Friday, February 27, 2009

Coping With Social Anxiety (without drinking)

When social anxiety has come upon me in the past, my first instinct has always been to drink. And then drink some more. And drink some more. But, because of a recently diagnosed health condition, it has been recommended that I abstain from alcohol. Frankly, I haven't been able to enjoy drinking for at least a year and a half. Even one drink makes my body feel really uncomfortable, because alcohol is a vasodilator, and vasodilation is one of the conditions, along with dehydration and blood loss, that causes my symptoms to become much worse.

It took a while for me to get used to turning down drinks. It's hard to stick to your guns when other people seem to be invested in having you drink with them. It's also very hard for me to stick to my alcohol-free plan when I am feeling socially awkward, because I have used alcohol as a means to feel socially comfortable for a very long time, and until recently, I hadn't developed many alternative techniques. And, I used to really enjoy drinking and considered myself a connoisseur of many types of alcohol (including single malt scotch whiskey), so the temptation is definitely there.

But, at a certain point I had to weigh how much I wanted to drink vs. how much I wanted to feel like crap and drinking didn't win. Because I have a feeling I'm not the only person who has found myself in this conundrum, I've decided to post the things I've found that can help bring comfort to a social situation, for whatever reason it's needed. Please note that I am no expert and I am still not good at doing these things. This is sort of an experimental how-to that is directed toward myself as much as anyone else. Here goes...

What to do when you're feeling socially uncomfortable, but you don't want to drink:

First, whenever you're feeling anxious, tune into your physical body. Breathe deeply and try to relax yourself physically. The bathroom is a good place to take a few minutes and collect yourself. You can employ some of the techniques I outlined for getting through a bad mood or use meditation or prayer. See if there are any feelings/thoughts that are potential obstacles to having a good time. Try to change your focus to something more positive by reminding yourself of all of your best qualities and the reasons people like you -- and the reasons you love other people. Then, try to figure out why you are feeling socially uncomfortable and anxious in this particular situation.

Ask yourself:

Why aren't I comfortable? Did I come to this social event because I wanted to come or because I felt obligated for some reason? Do I want to be here? If not, can I leave? If I can't leave, can I create a reason why I might want to be here / a mission for myself? (It could be something totally random, like counting the number of people with blue/green/brown eyes.) Do I enjoy talking to people when I'm not feeling self-conscious? Yes? Great! Jump in! You could talk about the weather, art, politics, or you could ask a question, like, "What was the first musical recording you ever bought with your own money?" or "Where have you traveled?"

If you're distracted because you're fixated on the idea that you would be more comfortable if you had a drink and/or because you're having trouble saying no to someone who keeps offering you a drink, ask yourself, "How do I think I would feel after having a drink? Can I imagine/remember what it feels like to be more relaxed and less inhibited? Is it possible for me to create those feelings without alcohol using sense memory techniques?" (I swear, sometimes just being around drunk people makes me feel drunk without the side effects!)

One breath at a time and one moment at a time, you may start to feel more relaxed and at peace with your situation. You may even have some fun.

What methods have you used to deal with social anxiety?


Anonymous said...

this is helpful... Last night i went out to a bar to meet some friends, and realised when i got there that i felt uncomfortable and didnt know if i really wanted to be there. The whole evening became a struggle to talk to people, and tyring to have a good time and feel comfortable. I didnt just want to drink to escape the feeling, but i was really not having a good time and I felt sad and disappointed that my social anxiety and not knowing what to say to people gets in the way. I saw that people were picking up on strange vibes from me and i went quiet, and shunned people if they tried to talk to me because it all became too much effort. I went home early deliberating over whether these people were really my friends or if i even like them...i mean, why else would i feel so uncomfortable? I was sexually abused as a kid, and i know that it probably is manifesting as social anxiety as an adult...but i just dont know how to relax and enjoy myself and not let this uncomfortable feeling rule what i can do socially.


Hi Vana and anonymous,

Check out my website at

Take care


Pam said...

Thank you for your comment, Anonymous. As I said in my post, I am no expert, so please take my advice for what it is. I'm just a blogger who enjoys talking about issues she is dealing with. I'm sure a good therapist would be helpful in sorting out some of your issues.

That said, I can sincerely recommend the book *Feeling Good* by David Burns or anything else about Cognitive Therapy. In my experience, the problem with some types of therapy is that you spend way too much time reliving the painful past and wallowing in it and not enough time developing solutions for how to feel better in the present and get on with your life.

That isn't to say it doesn't help to talk about painful things that have happened to you. I do hope you are able to talk to someone and get support. But, you also need some techniques to help you feel better now and feel hopeful that things will get better. All best to you in finding what you need!

Pam said...

Thank you, Chris, for the link to your website. It looks very interesting!