Preventing social anxiety
February 26, 2011 5:12 PM   Subscribe

I want to stop using alcohol to mediate situational social anxiety.

I don't consider myself an alcoholic, but I do tend to use alcohol when I'm feeling anxious, especially in social situations. It's a quick fix for feeling AWKWARD.

However, because I want to preserve my physical health and not develop alcoholism, I want to stop doing this. I can go for long periods without even thinking about drinking, but then during periods of stress, I can easily drink several drinks every day, and that's what I've been doing for the past two weeks or so after a trifecta of extreme life changes.

I'm in a new city and have been meeting people, and I've been relying on a few drinks throughout the evening to feel comfortable and charming. For me, a petite female, it's too much.

Are there any supplements, mental hacks, breathing exercises, etc. that can take away the discomfort?

I'm not interested in taking Paxil or any other prescription drug, nor do I feel a 12-step program is warranted. I'm looking for something I can get at a health food store, or some neurolinguistic programming technique (or something along those lines) that will help me feel more confident and outgoing fairly quickly.

Barring that, I'd be willing to take or do something on a daily basis to help me relax overall.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
You could try Kudzu extract for the alcohol craving. I'm not sure what would be most effective for social anxiety. I have the same tendencies, and I'll be interested in seeing what suggestions come along for you.
posted by Gusaroo at 5:21 PM on February 26, 2011

Meditation is a good thing. Exercise can help you relax; massage is also really useful. Cognitively reframing the situation in order to feel more confident is also very helpful. For example, you can remind yourself that other people are almost always too busy worrying what you think of them or having other self-centered thoughts to be thinking much about you (other than, if they are interested in you, how to get you into bed). You can also just focus on paying attention to others rather than worrying about what they think of you: this can make you very well-liked.

But also, the reality is that normal people do rely on alcohol sometimes. It's a myth that this is only true for alcoholics. If you can't go without it and you constantly crave it and you can't deal with any social situations without drinking, that's a problem. But if you use it to deal with the occasional severe stress or new situation— this is called being human. One drink a night is healthy; 2 is healthy in some countries even for women but the U.S. is stricter.

Keep in mind that alcoholism is compulsive use despite negative consequences. If you aren't having negative consequences, sure, learn some techniques to feel more comfortable socially but you can also give yourself a break and realize that using drinking for social relaxation is as old as humanity, perhaps even older.
posted by Maias at 5:36 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Are you sure it's the alcohol that's helping? Maybe all you need is the value of having a glass as a prop - i.e., something to hold in your hand, a place to go to get refills when things are quiet. You might want to try a party with just soda or water or something and see how it goes.

As far as a hack for self-help and anxiety is concerned, try picking up Kelly Wilson's book, Things Might Go Terribly, Horribly Wrong
posted by jasper411 at 5:45 PM on February 26, 2011

Meditation is good. "Just having a glass in your hand" is good. But really I think it's worth considering how much of a problem this is ... the use of small amounts of alcohol for self-medication is (at least within my culture) a perfectly reasonable idea and really in the absence of any resulting difficulties something I wouldn't worry about.

For what it's worth I start the evening with a beer or a glass of wine and then switch to water - maybe having other alcholic drink from time to time.
posted by southof40 at 6:22 PM on February 26, 2011

Can't speak for anyone else, but I find that alcohol doesn't reduce or eliminate my anxiety- it just makes me care less about it. It is still there, just quieter.

Figure out how to eliminate the anxiety and things will go much more smoothly. It is mostly about changing how you view the world, CBT and concepts like that help greatly.
posted by gjc at 7:08 PM on February 26, 2011

One thing that's worked for a friend of mine is the following plan:

1. Chamomile tea or equivalent an hour before a social event
2. Meditation or quick quiet time before event to still the mind
3. Making a list of the charming stories and witty jokes he doesn't want to forget (don't laugh, he finds it helps)
4. If it's really necessary, a single glass of wine or a beer at the start of the event to loosen up, then water or soft drinks the rest of the night.
5. Rinse and repeat. Socializing more regularly helps him to overcome some of his anxiety.

Once folks really start to get into the groove, they'll forget how many you'll have had, and it won't matter because you're having great fun anyway.
posted by hampanda at 7:48 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Mindfulness it changes everything.

