It’s common (and human) to feel shy, nervous, and anxious ahead of social interactions like job interviews, moving somewhere new, asking a new friend out for coffee, or going on a first date. These experiences and others involve stepping out of our comfort zone and facing uncertain outcomes, which can be especially distressing for individuals grappling with managing social anxiety or in treatment for other mental health conditions.
For some, socializing with friends, family, and other familiar folk can quicken their heartbeat and cause the heaviest butterflies to flutter inside, too. ‘What if I’m ignored when I try to start conversations?’ ‘What if I say something stupid?’ These and other what-ifs incessantly swarm their heads. A flood of mixed emotions and the fear of criticism and rejection can hold your mind and body captive even when you want to be social. The good news is you can learn to release yourself from these thought prisons and honor the emotions that are coming up for you.
When you work with dialectical behavioral therapists at THIRA, you receive guidance in practicing emotional regulation, enhancing self-care, and honoring and meeting your emotional needs in social situations.
Why DBT is good for managing social anxiety
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) was established by Dr. Marsha Linehan after she observed that traditional CBT didn’t effectively treat her patients with borderline personality disorder and chronic suicidal ideation. DBT is specifically adapted to help folks who experience emotions intensely and those who struggle with emotional regulation and turn to harmful behaviors as coping mechanisms.
When our dialectical behavior therapists at THIRA work with patients enrolled in mental health treatment, we confidently apply a well-supported treatment method that produces effects that compare favorably with those of other psychological treatments. Research demonstrates that DBT is suitable for managing social anxiety and other mental and behavioral health conditions because it promotes distress tolerance and emotional regulation—how well one tolerates uncomfortable emotions and practices how they deal with them. Because emotions play vital roles in our lives, especially in social interactions, emotional regulation skills can enhance our mental and physical well-being with and without a mental health disorder.
Managing social anxiety with acceptance in IOP Treatment at THIRA
DBT relies on dialectical thinking to cultivate acceptance and change simultaneously. Dialectics refers to the notion that two seemingly opposing ideas—like acceptance and change—can coexist in truth together. When implementing DBT in IOP treatment at THIRA, we help clients
- Accept their present
- Feel validated and supported where they are in the current moment
- Work through the process of making positive, necessary changes
When you work with our DBT therapists, you’re encouraged to forgo the pressure to meet society’s expectations of how you should act or force positivity. In our mental health treatment program, we invite you to learn the following emotional regulation and self-soothing techniques that can make managing social anxiety in public something you do discreetly.
Self-soothing by moving
When anxiety, frustration, panic, pain, and other overwhelming feelings consume you in public, try moving around! Emotions and trauma we experience can find a home in our bodies, so it’s through our bodies that we can move and release them. Consider these gentle, intentional movements that support the body’s emotional regulation and processing:
1. Swaying and rocking. People rarely sit or stand perfectly still, so try gently swaying and rocking the next time you’re overwhelmed in public. Gently shift your weight side to side or in a natural and soothing rhythm. Doing so can help mobilize the rest and digest function of the nervous system while soothing activation.
2. Napkin twists. If you’re out with others and experience intense emotions resulting from having or witnessing a negative social interaction, remember that you won’t ruin the outing just by acknowledging to yourself that you’re feeling something unfavorable. Just as you may twist a towel out of frustration at home, do the same with the napkin in your lap while dining. Twisting the napkin under the table can be a great way to express healthy aggression, irritation, frustration, boundary violations, and much more.
Keeping still can be soothing, too
Another essential part of leaning into physical and emotional regulation when managing social anxiety is understanding when the body doesn’t always need to move. In session with a DBT therapist at THIRA, clients learn to soothe and care for themselves by slowing down, stopping, and exercising mindfulness. Mindfulness refers to paying non-judgmental attention to your thoughts, feelings, and senses. It promotes acceptance of emotions and emotional regulation rooted in reflection, intention, and compassion without interpretation. When you’re in public and need help managing social anxiety, try being mindful without movement by:
3. Orienting. Come into the present moment by intentionally taking more notice of your environment. If your gathering takes place outside, focus on some trees around you. If you’re inside, pay attention to any pictures or decoration you see on the wall. This way, you’re discreetly managing social anxiety by redirecting it to the world around you. In IOP treatment at THIRA, clients learn to expand this practice through the 5-4-3-2-1 technique. This technique, doable indoors and outdoors, involves identifying five things you can see, four things you can touch, three you can hear, two you can smell, and one you can taste. The 5-4-3-2-1 technique grounds you in your present, fostering mindfulness and emotional regulation and enhancing judgment-free self-awareness.
4. Drinking a hot beverage. When you’re distressed, your body could benefit from a temperature change. It’s a great way to engage your senses! Warm temperatures and slow, mindful, and intentional sips of your beverage can soothe your nervous system.
5. Humming. Something most of us have done since childhood can help calm us even in adulthood. Humming vibrations support cognitive and emotional regulation by stimulating the vagus nerve—the main component of the parasympathetic nervous system, which supervises many essential body functions like mood control, immune response, heart rate, and digestion. The next time you find yourself juggling millions of thoughts and emotions, hum the last song you heard to bring a sense of calm to your system.
Learn emotional regulation techniques for managing social anxiety in IOP treatment at THIRA
Facing negative emotions is a part of life. We can’t control the outside circumstances that conjure up these emotions, but we can learn healthier control over how we respond to them. In IOP treatment at THIRA, clients learn self-soothing techniques that offer an empowering, peaceful way of emotional regulation and can be modified to speak to them as individuals. The DBT-based 5-4-3-2-1 technique and STOP skill, and other forms of soothing the mind and body engage our senses in an effective way for managing social anxiety.
For more information on enhancing emotional regulation, increasing mindfulness, managing social anxiety, self-soothing practices you can do discreetly in indoor and outdoor social situations, and other ways of caring for your mental health, see how we can help you today.