Alcohol is a common crutch for individuals who struggle with social anxiety. It is a depressant, so it can help you feel calmer in social settings. However, using it as your only coping skill could turn into a dangerous reliance. Whether you are in recovery or just want to relax without drinking, here are three healthy ways to manage social anxiety without alcohol.
Social anxiety can cause numerous intrusive or exaggerated thoughts about a situation before you enter it. Journaling is a way to release those thoughts onto paper and help you better analyze them.
You can use your journal to reflect on past experiences with social anxiety. Write down who was there and what you did. Identify when you felt the most anxiety and what triggered those moments. Was there a time you wanted to reach for a drink to cope? When you evaluate these scenarios, you can better prepare coping mechanisms for the next time you encounter them.
If you’re concerned about going to dinner, a party or the grocery store, write what you are most nervous about. Often, you can better identify extreme thoughts when they’re outside of your mind and on paper. Consider the best and worst possible scenarios and know that the experience will likely be somewhere in the middle. Think through the best ways to work through tough moments. After the experience, return to your journal to record how it went.
It’s easy to misinterpret a look you get or an unpleasant attitude someone has. Consider the likelihood that other people’s reactions are not because of anything you said or did. Could someone be looking that way because they are thinking or seeing something else? Is the rude waiter having a rough day? Overanalyzing your actions is a common part of social anxiety. Everyone is human, and it is alright to be yourself.
2. Breathing techniques
When you feel anxious, you might not realize how your breathing changes. If you are one of the 15 million adults in the U.S. suffering from a social anxiety disorder, entering a public event can put your body into fight, flight or freeze. In preparation for fleeing, your breathing becomes more shallow, which causes you to feel worse.
Deep breathing techniques can help you control your breath to calm your nervous system and remove your body from that primal mode.
You can try many techniques, even when you’re already in a social setting. Slow your breathing by keeping track of the time it takes to breathe in and out. There are many forms of this technique. One of the easier to remember is the 4-4-4 or “box” method. Inhale for a count of four seconds, hold your breath for that amount and then exhale for at least four seconds. Rest for a few seconds before beginning again.
Another technique is diaphragmatic breathing. Place your hand on your abdomen and breathe until your belly expands. Once you can’t breathe in, slowly release the air as if you were slowly letting air out of a balloon. As you breathe, you should feel your body start to relax.
3. Work with a professional
Social anxiety is a common mental health condition. If you struggle to manage it independently, a trained professional can help you overcome your challenges.
Your mental health is as important as your physical health. Just like you go to a medical doctor for an illness or injury of your body, a licensed counselor, therapist or psychologist can treat a mental condition. With the right treatment plan, you can enjoy social situations without needing alcohol.
A therapist can help you work through the source of your social anxiety, help you come up with personalized coping mechanisms and help safely expose you to distressing situations. A psychologist is a doctor who specializes in the care of mental conditions. Medication can sometimes stop your brain from overproducing hormones that make you anxious in social situations.
Conquering social anxiety without alcohol
Drinking alcohol is a temporary relaxation solution that could become a lifelong problem. It’s impossible to avoid all social situations. Finding healthy ways to cope with your anxiety can help you enjoy being in public and spending time with family and friends — no beverage required.