Raise your hand if this sounds familiar: You’re at a friend’s birthday party, except you don’t know anyone besides the birthday girl. Everyone’s broken off into groups, talking, sharing inside jokes…and you’re in the corner of the room trying to hold your drink with your sweaty hands, desperate to not be alone but also terrified that some rando will actually talk to you.
Yup, my hand is up in the air, too. And there’s a lot of you like me. In a recent survey of nearly 2,700 Well+Good readers, 91 percent reported struggling with anxiety. But here’s the thing: Besides work and stress, people reported that social situations, their relationships, and their family were major anxiety triggers. And according to an expert, that’s not at all surprising.
“People tend to feel anxious about the things and people that matter most to them, and interpersonal interactions tend to matter a lot to most people,” says Rachel Davis, MD, a psychiatrist at UCHealth. “Human interaction is critical for our emotional health, our sense of well-being, and our sense of connectedness. Our self-esteem and sense of purpose in life is often defined by or contributed to the ways in which others respond to and interact with us.”
So it makes sense why relationships, family, and social situations would bring on the anxiety full-force: They’re some of the most meaningful components of your life. But what can you do to make sure it’s not getting in the way of you living your best life?
Dr. Davis first suggests thinking about what problems your anxiety is causing—like making you avoid certain situations, or having less effective (or enjoyable) relationships with friends, family and coworkers—to identify the problem. (For example, 64 percent of survey respondents said their stress makes them want to avoid social situations.) Then, look into the why. “It can be helpful to narrow down ‘What exactly am I anxious about?’ and ‘What is the ultimate bad thing that could happen?'” she says. “This can give perspective to the situation and help someone with anxiety be more productive with their problem solving.” For example, Dr. Davis says anxiety in social situations could come from a fear that people will find you annoying, or that you’ll be lonely and won’t know anyone.
“People tend to feel anxious about the things and people that matter most to them, and interpersonal interactions tend to matter a lot to most people.” —Rachel Davis, MD
No matter what the trigger is, the best way to deal with it is head-on. “Go toward the anxiety, rather than follow the instinct to avoid it,” Dr. Davis says. “When you choose to engage in things that make you anxious or even purposefully make the anxiety worse, that sends feedback to your brain that says ‘Hey, this situation must not actually be all that bad because here I’m choosing to subject myself to it!’ And you can learn you actually are capable of tolerating and surviving anxiety.” Obviously, this takes time (and patience!) but is still pretty effective.
Aside from facing the anxiety, there are some other practical strategies Dr. Davis recommends for dealing with anxiety as well. “You can learn about and practice mindfulness or meditation, exercise regularly—which leads to release of endorphins that can significantly lower anxiety—get at least eight hours of sleep every night, and limit caffeine,” she says. “You can also find a therapist—who uses cognitive, behavioral, or interpersonal modalities of treatment that may be especially suited to treating anxiety—or see a psychiatrist, who can prescribe medication that can be immensely helpful if anxiety is interfering with your day-to-day life.”
By dealing with your triggers instead of hiding from them, you might just be able to banish those negative feelings for good. So next time you’re the lone wolf at a party, force yourself to talk to a stranger instead of hiding in a corner. It’s literally good for your mental health.
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