The more you use booze to mask any anxiety, the more likely your are apt to developing panic disorder or depression.
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 8:04 PM on February 26, 2011

Now of course you know yourself and I don't know you at all but I think you are worrying too much. Alcohol is a social lubricant, enjoy it. As long as your not driving or winding up in strange beds and regretting it, just relax and have fun. A few drinks over a evening is not over-drinking even for a petite female.

The neo-Prohibitionists get all the attention and their "If you drink more than X, you're a drunk!" is getting old. Just ignore them, let them live their miserable lives and have one on me.
posted by JohntheContrarian at 8:15 PM on February 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

I stopped getting into these situations. If I can avoid social occasions that trigger the anxiety, I feel no need to drink. If I can't, i want to drink, but won't because I was a binge drinking alcoholic back when I believed people who told me I was wrong to not enjoy parties.

The trick is working out what is a 'normal' level of anxiety. It's okay to feel nervous! It's okay to wonder if you're doing it right! Hating yourself and remaining convinced everyone else does is less okay. Repeating a mantra of violence/hate to get through is very not okay. But I found once I took the big things off the table (large parties, strange people, forcing myself to be physically affectionate because other people get upset if I'm not etc.) I was able to enjoy the smaller things (conversations with more than two people, barbeques with more than five, hugs with those I love).
posted by geek anachronism at 8:58 PM on February 26, 2011

...get some self esteem?

No really, be awesome. Do some incredible and keep doing it. Make everyone else feel anxious to be around such an awesome person that is the New You. Alcohol makes you feel awesome, without doing anything buy buying something. It's like cheating yourself out of having to, you know, perform. Or live. What have you.
posted by alex_skazat at 12:26 AM on February 27, 2011

Go to a party and just stand by a wall. Acknowledge your anxiety. Experience it. What do you think is going to happen? All of a sudden, the party gets quiet and everyone turns to stare at you, laugh and point? If you were standing in a group with a bunch of people and you saw a lone person standing against a wall, what would you think? That they were a horrible piece of trash? No one CARES, they are just too busy chatting. Don't project your fears, just do whatever and stop giving a f*** about what anyone thinks. I think Stop Giving a F*** is generally a good policy. The world is not going to reject you and even if it did, even if it made you a pariah, you'd still be fine.

PS high-five to johnthecontrarian
posted by teedee2000 at 6:31 AM on February 27, 2011

Bighappyfunhouse: The more you use booze to mask any anxiety, the more likely your are apt to developing panic disorder or depression

What? I hate to be that asshole on the internet, but... cite?

Anon, you might look at your behaviour sober and your behaviour with a drink on board and figure out what is different. If it is just what you feel and not what you do, then ignore it. Emotions can be overcome or ignored. If you actually are behaving differently (more friendly, for example) fake it for that initial period you need to overcome your anxiety.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:33 AM on February 27, 2011

Do any of your relatives have shaky hands? You may have the early stages of essential tremor. When looking up symptoms of why my hands were so shaky all the time, often moreso in social settings, a writer advised to avoid drinking alcohol to calm them because of the tendency for the et-diagnosed to become alcoholics. Just a thought =/

After discovering a prescrip beta-blocker med, I feel like I can moreso be myself in social situations, but that begged me the question as to whether some alcoholics feel more like themselves as it were, when under its influence, when actually it's a genuine, innate chemical issue that alcohol seems to band-aid without addressing the reality.

I'm curious as to your hestitation to consider prescrips? I myself am rather adverse to any meds, even Tylenol and such opting instead to merely endure a given malady -- but with this (Toprol), it's like I'm myself again without the shakes, but also without the mental stupor and sickness that alcohol bring around.
posted by Quarter Pincher at 7:49 AM on February 27, 2011

Take bathroom breaks, use them as check-ins with yourself, or as ways to interrupt conversations or thought patterns you don't like. Also, returning after being gone for a few minutes allows you to make another entrance and join new conversations already in progress.
posted by hermitosis at 8:28 AM on February 27, 2011

I have personally used a product called PharmaGABA by Source Naturals to help me with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I am not a doctor and have no medical training, so please take this as a personal anecdote and nothing more.

However, nothing has helped like prescription clonazepam, taken on a daily basis.

I give you credit for trying to resolve this on your own. Prescriptions can really have a place -- they do for me -- but I think that living without them helped me to come to a rational choice about why to use them, and to help me to see how a drug-free future could be possible.
posted by ElisaOS at 9:48 PM on March 22, 2011

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