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Welcome to our Ask The Expert column where each month, we aim to tackle a different problem by turning to an expert for advice. Got a question? Drop us an e-mail at magherworld@sph.com.sg.

After nearly two years of isolation, we should be excited that socialising is back in full swing. But for many, it’s induced an unfamiliar sense of social anxiety. Dr Tracie Lazaroo, clinical psychologist at Inner Light Psychological Services and LP Clinic, shares her tips on combating different forms of social anxiety.

I received a text from a close friend asking me to hit a bar, and I’m worried at the thought of interacting with people. What is this anxiety that’s stopping me from going out to crowded places?

It is likely that you’re feeling overwhelmed as you’ve not been in a social setting for a prolonged period of time (due to lockdowns), and you are struggling with not being able to trust yourself in a social setting. It might help to ask yourself what drove you to feel more spontaneous when it came to social gatherings in the past.

What is stopping you from doing so now? Are these social interactions still of value to you? Do you want to see a close friend or just have fun? Does the fear override what you would like to get out of the social engagement?

If you have evaluated that you may be catastrophising (when someone assumes that the worst will happen) or making unhealthy assumptions about the social outcome, instead of questioning all the potential things that could go wrong, ask yourself what if they never happened, or what if things go right instead.

I’ve been told by my boss that I have to start giving frequent presentations to upper management. I’m scared that I will clam up and humiliate myself in front of a crowd. How can I overcome this fear? Public speaking is never easy as it brings up a lot of uncomfortable physical and psychological sensations.

Overcoming this panicky feeling requires a combination of practice and simplification. It may be a good idea to reduce the core concepts within your presentation into colloquial understanding. In terms of practice, having an objective pilot group, either with family or trusted peers, to give you actionable feedback can help reduce feelings of anxiety during presentations, as well as expose you to the experience of receiving both positive and negative feedback.

Social anxiety often comes in waves, and while it may feel overwhelming, it is good to slow things down in the moment, engage in deep breathing, and redirect your focus mentally on how the presentations would benefit your personal growth professionally, while you gain valuable experience in public speaking.

Dr Lazaroo’s tips to help manage anxiety

1. Self-awareness to emotional triggers and responses is the first step in managing anxious symptoms. It’s important to have regular self-care. This may come in the form of engaging in relaxing, intentional, and purposeful activities such as exercising, journalling, or taking a well-deserved break.

2. Reaching out to a loved one or relying on social support can be therapeutic in managing negative rumination and worry. It can be validating to know that you’re not alone.

3. Always practise self-compassion and kindness with our thoughts. Anxiety can often cause us to feel as if we need to know all the solutions to our problems immediately. While it may feel this way in the
moment, give yourself some space to assess your emotions, consolidate your thoughts, and move through life in alignment with your personal values.

Courage is often not about overcoming the fear of something, but about experiencing the fear and moving through the experience anyway, slowly, with grace and composure.