As we slide into ‘silly season’ not everyone feels excited by the increase in social events. We asked qualified counsellor Megan Sanderson, to share three nervous-system-soothing exercises to support those experiencing social anxiety this festive season.
Pre-party nerves can be normal but for those who suffer from social anxiety, situations involving social interaction can lead to intense anxiety.1
Social anxiety (also known as social phobia) is relatively common, research suggests almost 11% of Australians experience social phobia during their lifetime.1 While it is best to seek professional support if you’re experiencing symptoms of social phobia, there are exercises that can help you manage tough feelings - and having them in your toolkit could help when your anxiety appears to be your plus one to the party.
Three calming exercises to try
Megan Sanderson is a qualified counsellor and wellness consultant who says social anxiety is one of the most common issues her clients seek one on one support with. Below are three tools Megan recommends to help you manage social anxiety over the festive season:
Megan believes the breath is the most powerful tool you can use to create a sense of calm within. Especially when you engage with your breath by extending the length of the exhale. The exhale in the breath is responsible for activating the parasympathetic nervous system (the calming response)2, which is the state you want to be in to reduce any feelings of anxiousness.
Here's a simple breath practice to help calm your nervous system before heading out or if you find that anxiety creeping in when you’re out, why not do it then (no one needs to know).
Inhale through your nose for a count of 4,
Exhale through your nose for a count of 6
Repeat this for 20 rounds
Does the inner critic play a big role in your anxiety? That voice inside of your head that may be constantly criticizing and doubting who you are? Megan notes that “learning to turn that negative self-talk around through the use of positive affirmation has been shown to help rewire connections in the brain after some time.3”
Here are a few positive statements that you can repeat to yourself to help keep your anxiety at bay and hopefully with consistency shift it altogether:
I am able to stay calm when around others
I am comfortable being myself around others
I am in control in social situations
I am safe within my body
I am secure within myself
Body Scan Meditation
According to Megan, being mindful of where you hold tension in the body is another step to help reduce symptoms of anxiety. Tightness tends to stimulate the sympathetic nervous system (fight and flight) adding to that heightened feeling you may experience with social anxiety 2. To relax the body before leaving for your social event, try this:
Shut your eyes,
Unclench your jaw
Loosen your temples
Soften your neck and shoulders
Let your arms hang heavy
Beware of the sides of your body
Allow your hips to relax
Let a sense of ease move through your legs to the tips of your toes
Continue to feel the breath moving in and out the nose to allow it to be smooth and slow
Slowly peel the eyelids back open and invite gentle movement back into the body.
How can HBF help with anxiety?
At HBF, we know how important it is to look after your mental health.
- HBF extras cover can give you benefits towards visits with a psychologist or clinical psychologist, up to your annual limit.
- HBF hospital cover can pay benefits for hospital psychiatric services to treat mental health conditions such as anxiety.
Learn more about HBF mental health cover and how it could help you.
Explore HBF mental health cover
Find health cover that includes mental health services, for extra support when you need it most.
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This article contains general information only and does not take into account the health, personal situation or needs of any person. In conjunction with your GP or treating health care professional, please consider whether the information is suitable for you and your personal circumstances.
- 1Beyond Blue – Social Phobia
- 2Book – Stern, E. (2019). One Simple Thing: A new look at the science of yoga and how it can transform your life. NewYork, North Point Press.
- 3Book – Hibberd, J. & Usmar, J. (2014). This book will make you confident. London, Quercus Editions LTD.