When I was 19 years old, I went on a road trip with a car full of friends from college. On our way to a conference, we decided to celebrate New Year's Eve in Nashville, Tennessee. Hitting the town with our brand new cowboy boots, we ended up with a great view of a Lady Antebellum concert.
It was my first New Year's Eve away from home and I was wary, keeping an eye on my surroundings. Even though it was an exciting evening, I wished I could just relax a little bit and enjoy the concert and fireworks.
As we anxiously waited for the countdown to midnight, I texted a friend about my worries. He sent a quick response that said: "Just wait 'til your 21. Then you can get a few beers and loosen up a little bit."
Something didn't sit quite right with me when I read that reply.
Why is alcohol the go-to social solution for situations that aren't comfortable? A recent study from The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) found that 20% of people dealing with social anxiety also suffer from some sort of alcohol abuse. Because alcohol is easy to find in most social situations, it’s understandably accessible coping strategy.
Don’t get me wrong - there's nothing wrong with having a drink or two when you're out with friends. But alcohol should never be used to mask a deeper longing in your heart. Quelling the fear that rises in our gut in a social situation with another glass of whiskey isn't going to help us deal with underlying issues. In fact, we’ll often up with two problems instead of one – the root of our social anxiety and substance dependence.
Whether you're gathering up the courage to dance like no one is watching, or to go talk to a person you’ve never met, here are some alternative options to tackling social anxiety rather than just reaching for another glass.
These tips are simple and seemingly obvious - but that's the beauty of them. Sometimes when you're in the midst of a struggle, the simple and obvious tips can be those that resonate the loudest.
Dig down to the real reason
Do you drink so that you'll fit in easier? Invest into intentional friendships. Are you nervous to try something new? Try something where there will be an activity you can focus your attention on - maybe it's a hike or going on a road trip to somewhere new. Don't be afraid to admit to your friends that you're a little nervous. Chances are that you'll talk to someone who is nervous too.
If you've taken a look at your habits and realize that you're using alcohol as a social crutch, don't be afraid to examine the root of the issue and seek alternative ways to deal with hard things in your life besides telling the bartender you want another round.
Any kind of exercise from Pilates to kickboxing can reduce stress in your life. If you find yourself drinking to calm your nerves, try adding in regular exercise to your schedule to not only increase your health but also boost your self-esteem.
When you exercise, you boost your brain’s production of endorphins – neurotransmitters that pass along information throughout your body. This leaves you with a natural high after a good workout, helping you leave behind the stresses of your job while also improving your mood.
You don't need to be on a yoga mat to learn the benefits of some deep breathing. Focusing on your breath allows you to relax. Concentrate on what your breathing sounds like. Try it out the next time you're in a social situation when you need a little bit of time to reflect and relax.
Reach out to a counselor
If you're struggling with social anxiety, don't be afraid to go to professional counseling - there's no shame in asking for help. Be honest and vulnerable with a therapist and tell them about your relationship with alcohol. When you sit down with a counselor, you'll be able to identify what kind of thoughts you're having in social situations that are causing anxiety.