On this blog, we’ll be discussing one of the most common issues we hear about – how to manage social anxiety without alcohol. Many people who experience social anxiety will describe using alcohol to help take the edge off, but then struggle to regulate their intake and often end up regretting the decision to drink, or feeling bad about how things went. Often, learning how to manage social anxiety without using alcohol is really empowering, so here are some tips to get you started:
1. Understand the source of your anxiety
Most of us have certain things we are worried about and social anxiety amplifies this. It can help to really zoom in on what you’re anxious about. Are you worried about being criticised? Rejected? Or left with nobody to talk to in a social setting? Often social anxiety is about being judged and negatively evaluated, so see if you can consider what you’re worried about being judged for. This can be a tough exercise, but it can also be refreshing to have a bit more clarity about this and what you’re frightened of.
Any type of anxiety can be addressed with basic self-soothing exercises to put you in the best possible state of body and mind for your event. Depending on the person, this might be some exercise to boost your mood and get rid of excess energy, a hot shower to help you to relax and calm down, taking your time getting ready and feeling comfortable, or listening to your favourite uplifting music to get you into a social mood. Sometimes we even rely on alcohol to make us feel social, so things like music and getting ready with friends can help to make us feel a bit more comfortable.
Thinking back to the first step, see if you can imagine what the situation will be like, the kinds of things you might find challenging in a social setting (eg. thinking of something to say? Meeting new people? Making conversation?). See if you can make some plans about how to manage these challenges, whether this is a list of ‘conversation starters’, a few easy excuses to get out of a boring conversation, or even temporarily assuming the persona of one of your favourite TV characters and considering how they might be in a social setting.
4. Be curious
Curiosity is a silver bullet for anxiety – the more we can be curious and interested in a situation, the more distracted you’ll be from your anxious thoughts. Treat this as an experiment – sober you, in a social situation full of people who are drinking. What will that be like? The good news is that each time you do this it gets easier, so being curious the first few times and gathering information about what works, and what doesn’t, means you’ll gradually get used to this new normal. Many people find that sober socialising actually helps enormously with their social anxiety, since they become experts at interacting with people without any buffer or anxiety management tool – and feel confident because of this.
5. Reward and celebration
As with any behaviour change, we also need to reinforce to ourselves the value of what we’re doing, and practise self-care so that we can keep up the change. This might be debriefing with a friend about your experience, or even putting away money that you might have spent out drinking, in a savings account for something special. It is also a good idea to keep a journal or record of your experiences with sober socialising, and see if you can track how things improve for you over time and the things you learn about yourself from not drinking in these settings.
We hope you’ve found these tips useful. If you’re thinking it is time to make some changes to your relationship with alcohol, I’d recommend you visit the Daybreak app at the link below. You can get the help and support you need from a community of people with similar goals to you, as well as help with getting more support if you need it. Changing your relationship with alcohol doesn’t have to be drastic or involve huge changes to your lifestyle – it is more about figuring out what is going to work for you.