When you’re in the process of settling in a new environment from the get-go, especially in a country other than your own, you may be thrilled from the thought of starting a fresh new life where you know no one and nobody knows you. And then you realize the part where you have to get to know a lot of people and socialize with them on a daily basis. Does it excite you, or are you dreading for that time to come? If you relate to the latter, it does not always mean you have social anxiety.
In the case where you find yourself getting really nervous or uncomfortable in a social setting, and feel extremely self-conscious during interactions with other people, does it make you have social anxiety, or are you simply a shy person?
Let’s just start by emphasizing that shyness and having social anxiety are two different things. A research published in the Journal of Current Psychiatry stated that being shy is a personality trait - they don’t feel negative emotions felt by one who has social anxiety. On the other hand, not all people who have social anxiety are shy.
So, what does social anxiety really mean?
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, social anxiety is an intense fear of being judged, perceived in a negative manner, or being rejected in a social situation. This can be triggered by environmental influences and past traumatic experiences. As a result, people with social anxiety tend to avoid said situations and when it cannot be avoided, they experience severe distress and anxiety.
Amidst living in a foreign country, people with social anxiety commonly have trouble in conversing with new people because of their tendency to avoid them. However, there are some things you can do to ease the anxiety, by practicing these steps on getting better and improving your mental health.
1. Take baby steps
Rome was not built in a day, and so does your mental health. You might take a long time, and trust us, take all the time you need to fully regain your confidence. Start small, try to befriend one or two of your acquaintances from work or school, go on meals together, and if you feel comfortable enough, do talk to them.The key is to challenge your anxiety and prove that it will not get the best of you by taking a step to socialize with a small group of people. On the other hand, keeping everything to yourself and bottling up all your emotions will just lead you to even more anxiety.
Try to make eye contact with people you meet while running some errands, such as the cashier clerk when you do grocery shopping or to the barista when you get your daily dose of caffeine. Small actions like these might help you in enhancing your social skills and slowly overcome your anxiety.
2. Distract your mind and take the focus off yourself
Overthinking is one of the most common traits of someone with social anxiety. They tend to overanalyze situations that have not even happened yet. While overthinking, you tend to assume the worst case scenarios of every single situation, and all the negative thoughts like, “What if they don’t like me?”, “What happens if I…” and all the “what if’s” get to your head and mess up your mind.
Remember, at some times, you are your worst enemy. Your thoughts are manipulating you into thinking something bad would happen, when it could be avoidable. Try to take your mind off your thoughts, and distract yourself by doing things you enjoy, for instance, binge-watching your favorite TV series, taking a walk in the park, and exploring your surroundings while listening to some tunes to calm your mind. In a foreign country, you will have so much to explore and countless new things to try out, so give it a go, and don’t let those late-night overthinking get to you!
Focus on other things aside from yourself, and you might find comfort in other things beyond your imagination.
3. Take care of your physical health
A research by the American Psychological Association found that the “exercise effect”, which is the process of doing physical exercises, is beneficial in improving your mood, reducing anxiety, and creating a stable sleeping pattern.
Taking some time of the day to exercise daily, whether it is a high or low intensity activity, will help you to relax and take your mind off things. Go on a jog or a run and immerse yourself in the brand new surroundings, or if you prefer a home workout, that works as well. Eat cleaner, don’t stay up too late (make sure you have at least 7 hours of sleep!), try meditating, and practice breathing exercises as best as you can.
Reminder : Don’t forget to love your body, take care of it the best way you can, and see an improvement in your mental health!
4. Volunteer and join clubs with people who possess similar interests as you
You might probably think that joining clubs or volunteering as someone who has social anxiety is like entering a lion’s den. However, this is also a part of challenging your anxiety! Especially if you’re in college abroad, finding people with the same interests or passion and sharing them is the best way to make new friends. Through this action, you are able to channel your passion as well as overcoming your fear of social settings. You will meet people who most probably think alike as you, and that might be your gateway in expanding your own social bubble and solving your anxiety problem.
We know, at first, the mere thought of joining a group of people might scare you, but remember, avoidance is not the answer! Taking this opportunity might feel like a huge step, but hey, you can possibly meet someone who has the same issue as you, and therefore you can console one another to promote a better well-being of your mental health!
5. Try to learn the language of the country you’re in
Being in a country where you don’t speak the language, along with having social anxiety, will most likely give you a hard time. You might be scared to simply ask for directions, or wave to a server to order in a restaurant. Needless to say, the language barrier will just be an extra burden for yourself.
Overcome the language barrier by trying to learn the local language beforehand, and you will find ease and have more confidence in conveying your message to other people. Moreover, you might be able to converse and make friends with the locals, that will give you a boost of confidence and improve your social skills. It helps that you seek a professional instructor to assist you in the language learning process, and you can do so at Lingotalk! As we provide a 1-on-1 learning method, you will feel more comfortable and gain in-depth knowledge on the language you’re learning!
You will get better!
With an initiative and drive to improve, though it takes time, you will heal. Never forget that even if your thoughts are your worst enemy, it doesn’t deny the fact that you are also your own hero – you’re the only one who can save yourself.
As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realised how seldom they do”.