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Alcohol and Mental Health

How To Cope With Social Anxiety (Without Alcohol!)

September 16, 2023
16 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
September 16, 2023
16 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
September 16, 2023
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
September 16, 2023
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Reframe Content Team
September 16, 2023
16 min read

You’ve just arrived at a party. You quickly scan the room, looking for friendly faces, but your worst fear has suddenly come true: you don’t see anyone you know. Your heart starts racing and you begin to panic. You’re awkwardly standing in the corner by yourself, and can feel your anxiety building by the minute. Normally, you’d distract yourself by going to get a cocktail, but you’ve committed to being sober for 30 days, so that’s not really an option. What can you do to help calm your nerves? 

In this post, we’ll gain insight into social anxiety and explore tips and tricks for coping with it without alcohol. We’ll also look at how alcohol worsens anxiety, creating a vicious cycle. Let’s get started!

The Problem With Alcohol and Social Anxiety

Before we dive into alcohol-free strategies for coping with social anxiety, let’s take a quick moment to discuss why alcohol isn’t good for anxiety in the first place. 

Many of us have probably used alcohol at some point or another to relax or “take the edge off” in a social situation. In fact, ordering a beer or glass of wine at the bar is typically one of the first things we do at a social event. 

However, although a drink or two might seem like a good way to calm our nerves in the moment, mixing anxiety and alcohol in the long run can end up doing more harm than good. This is largely because alcohol throws off our brain’s delicate balance of mood-regulating chemicals.

It’s a bit like the chicken and egg relationship: anxiety can lead to drinking, but drinking can also lead to anxiety. This effect usually occurs a few hours to a day after drinking — otherwise known as “hangxiety.” 

The problem is that drinking to cope with social anxiety can quickly become a habit, especially since it can worsen our symptoms. It’s easy to get into the habit of finding some “liquid courage” when we feel uncomfortable in social situations. Over time, this could spiral into physical and mental dependence. 

Sadly, social anxiety and alcohol misuse often go hand-in-hand. One study estimates that about 1 in 5 people with social anxiety disorder (SAD) also struggle with alcohol abuse or dependence. Many more fall into gray area drinking, and would like to drink less than they do on social occasions. 

Overall, the research is pretty clear: using alcohol for social anxiety can lead to a harmful cycle of ups and downs.

Tips for Coping With Social Anxiety Without Alcohol

So, if drinking alcohol isn’t good for our social anxiety, what are some things we can do instead? Here are 7 tips for coping with social anxiety without alcohol:

1. Practice Positive Self-talk

Social anxiety is often linked to negative expectations about an event, or a negative assessment of our own capabilities. For instance, we might tell ourselves negative things such as “I’m not good enough” or “everyone thinks I’m an idiot.” The problem is that the more we feed ourselves this type of language, the worse we’ll feel — and the worse our anxiety will become. 

Positive self-talk can be a powerful tool to help challenge our thoughts and adjust our mindset. Try making a list of things you like about yourself, or things that you’re particularly good at. Similarly, try writing down phrases that you can tell yourself before and during a social situation. For instance, you might repeat, “I’m capable and I can do this” or “I’m valuable and worthy regardless of what others think of me.” It can also be helpful to acknowledge how we’re feeling, but respond to ourselves with kindness and compassion. For instance, we might say to ourselves, “I know I’m feeling a little anxious right now, and that’s totally ok. It doesn’t mean anything is wrong with you.” Even if it feels odd at first, keep practicing it. Over time, you’re likely to find these phrases actually help give you more confidence and calm your nerves. 

2. Journal Your Thoughts and Emotions 

Journaling our thoughts is a great coping mechanism for social anxiety. In fact, numerous studies have shown that journaling reduces overall levels of depression and anxiety. Even just a small amount of time spent journaling can lower blood pressure!

Anxiety is often accompanied by rumination — dwelling on negative thoughts. Journaling allows us to get these thoughts out of our head and down on paper, so we can process them in a more analytical, non-emotional way, and then respond appropriately to them. 

In other words, instead of simply letting negative thoughts run rampant in our mind, journaling allows us to engage our thoughts and determine whether they are true or false. As a result, we’re better able to exercise control over our anxiety, rather than having it control us. 

3. Try Relaxation Techniques

Social anxiety can often lead to physiological changes, such as rapid breathing, a racing heart, and sometimes even sweating. Learning relaxation techniques can be helpful both before and during social situations, as they can help slow our breathing and calm our nerves. Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) can be particularly effective, as it can help relieve tension when surrounded by people we might not know very well. 

We can practice PMR through a two-step process. First, we systematically tense particular muscle groups in our body, such as our neck and shoulders. Then, we release the tension and notice how our muscles feel when we relax them. We can do this for every muscle group in our body. Doing so can help lower our overall tension and stress levels, and help us relax when we’re feeling anxious. The more regularly we practice this, the easier it’ll become. 

