Dealing With Social Anxiety at Church

Woman looking fearful or nervous.

While some people are starving for some human interaction, others are totally fine staying in hibernation. Church services are about to open up and some wards have already begun to congregate again. While this is exciting, it has been a while since we have had to be socially active. For people with social anxiety, going back to church can feel daunting.

What Is It?

working through anxiety
Picture by Fernando @cferdo on Unsplash.

Social anxiety, also known as social phobia, is generally described as the inability to function normally in social situations. This is usually accompanied by sweaty palms, a racing heart, a mental disassociation referred to as an “out of body” feeling. Although social anxiety is a little bit different for everyone, these are the most common symptoms.

According to WebMD, it is one of the most common mental disorders that exist. So, chances are, someone in your ward has social anxiety and they might just be really good at hiding it.

Dealing With Social Anxiety If You Have It

Breathing through social anxiety
Breathe. Picture by Eli DeFaria on Unsplash.

Breathing exercises are a wonderful way to help yourself relax. You can do this quietly in public without drawing attention to yourself. You can also do these at home to prepare yourself for the day.

When you prepare yourself for social situations mentally, it can help to keep you calm during the actual interaction. Another way to prepare yourself is to make sure that you are taking care of your body. It has so much more of an effect on your mental health than you would expect.

If you struggle with negative self-talk it can make it feel impossible to overcome your anxiety. Talking back to your negative thoughts is empowering and the more you do it, the better you will feel.

Finally, take it one day at a time. Baby steps are how you can start to improve your life and mental health. Even if you need to start with taking it an hour at a time, a step is still a step.

It is hard to feel like you fit in when you struggle with social anxiety and improving yourself takes courage. An article in the Ensign shares the personal experience of Lisa Barney, a woman to struggles with this. She says,

I learned that belonging takes faith—faith that you are worth loving, faith that you are needed, and faith that you can be better with others.

She goes on to describe how she has personally learned to overcome her mental illness in a church setting. Her tips are to be of service in small ways, push yourself out of your comfort zone, and start by growing you relationship with God. Barney continues:

“For me to feel like I belonged, I had to start with my relationship with Heavenly Father and the Savior. I studied the Savior’s life. I prayed to Heavenly Father and did my best to fill my life with ways to grow closer to Him. And because I made an effort to reach out to Him, He reached out to me.”

Related Link: What Have the Prophets Taught About Anxiety? 

Dealing With Social Anxiety If You Know Someone Who Has It

Supporting friends with social anxiety
Support. Picture by Rémi Walle on Unsplash.

One upside to social distancing is that it means a reduced amount of small talk and social interaction. For people with social anxiety, an extended amount of small talk can be stressful. Remember to keep that in mind when you approach those who struggle.

Don’t take it too personally when someone isn’t being very talkative. It’s also important that we try not to fix them. No one wants to feel like a project and mental illness is not something that can be fixed. It lives with a person and they just learn how to cope with it.

Just because someone doesn’t like coming to church for the social aspect, doesn’t mean that they are lacking a testimony or faith. Just because they struggle to gather with others, doesn’t mean that they don’t truly love the gospel.

If you are in a leadership role, think of ways that these members of your ward can serve using their special talents in a more behind-the-scenes way. This may be by making flyers for church events or the programs for Sunday’s services. Keep in mind that assigning them as the ward greeter may not bring them out of their shell like it was intended to.

Sometimes those we struggle with social anxiety are not introverted or shy. They may share their thoughts in classes and outwardly look very comfortable, but inside they are struggling with what others might think of them.

Make sure that those who feel this way, and everyone for that matter, feel that they have been heard and acknowledged. Everyone has something to contribute and bring to the table. It is important for members of the Church to know that their thoughts and ideas are valued and that they are loved and supported.

Related Link: Ministering to Latter-day Saints with Mental Disorders 

How do you deal with social anxiety at church? Did any of these tips and tricks help you? Share in the comments. 

Zoë Holyoak is currently a BYU student, photographer, and writer. Her hobbies include long walks through the ice cream aisle at the grocery store and correcting bad grammar. She is also a proud member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and served a mission for the Church in Portland, Oregon.