We all suffer from social anxiety to some degree. For some of us it’s the occasional nerves when going to a party where we won’t know anyone, for others it’s a crippling fear of having to make small talk and worrying about what to say and how others will perceive them. Some find social anxiety so difficult that they will do anything to avoid social situations.
I used to feel social anxiety and avoid social situations but these days, cognitive behavioural therapy and constantly pushing myself out of my comfort zone has helped me to overcome my anxiety. I still get anti-social days but that is more a mood state than a fearful state.
When we experience social anxiety, we tend to focus on ourselves with thoughts such as, “how am I coming across?”; “I’ll bet they can see how awkward I feel”; “I have nothing to say, I look like an idiot” etc. All of this self focus only serves to increase our anxiety. Focusing on yourself and how you are coming across is one of the worst things you can do when in a social situation.
Instead, shift your focus externally. Focus on something in the room, try to really focus on what others are saying to you. Look at who is wearing a watch in the room, who is wearing quality shoes – anything that shifts your focus away from you will do the trick. The more we focus on ourselves, the more anxiety grows.
Stop avoiding social situations but you can take baby steps to reintroduce socialising. Start by meeting with one friend, then progress to two friends. You don’t have to throw yourself in the deep end by attending a party with 50 strangers. The key though is to stop avoiding. The more we withdraw the harder it is to socialise.
Analyse your beliefs about others – do you see others as mostly friendly and kind or do you see them as judgemental and unfriendly? Be careful of your thoughts as they are often assumptions with no evidence behind them yet they can influence your behaviour in a major way! If you find that you have negative thoughts/beliefs about others (especially strangers), set up an experiment. Compliment a stranger when you are out and about. See what happens. You may be pleasantly surprised.
Most people want to be liked and will be kind and accepting if given the chance – allow them to prove themselves. Something they may never get the chance to do if you hide away!
So, focus externally, take baby steps towards your goal (don’t avoid) and believe that others are essentially good and kind. Beware your own internal dialogue – think of all that is interesting about you. Don’y allow fearful thoughts to dominate such as “I am boring”; “I have nothing to say”.. those are very black and white statements and I am sure you can come up with xamples of hen you have been interesting, funny and engaging. Dismiss the negative thoughts – they are thoughts not facts.
Have fun, meet people, expand your horizons. We are essentially social creatures and we need love, affection and acceptance. Connecting and bonding with others is one of the major routes to contentment!
Photo by Ryan Harvey