For someone living with a social anxiety disorder, daily life can be a constant struggle. Seemingly simple activities like going to work, doing the grocery shopping, visiting with friends, and more, can become ongoing mental and emotional battles. This can leave sufferers feeling exhausted, afraid, depressed, and often helpless, and goes beyond manageable feelings of shyness.
While it is not a long-term cure, learning to identify the triggers that can precede the overwhelming feelings that come with social anxiety can help to manage symptoms in the short term until the person can obtain help from a mental health professional.
What Are Anxiety Triggers?
Triggers are circumstances or situations that can generate an anxiety attack in SAD sufferers. These situations are almost always social and involve interacting with someone or a group of people in a variety of ways. These triggers can cause a person to feel extreme anxiety, fear, or distress, along with physical reactions.
Common Triggers of Social Anxiety Disorder
There are potentially countless social situations that can act as triggers for socially anxious people, but some frequently cited triggers are:
- Meeting new people at parties or gatherings.
- Going on a date.
- Presenting or performing something.
- Eating or drinking in public.
- Sharing a belief or opinion.
- Receiving feedback or criticism.
- Using public restrooms.
- Talking to an “authority” figure, such as a boss or manager.
- Writing tests or exams.
Are All Triggers the Same for All SAD Sufferers?
Triggers for social anxiety will differ from person to person and may depend on whether a person experiences an overarching range of social situations that causes them to feel anxious, or if they only experience it during specific situations.
Finding out how you experience SAD can be done through therapy, but if, for any reason, you’re unable to access therapy at this point, keeping a diary of when and where your triggers occur can be a helpful first step in identifying them.
Practical Tips for Coping with Triggers
It must be emphasised that, in most cases, someone who is suffering from social anxiety is not able to simply “get over it”. It is a disorder that requires specialised treatment and/or medication prescribed by a certified mental health professional, and often the best solution is to seek professional help. However, access and availability to mental health assistance might not always be in easy reach..
While it’s not a cure or long-term treatment, employing some practical coping mechanisms can help in dealing with anxiety on a daily basis.
- Keep a journal
For some people, keeping a journal where they record instances where they experienced an anxiety flare-up, what physical and emotional reactions they endured, and how they felt, can assist in putting their experience into perspective and help them identify patterns in their behaviour.
- Use breathing techniques
The phrase “take a deep breath” may sound cliche, but employing deep breathing can help to alleviate the physical responses that come with social anxiety, such as a rapidly beating heart and dizziness.
- Follow the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique
Working backwards from 5 to 1, use your senses to help ground yourself if you feel a wave of anxiety coming on. For instance, you could internally name 5 things you see, 4 things you hear, 3 things you feel, 2 things you smell, and 1 thing you taste.
This type of grounding technique can be amended, so if eating publicly causes you to feel anxious, you can rather shift your focus to things you see, hear, touch, and smell.
Remember that these are only suggestions for coping with feelings of anxiety and may produce different results for different people.
Living with SAD can be incredibly stressful and challenging, but identifying what triggers are the underlying causes is the first step in finding out how to manage and overcome them.
Ready to get a handle on your social anxiety? Join our interactive, evidence-based course on social anxiety here.