Graduating from an addiction recovery program and reingratiating oneself into the “real world” is worthy of celebration. However, joining new communities or engaging in social events outside of the recovery sphere can be difficult, especially for those who experience social anxiety.
While social anxiety can feel debilitating, there are ways for those in recovery to address this anxious mindset and continue building effective and supportive communities. Doing so can create a feeling of belonging and acceptance at any stage in recovery.
After an individual leaves the curated, sober atmosphere of a recovery program, addressing the social anxiety that may still be present is paramount for sustained recovery and sobriety.
Defining Social Anxiety
Social anxiety can cause strong feelings of fear and worry for an individual while in social situations. It can cause a person to feel as if they are constantly being watched, analyzed, or judged by all of those around them. This may create an incredibly uncomfortable scenario for those struggling.
Social anxiety can also cause an individual to feel incredibly self-conscious in these social spaces, thus experiencing fear or panic based on these perceived judgments. Those suffering from social anxiety may seek to separate themselves from gatherings, self-isolate, or develop feelings of mental or physical paralysis. They may want to avoid doing or saying anything that would lead to any perceived humiliation or embarrassment.
For those in recovery from addiction, social anxiety can manifest as perceived judgments about one’s past use of addictive substances. It can cause an individual to believe that the worst aspects of themselves are constantly on display. This can become debilitating and cause a person to withdraw from engaging with others.
When people usually think of social anxiety, it is often in terms of attending large social events with a substantial group of people, but this is not always the case. Social anxiety can also present itself in small groups, or even when meeting just one other person for the first time.
Addressing social anxiety in recovery and working to overcome these irrational feelings can improve one’s self-confidence and sense of agency. Doing so can help separate an individual from their past use and continue to establish one’s new sober identity.
Tips for Managing Social Anxiety After Recovery
Learning to manage any kind of anxiety is an important part of the recovery process. It helps keep an individual in control of their own decisions, focused on sober decision-making, and preventing the onset of detrimental urges, cravings, or relapse. As a result, having strategies in place to cope with social anxiety in healthy ways can continue to keep recovery and sobriety in the front of one’s mind.
Have a Schedule and Escape Plan
Social anxiety feeds on uncertainty as one’s mind jumps to the worst possible outcomes of a situation, regardless of how unrealistic these notions may be. Having a plan in place for social interactions can help quell some of these feelings.
An itinerary of the activity, including places where an individual will be, for how long, and the company expected, can all help an individual mentally prepare for the social event ahead. Knowing what to expect can help an individual plan their actions and set more appropriate, realistic expectations. However, it can also inform an individual when they may need to employ an escape plan.
Having an escape plan–a way to remove oneself from a social situation either by having a predetermined, accessible safe space or supports ready to provide emotional support via phone or transportation–can add to one’s feelings of safety in social situations. Sometimes plans may not go as expected, or one may begin to feel their anxiety surfacing. In these cases, having an escape plan can help an individual remove themselves from a stressful situation and prioritize their own emotional well-being and sobriety.
Graduating from a recovery program and immediately jumping into large social events can be a shocking and difficult change to navigate, especially in early sobriety. Starting with small social events with a few supports and friends for only an hour or two can help an individual ease back into social events.
In this way, they can start small while coping with the stressors that may arise. There is no reason to force oneself to leave a comfortable space if an individual isn’t prepared to cope with the stress of social anxiety.
Anxieties can continue to grip an individual until they are processed. Being able to keep busy while at social events can keep an individual’s mind distracted from focusing on unrealistic worries. Helping to cater food at the event, playing games, checking in with supports, or helping to clean up around the event can all help keep an individual active and occupied.
Dress Your “Best”
While fashion may not be the first thing that comes to mind when coping with social anxiety, dressing for an event is something that makes an individual feel more comfortable. Wearing a shirt that one particularly likes can help recontextualize any feelings of “being watched” due to one’s social anxiety.
Shirts, hats, or necklaces can all make up a new wardrobe. It can also help to create a new attitude and level of self-confidence in social situations, diverting one’s perception from “being judged or watched” to creating a feeling of others taking notice of one’s attire.
Social anxiety can be an incredibly debilitating disorder on its own, and can also compromise an individual’s ability to successfully navigate their own recovery from substance abuse. If you or a loved one are struggling with social anxiety, addiction, or are trying to deal with the unique ways in which social anxiety may compromise your prolonged recovery, Everlast Recovery Centers is here to help. We understand the difficult nature of social anxiety. Our personalized approach to your program can help you better understand and prepare for coping with social anxiety and addiction simultaneously to create a healthy lifestyle. Your time with us is individualized based on your needs, with one-on-one and group therapy, relapse prevention, psychoeducation, and more, available to help create a unique recovery plan for you. For more information on how we can help you tackle social anxiety and maintain your recovery, call to speak to a caring staff member today at (866) 338-6925.