During my teen years I developed social anxiety. Being around people never came easy whether it was at a party with friends or at a family get-together. Throughout these awkward events, my goal was to simply get through the day without saying or doing anything stupid.
One day alcohol entered my life and everything changed.
All it took was one or two beers and all social anxiety disappeared. I became a more engaging, exciting, fun, confident guy. People genuinely seemed to like the intoxicated version of me more than the sober one. That didn’t bother me. For the first time in years I felt free to be myself and actually enjoy being around people.
The downhill slump
Slowly over the years that all changed. The alcohol didn’t work as well in social settings. Actually, it would sometimes make me paranoid and restless. Worse still, the next day after drinking was becoming unbearable. I’d wake up feeling terrified. Everything would startle me and my social anxiety intensified.
We become tolerant to the alcohol. Your body will need more and more to get the same positive benefits like feeling happy and confident.
Eventually I gave up the beer and got sober.
Dealing with social anxiety sober
Once I got past those initial weeks of withdrawal, I decided it was time to start getting a bit more social again. It terrified me because this time I didn’t have a crutch to lean on. It wasn’t just that I wouldn’t have any alcohol in my system, it was the awkwardness of being asked why I wasn’t drinking. I was sure it would be a disaster.
But giving up alcohol often isn’t as bad as we think it will be.
In fact, one of the best benefits of quitting drinking is that anxiety decreases. All those years I thought the alcohol was helping me when, in fact, it was making things worse.
When I did some research I found a lot of scientific studies like this one in Science Daily which reinforced the idea that “heavy drinking rewires the brain, increasing susceptibility to anxiety problems”.
In a nutshell, you may think alcohol is helping your social anxiety. It’s possible that it is helping your short term problem. But how will things be tracking in 10 years, or even 5? Every human in different so you may get through your whole life without issues. But the research isn’t in your favour. Maybe it’s time to look at other strategies to deal with social anxiety?
If you decide to go alcohol free, congratulations. You won’t regret it. For me, going to that first social event without booze was a scary ordeal but I made it out the other side unscathed. And the best part was, there was no hangover the next day!
5 tips for dealing with social anxiety (without alcohol)
1. Be positive and engaging
Try not to feel intimidated or worried. Be positive and stride into the party with confidence. It will be hard the first time, but trust me, it gets easier.
2. Use non verbal communication
Actively listen to people you speak to. Ask questions and show a genuine interest in their life and they’ll love you for it.
This one is so easy to do. Just smile as much as you can. Even if you feel like death, you’ll give the impression that all is fine in your world.
4. Wear dark clothing
Sweating profusely was an embarrassing side effect of my social anxiety. This may not effect you, but if it does remember to wear dark clothing that doesn’t show the perspiration. Consider a second layer of clothing to cover any sweat marks.
Be sure to review how your night went and what you could have done to make it better. It’s likely you’ll be feeling happy with yourself for making it through sober. Why not reward yourself with something nice. If you normally spend $20 on wine, go out and buy yourself a little gift. You have earned it!
Social anxiety is a bitch. I get it. I also understand how alcohol can really help deal with it. Just remember that this is a short term fix. If you’re finding that you’re drinking more, this could be your body developing a tolerance to the alcohol.
Consider some healthier alternatives to dealing with social anxiety. Breathing techniques, meditation before the event and natural remedies are all easy to implement strategies. You may also want to make an appointment with a psychologist to get to the root of the problem.
All the best with your mental health. I hope you find a healthy solution to your social anxiety and live a happy, peaceful life.