Understanding and Supporting Group Anxiety

The theme of this year’s mental health awareness week is anxiety—a common mental health challenge that affects individuals in various ways.

While anxiety can be a personal struggle, it can also manifest within groups, something which we come up against a lot when sharing our trauma support groups. Individuals are often unsure if it is right for them due to the anxiety around being in a group. This anxiety manifests by impacting the collective well-being of the group members and sometimes preventing them from accessing support. So lets explore how anxiety can present in groups and see what ways we can work to help support you if you find yourself in this position.

Recognising Group Anxiety

Anxiety within groups can manifest in different forms and each individual differently. So what ways can it present?

Social Anxiety

Some individuals may experience anxiety in social situations within groups, and feelings of fear, self-consciousness, and apprehension can bubble up to the surface. They may worry about being judged, ridiculed, or negatively evaluated by others when they speak, if they don’t speak, or even feelings about how they look in the group. When this social anxiety sets in group interactions can feel very overwhelming and daunting for individuals.

Performance Anxiety

Ever had a presentation to give or had to speak to a group and your heart starts to beat faster? While this can happen to all of us especially when we are not used to it, it can really cause crippling anxiety for a lot of individuals fearing failure or scrutiny of what you are saying, and the pressure of meeting the expectations of the group. The fear of making mistakes, conflicts arising within the group, or facing disagreement can generate apprehension and unease. The responsibility of contributing to important decisions can be overwhelming, leading to heightened anxiety levels.

Those are just a few of the ways anxiety can manifest in groups but how can we create a supportive environment for those experiencing anxiety within groups? Well, for us it is vital to foster an inclusive and understanding environment and really face head on the emotions that come up for people that are causing them to refrain from group support, or group activities.

Creating a Supportive Environment

If you are facilitating a group it is so, so, important to encourage open communicatoin within the group. Try to create a safe space where the people there feel comfortable sharing their story or experiences and ensure to set out some expectations of other group members from the beginning so they are encouraged to listen and foster a sense of trust. By actively listening to one another we can then encourage empathy and show compassion to each member. When you see this in action, a group of indidivuals seek to understand one anothers inner most feelings and experiences it allows people to feel validated in themselves in a safe free of judgement and shame. Most importantly, break the tension and stigma around it and discuss with the group how these feelings can arrise. When we address these feelings as a common experience they become validated for those experiencing them and make people more willing to share their struggles and feel less isolated. 

Implementing Coping Mechanisms

Helping individuals who grapple with group anxiety entails equipping them with valuable resources and strategies to overcome their challenges. Like we said when anxiety rears its head in a group setting, it can be an intimidating and lonely experience. But hold that thought, because there are empowering coping mechanisms that can really help transform your experience with group anxiety. Let’s dive into some practical techniques that can guide you towards a state of calm in the face of group anxiety.

Take a Deep Breath

Sometimes, when anxiety starts to creep in, all it takes is a deep breath to regain composure. If you are facilitating a group, encourage group members to practice deep breathing exercises at the start of the exercise or presentation, inhaling slowly through the nose and exhaling
gently through the mouth. If you are feeling the pressure when you enter a group, try to practice this too or prior to leaving the house follow a short guided breathwork online to help support you. This simple act can help alleviate tension, center your thoughts, and restore a sense of control.

Gradual Exposure

While not always possible gradually exposing individuals to their fears and discomfort, they can acclimate and build resilience over time.This is something we try to encoprate into our trauma support programme where we design our residentials around process group sessions at the beginning to allow the group to interact prior to sharing a space. While it can still be difficult to take the step to choosing group support, we really find this step and attending our one day workshops really help to regulate anxious thoughts and feelings before entering more intense group residentials.

Challenge Anxious Thoughts

Anxiety can come from irrational or negative thoughts that spiral out of control so if possible try to challenge these thoughts by examining their validity and considering what else might happen or what might go right in the situation. Ask yourself “Is there any evidence to support what I am thinking?” reframing these thoughts can help gain control back of the situation.

We hope some of what we talked about was of help and support but as always if anxiety persists or significantly impairs your functioning or impacts your life, please seek professional support. If you need to talk to a member of our team or work with a coach please get in touch and we can help suppotr you. By understanding how group anxiety presents itself and implementing supportive strategies, we can foster environments of compassion, empathy, and growth.

Let’s empower individuals to overcome anxiety and nurture collective well-being.

Author: NC

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