Do you experience fear and anxiety when interacting with people you don’t know well? Have you noticed yourself feeling overwhelmed about being in crowds or groups? These are common signs of social anxiety.
Thirteen out of 100 people struggle with social anxiety at some point in their lives. For people in the LGBT community, social anxiety is even more prevalent than in the general population, and there are likely good reasons for that.
Why Social Anxiety is Prevalent for LGBT People
Fear of being evaluated or judged negatively is a key factor for social anxiety. While our culture has come a long way toward accepting and embracing the LGBT community, there are facets of society that remain bigoted and close minded. Fear of hate crimes, mockery and other negative experiences can be significant factors in social anxiety for LGBT people.
Additional factors for increased rates of social anxiety in the LGBT community can relate to lack of family support or minimization of the challenges they face. When people’s experiences are invalidated, or when their loved ones lack understanding or empathy for their needs, it is lonely and persecutory. These types of experiences drive LGBT people into hiding, sometimes exacerbating anxiety and depressive symptoms.
Managing Social Anxiety
Challenges with social anxiety can be complex, particularly for LGBT people, as there are many factors outside of one’s personal control that contribute to legitimate fears.
The best way to manage social anxiety is to focus on what is within one’s control and take action to boost positive outcomes surrounding those factors.
People who are LGBT can reduce social anxiety through accessing a support group or community program. Online support groups can be a great way to ease into social connection while remaining at home (not to mention a necessity during the pandemic).
Relaxation techniques can also be useful for reducing anxiety. Using these types of strategies can be practical in social situations that trigger feelings of anxiety.
- 4-7-8 breathing:
Breathe in for a count of 4, hold for a count of 7 and exhale for a count of 8. This breathing pattern regulates oxygen intake and sends relaxation messages to the brain and body.
Tune in to your physical experience in the moment to get grounded. If you are seated, notice your weight within the chair. Pay particular attention to the way your feet feel on the floor. Check in and consciously relax each area of your body.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a type of therapy in which you explore thoughts, feelings and behaviors and the varying ways these experiences interact to create your daily life and belief systems.
This sort of therapy offers practical ways to deal with the real-life implications of social anxiety and helps you challenge the underlying factors that may be keeping you stuck. Social anxiety can be reduced significantly with CBT and may be worth pursuing.
Releasing Investment in Others’ Opinions
An important part of recovering from social anxiety is reducing investment in what others think of you. For LGBT people, this is particularly important, as it speaks to prioritizing one’s own personal sense of self over the opinions or potential judgments of others.
There is power in releasing what others think of you; it is a way to reconnect with and prioritize one’s own values and commitment to self.
Social anxiety can be debilitating, but with some work, support, and self-compassion it can be managed and take less of a toll on daily life.