxiety. Plus, an animal study concluded that animals who start consuming caffeine in adolescence are more likely to develop higher levels of anxiety in adulthood.

Similar to caffeine, sustained alcohol use can make people feel more anxious when they aren’t intoxicated, even if it provides a social lubricant when at an event.

Talk with a therapist

The thought of talking one-on-one with a therapist may heighten feelings of anxiety, but luckily there are various alternative methods that may work for you.

Virtual reality cognitive behavioral therapy (VR-CBT) can help participants face their fears in a virtual landscape. This can help you practice, for example, starting a conversation with a stranger or public speaking in a low-pressure setting.

Group therapy may also take a bit of the pressure of one-on-one sessions off of you, and studies show that cognitive-behavioral group therapy for social anxiety can actually help people reduce symptoms in the long term.

Practice your smile

Being happy makes us smile, but did you know that the act of smiling can actually trigger happiness? One study demonstrates that children who smile in scary situations experience less social anxiety. However, smiling isn’t the only physical act that can boost your mood. Practicing good posture, intentionally loosening the muscles in your face, and relaxing your eyebrows also get you to lighten your mood.

Move beyond your comfort zone

The trick to getting out of your comfort zone is to set manageable goals. This may mean setting a goal that you already know you can reach. For instance, a good first goal might be to just initiate a text conversation with a friend.

From there, you can build that up to sending a longer message or challenging yourself to make dinner plans or host a brunch. The key here is to be honest with yourself about the steps you are willing to take.

Bring in the fun

If you know there is an activity that you particularly enjoy, then allow yourself the opportunity to indulge in that activity. Whether it’s yoga, drawing, gardening, or jogging, engage without worrying about judgment from others.

Reach out to a friend

If you experience high levels of social anxiety or debilitating shyness, reaching out to a friend may already feel like a gargantuan task. If you have someone in your life that you feel you can trust, then perhaps push yourself to initiate conversations with them. Remember that there is no shame in experiencing social anxiety and, but that expressing these feelings to a friend can help you become more comfortable making conversations in general. Practicing with a trusted loved one is the first step to realizing this goal.

Interrogate your worries

Instead of ignoring the things that trigger your anxiety or shyness, or wishing that they didn’t exist, it is a much better practice to identify those triggers and analyze why you may feel this way. Being self-reflective may help you better understand why you become shy or experience social anxiety, which will demystify the cause and help you feel more in control of yourself and of your emotions.

Additional resources:

JNM Journal—Effect of Probiotics on Central Nervous System Functions in Animals and Humans: A Systematic Review

Psychiatry Research—Fermented foods, neuroticism, and social anxiety: An interaction model

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