Ever felt butterflies in your stomach ahead of a big presentation? Or a feeling of dread being called out to speak in front of a crowd? At many points in our lives, we’ve come to be familiar with this feeling we call anxiety. It’s natural to feel anxious at times, stressed by a big project at work, pressured by a difficult exam at school, or confronted by a big life event. Sometimes, the feeling passes, and we get on with our lives. But there are times when the feeling lingers on for weeks or months, even years.
The feeling may stem from being judged by others, laughed at, or embarrassed in front of people, at times even in situations that happen every day. It’s called social anxiety and it’s a phenomenon that’s far from being rare, an experience that some 11% of the Australian population have in their lifetime with 7% reporting the experience in any 12-month period.
What are the signs and symptoms of social anxiety
Social anxiety, also called social phobia, has emotional and behavioural symptoms which may include the following:
- the constant fear of being judged negatively
- fear of interacting with strangers
- constant worrying about embarrassing yourself
- fear of exhibiting humiliating symptoms such as sweating and blushing
- fear of others noticing your anxiety
- avoiding situations where you are the center of attention
- avoiding talking to people or doing something out of fear of embarrassment
- intense fear in social settings and situations
- anticipating the worst-case scenario from a social situation
Social anxiety also manifests in physical symptoms that may include blushing, racing heartbeat, shortness of breath, upset stomach, trembling, excessive sweating, lightheadedness, and muscle tension. This disorder may be triggered by stress, demanding and challenging events, or big changes in your life.
How to help overcome social anxiety
Perhaps, the important first step towards overcoming social anxiety is to recognize it, and then learn to cope with it.
For mild to moderate social anxiety, some self-help strategies can work. These include self-talk and relaxation techniques which include deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and visualisation.
Other treatments that have been shown to be effective in addressing the symptoms of anxiety and depression include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), including exposure therapy, cognitive restructuring, social skills training, and medication.
Preparation can help you cope with anxiety. Prepare a script ahead of a big date. Give yourself time to relax before heading to a party. Rehearse your points before an important business presentation. It is also important to be patient with yourself as you navigate through life and identify your anxiety triggers. It certainly doesn’t clear up overnight and it takes time to go through the process.
Avoiding situations that result in social anxiety may seem to work in the short term but is not a long-term solution. Left unchecked, social anxiety can lead to depression, drug or alcohol dependence, problems at home, school, or home, which may in turn lead to increased risks for diabetes or cardiovascular diseases. A good rule of thumb is to consult a mental health professional if the intense fear and avoidance of normal, everyday situations persist. This can help improve the quality of your life and avoid anxiety from taking over.
Does exercise help social anxiety?
The effect of exercise on anxiety and depression will vary from person to person. Some report that physical activity can be a promising alternative to medication when it comes to reducing anxiety symptoms. Some report different results. What is undeniable though is the fact that exercise can help boost your overall health.
Exercising can help improve your mood with the release of mood-enhancing hormones – endorphins. It may also help improve your feeling of well-being as well as boost confidence and self-esteem. When done regularly, exercise may even help reduce the incidence of depressive and anxiety symptoms,
Exercise and social anxiety
Research has suggested that aerobic exercises like running, brisk walking or jogging, cycling, and swimming may divert attention from the feeling of anxiety itself, decrease the levels of tension, get up the heart rate that changes brain chemistry to release anti-anxiety neurochemicals, stabilize your mood, boost self-esteem, and improve the quality of sleep. Researchers also found out that people getting regular bouts of vigorous exercise were less likely to develop an anxiety disorder in the next five years.
Some quarters, on the other hand, say that the choice of exercise matters little; it’s the intensity and regularity of doing physical activity that really counts. In this regard, it’s best to choose an activity you really enjoy doing and work out to get your heart rate up,
What if exercise triggers your social anxiety?
If working out in a crowded gym or attending group exercises makes you all worked up and sweaty and triggers your social anxiety, you can still engage in exercise by adopting some of these strategies:
- • Ease into it and start slow – No need to hurry and add more fuel to your anxiety. No need to up the intensity before you’re really ready. Take the time to feel the sensations brought about by physical activity instead of hankering for results.
- Have a workout buddy or work with a Personal Trainer or Exercise Physiologist – Having someone who can empathise with your situation is important in dealing with social anxiety. Getting a workout buddy or hiring a personal trainer can let you focus on the training, keep you accountable, and encourage you to commit to an exercise routine.
- Visit the gym or train on off-peak hours – If you’re self-conscious about working out in front of others, exercise in the gym during the times of the day when it is a lot less crowded. If you choose to run, do brisk walking, or cycle, do so at hours when there are fewer people in the park or on the trail.
- If possible, exercise in a green space or park to take advantage of the calming and mood-enhancing effects of nature.
- Use an exercise app – you can train at home by following an online coach or while watching videos on an exercise app such as MyHealthPal. With over 15,000 narrated videos available on the app, you’re bound to find a routine that suits your needs and goals.
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Navigating workouts with social anxiety
As a practical alternative to training on-site, our online platform, MyHealthPal, offers the benefits of an app for social anxiety while providing expert advice on exercises as well as the correct way to do them. Download the app now and start enjoying the advantage of working out in the comfort of your home or any location where you can train without feeling anxious.
Physical activity can help boost your mood and ease anxiety. Even in cases where exercise may trigger social anxiety, there are ways to work around this, so you don’t miss out on the many health benefits that physical activity can provide you.