How to cope with social anxiety without alcohol

Turning to alcohol isn't always the best way to deal with social anxiety.
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Social anxiety can be described as a fear of social situations and interaction with other people in everyday life. People can experience social anxiety around just one or all interactions and situations.

While it can be normal to experience some level of anxiety in many social situations, especially in new social settings, for some people the anxiety can be worse and more persistent.

Many people use alcohol as a way to calm their nerves and ease their social anxiety when they enter into a social situation. While this may seem to help, there is a danger that you could become dependent on alcohol in order to cope.

It’s best to learn ways to cope with social anxiety without using alcohol.

Be prepared

If you suffer from social anxiety and there’s a social event coming up that you feel nervous about, do what you can to prepare in advance.

Take time to imagine the situation

Take a moment to sit down and think about where you’re going. Try to picture it and imagine yourself there, feeling relaxed and confident.

Try relaxation techniques

Before you go, try doing a relaxation technique to calm yourself ahead of time. This can be a few deep breaths or a longer meditation, whatever works best for you.

Know what to do if you’re overwhelmed

Most importantly, think about what you will do if you start to feel overwhelmed. This way you’ll know what to do if the panic starts to kick in without needing to turn to alcohol to calm your nerves.

Start with people you know

Going to an event with social anxiety can be daunting. If you’re avoiding alcohol as a way of settling in, then you might find it helpful to start off by talking to people you know.

Find out who will be there

If you can, find out in advance who will be there that you might know. When you arrive, strike up a conversation with them. Most likely they will introduce you to others, and you can work out from there.

What to do if you won’t know anyone

If you’re going to an event where you won’t know anyone, find out if you can bring a friend. If that’s not possible, then don’t panic – take a look around the room, find an opportunity to speak to someone and take it one step at a time.

Set small, achievable goals

Before you head out the door, set yourself small goals that you’ll aim to achieve when you’re out. This could be ‘talk to 3 new people’, ‘ask 5 questions’, or ‘dance to one song’. If you manage to achieve your goal, don’t put pressure on yourself to do more than that.

You could also set a time goal by deciding how long you will stay, and leaving once the time is up. This could be as short as 20 minutes, and you can aim to stay a little longer each time you go out.

Allow yourself to take breaks

Give yourself permission to take breaks every now and then to give yourself a chance to get some space and calm your nerves. Take opportunities to go to the bathroom and do some deep breathing, get outside for some fresh air, or even just step aside and take a moment to yourself. Remind yourself that you’re doing your best, and you don’t need alcohol to handle the situation.

Leave when you’re ready to leave

If you’ve managed to achieve some of the goals you’ve set for yourself and you’re feeling like you want to leave, then give yourself permission to go when it feels right to you. If you decided you were going to stay for an hour and the hour is up, then allow yourself to go.

Even if things are going well at that moment, sometimes it’s better to leave when you’re feeling good instead of waiting for the panic to drive you out.

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