If this feels too overwhelming, simply engaging in breathing exercises or bringing attention to our breath can also help provide relief. For instance, we can practice the 4-7-8 breathing technique, which has been shown to reduce anxiety. This involves breathing in for 4 seconds, holding our breath for 7 seconds, and exhaling for 8 seconds. 

4. Embrace Mindfulness

Similarly, mindfulness is another great tool that offers an array of emotional benefits, such as helping decrease anxiety, rumination, and emotional reactivity. In fact, people who practice mindfulness are better able to relax, have improved self-esteem, and possess more enthusiasm. 

Mindfulness is a type of meditation where we’re focused on our senses and how we’re feeling in the moment. Often with social anxiety, we’ll be thinking about past social events or worrying about future ones, so finding the time to ground yourself and be present can be an effective way to calm yourself down. 

Mindfulness is most effective when we practice it regularly — even for just 5-10 minutes a day. Even something as simple as mindful deep breathing can help. We can do this by focusing our attention on our breath, slowly breathing in, holding our breath for a few seconds, and slowly breathing out. There are also many apps and guided meditations out there that we can turn to for help. 

5. Get Moving

Physical activity has incredible benefits not just for our physical health, but our mental health as well. In fact, exercise is one of 10 self-care practices that can boost our mental health

Whenever we work out, our brain releases chemicals called endorphins, which make us feel good and give us a natural high. Studies show that regular physical activity can boost our mood, decrease tension, and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. In fact, some studies suggest exercise works as well as medication for alleviating anxiety and depression. One vigorous exercise session can alleviate symptoms for hours, and a regular schedule may significantly reduce them over time.

Experts recommend getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity and two sessions of muscle strengthening activity a week. This might sound like a lot, but we don’t have to do it all at once. We can break it up by doing 30 minutes of exercise a day, 5 days a week. But even just five minutes of aerobic exercise can stimulate anti-anxiety effects!

6. Choose Social Situations That Don’t Involve Alcohol

This might seem fairly obvious, but it can be helpful to avoid places that don’t serve alcohol, particularly if we struggle with temptation. This doesn’t mean that we have to avoid all social situations with alcohol, but at least for a time, we can consider taking a break from them.  Instead, try spending time with people doing activities that don’t involve alcohol. For example, we might meet a group of friends at a park for an afternoon instead of a restaurant that serves alcohol. 

We can also consider joining meetup groups related to our interests, or taking up a hobby that connects us to others, such as painting, kayaking, or knitting. We might even find that bonding with people who share common interests without alcohol makes it easier to overcome our social anxiety. Volunteering for a cause close to our heart is another great opportunity to connect with like-minded people. 

7. Seek Support

If we feel like we’ve tried everything but are still struggling, it might be beneficial to seek the support of a counselor, therapist, or medical professional. There’s nothing wrong with getting outside help! A doctor can walk us through all our options for dealing with anxiety, including prescription medication options for managing symptoms. Similarly, a therapist can help us better understand the root of our social anxiety and develop a plan for managing triggers. We can also join an online community or self-help group, which connects us with others who struggle as we do. This helps us know we’re not alone and can have a positive impact on our emotional health and well-being.

Finally, we should also consider turning to a trusted family member or friend and opening up about our social anxiety. While it can be difficult to be vulnerable, having a built-in support system can make a world of difference. Our loved ones will support us when we need it, or at least be more understanding. For instance, if our friends are aware that we struggle with social anxiety, they may meet up with us before a social situation so we don’t have to go alone.

The Bottom Line

Social anxiety can be debilitating and difficult to cope with — especially if we’ve become accustomed to turning to alcohol for relief. However, one of the worst things we can do for any kind of anxiety — including social anxiety —  is to consume alcohol, as this will only worsen symptoms in the long run. We can learn to cope with social anxiety without alcohol by practicing positive self-talk, relaxation techniques, and mindfulness, journaling, exercising, choosing social situations that don’t involve alcohol, and seeking support from professionals and loved ones. If we’re continuing to struggle with social anxiety after making lifestyle changes, we should also consider contacting a medical professional. 

If you want to stop using alcohol to cope with social anxiety, consider trying Reframe. We’re a neuroscience-backed app that has helped millions of people reduce their alcohol consumption and develop healthier coping mechanisms. 

Summary FAQs

1. Can alcohol help us cope with social anxiety? 

Although alcohol can temporarily calm our nerves, mixing social anxiety and alcohol can actually worsen symptoms in the long run and create a vicious cycle. In fact, social anxiety and alcohol misuse often go hand-in-hand. 

2. What are some healthy ways to cope with social anxiety without alcohol? 

Some of the most effective ways to cope with social anxiety without alcohol include practicing positive self-talk, practicing relaxation techniques and mindfulness, journaling, exercising, and seeking outside support. 

Experience Better Mental Health With Reframe

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

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The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today!

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