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  • Writer's pictureCAROLINE Bentley

How to Cope With Social Anxiety in Healthy Ways

5 Tips to Avoid Alcohol and Face Your Fears

crowd of people at a bar

We’ve all been there. Whether you’re getting ready for a date, had a rough day at work, or heading out for a ladies’ night downtown, many people turn toward alcohol to relax and unwind in social situations. We long to feel accepted by the group, forget the stresses of the day we had, and summon the courage to be our most boisterous self. Drinking culture tells us that we need alcohol to loosen up and be fun, and our inner critic repeats the line. Coping with social anxiety is difficult, especially when the way you’ve learned to deal with stress in these situations invites the use of substances. However, the buzz and relief are usually short-lived for most people. In fact, alcohol often exacerbates anxiety and its symptoms before your night out is even over. Fortunately, there are some useful tips you can utilize to feel more comfortable in a social setting without the crash of a hangover or the use of unhealthy coping skills.

The Science Behind the Buzz

It is important to understand why many people turn to substances to relax and feel better about social situations. By understanding the effect alcohol has on the brain, we can use scientific evidence to replicate those sensations without the help of alcohol. Researchers have found that consuming alcohol releases endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin which are known as pleasure chemicals. These neurotransmitters work in the brain to make people feel calm and happy and decrease their inhibitions. These tend to be the effects that we’re after when ingesting substances to cope with social anxiety.

However, there are other ways to stimulate the release of these hormones and mimic the temporary “high” you feel when you are drinking. This chemical cocktail in your brain can be triggered by controlled breathing, physical activity, treating yourself to some of your favorite things, or surrounding yourself with people who make you happy. These are all-natural ways to reap the rewards of pleasure hormones and cope with social anxiety without the use of substances.

Reframing Your Mindset

It is possible to still have a fun night out on the town. By going out with people you love, to places you enjoy, enjoying your favorite meal, or perhaps walking to the restaurant or social event to enjoy fresh air, you can get endorphins pumping before you arrive. This can give you a boost of confidence, calmness, and happiness to tackle social anxiety in ways that won’t impact your sobriety or contribute to a larger dependence on alcohol.

Sometimes it feels threatening to our sense of self to realize that we’ve used alcohol in unhealthy ways. Having these moments to check in with yourself allows you to determine whether you’re actually comfortable with how you’ve acted in the past and whether you might want to make a change. This is where the help of qualified professionals passionate about substance use and co-morbid disorder recovery may be beneficial.

group of female friends smiling

So how do we deal with social anxiety without turning to substance use?

Below are some useful anxiety tips and tools to help you manage social anxiety in a healthier way and still have fun in social settings.

Coping with Social Anxiety: Tips & Tools

1. Challenge Negative Thoughts

Anxiety makes us think in terms of the worst-case scenario. These irrational thoughts are just that: irrational. Challenging these negative thoughts with evidence can help us think more realistically and calm down in a social environment.

2. Reframe

Has this happened to you? You’re out at a bar with friends and the social anxiety starts creeping in. Suddenly, you are hyper-aware of your surroundings and fears. But the truth is: you’re not that unique. This is one of my personal favorite ways to reframe the situation and address my anxiety. Odds are, no one is paying attention to you or going out of their way to judge you. Realizing this really helps to feel less uncomfortable and overwhelmed in a social situation and realize everyone is there for their own reasons and for fun, just like you.

3. Identify Your Triggers

Really take time to reflect on what makes your anxiety worse. By identifying what cues your anxiety, you can form a better understanding of how to work on it and also how to avoid very uncomfortable situations that may lead to the use of unhealthy coping strategies. It could be ordering something at the bar, loud music, big crowds, or other factors often present in a social setting. Knowing what makes your social anxiety tick can help you make plans and choose places to be social that make you feel comfortable.

4. Identify Support Systems

Knowing who you can reach out to for support can be a key factor in not turning toward negative coping skills. Having a friend or loved one you can call or message is an integral part of your recovery support system.

5. Identify Your Control

Feeling out of control can be a significant trigger of anxiety, especially in social settings. Grounding techniques such as measured breathing can help increase mindfulness and awareness and decrease feelings of anxiety and loss of control.

Identifying what your triggers are, what your goals are, and who belongs in your support system are crucial steps for identifying the control you have in social settings and can be the key to coping with social anxiety in healthy ways.

Cheers to Facing Your Fears!

Social anxiety affects many people, especially people with substance use disorders or those in recovery. It may take time and more practice building refusal skills to figure out how to have fun without alcohol in social settings. If you find yourself struggling to navigate this journey or need more support, we offer a variety of services from intensive outpatient programs, community referrals, and substance use monitoring to help guide your recovery. Connect with us today!


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