How to cope with social anxiety without alcohol
Many turn to alcohol to help them deal with feelings of social anxiety, but this can make it hard to know how to cope without drinking
Written by spunout
Fact checked by experts and reviewed by young people.
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.
If you are trying to reduce your drinking, take a break from alcohol or quit entirely, you may find it a big adjustment to socialise without the use of alcohol. Here are some tips to help you deal with anxious feelings without drinking.
How to handle social anxiety without alcohol
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. This image can help to make you feel better as you get ready and head out. Each time you get anxious, try to picture things going well and tell yourself it’s going to be fine.
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. Doing a mindfulness exercise might be helpful to ground you and help you feel calm before you head out. It could even be something you take a moment to do while you’re out if you need to.
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. This might be breathing, taking a short walk, giving yourself some space, or something else that will help to calm you down. Try not to be hard on yourself if you get overwhelmed – you are doing your best.
Find out who will be there
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.
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.
If you’re going to an event where you won’t know anyone, ask if you can bring a friend. If someone invited you to the event, then remember that you do know at least one person, and you can talk to them. If that’s not possible, try not to 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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