Coping with social anxiety
Do you dread the idea of having to socialise? If you do, join the club! Many people get anxious in social situations, worrying that they will embarrass themselves somehow or not measure up to the people around them.
Cognitive behavioural therapy works well for people with social anxiety as it looks at people’s fears as well as the probability that these fears will in fact take place. More often than not, the fears we have never happened yet we still worry endlessly about what might go wrong. The anticipation in itself can be hell.
A useful technique is to visualise everything going well. It is also very effective to talk to yourself in a positive manner. Say things to yourself such as “I am good company, why wouldn’t people enjoy being around me?”. You may not believe these thoughts/statements at first but it is important to replace self doubt and self criticism with more positive statements. Behaviour that is warmer and shows you as more approachable then follows.
More often than not, it isn’t the situation that stresses us out, instead it is our perception that causes anxiety. If we imagine we will embarrass ourselves and we focus on our insecurities we are far more likely to feel anxious and dread the situation. We can challenge our perceptions though – any time, any place. We always have that choice.
Ask yourself what you are thinking – grab the relevant thoughts. Then ask yourself if there is another way to look at the situation. Would someone else see it differently?
Look for a revised, more realistic version of your original thought.
I don’t want to be here.
Why don’t I Want to be here? I don’t want to be here because …?
People will look at me and know that I feel uncomfortable.
And that is bad because?
Well, people will know something is wrong with me…
And what is so bad about that?
People will think I am crazy…
And what does that say about me?
Well, it says that I am crazy.
Become an expert at identifying your assumptions and negative thoughts. Be as specific as you can when identifying a thought and become a thought detective asking yourself questions such as:
Where is the evidence for this thinking?
How do I know that my thoughts are true? Is is fact?
What other explanations could there be?
Is it helpful for me to think this way?
What would someone else say/do in this situation?
The more able we become at disputing our negative thoughts, the less intense the negative associated emotion will be and the more adept we are at looking at what we are telling ourselves, the better we become at discovering our core beliefs- these are ideas that lay the foundations for our negative thoughts and the most common ones I have come across are: I am not love-able or I am not good enough.
See if you can figure out what your core beliefs are. They often take the form of a “if this..then that” statement. Eg. if I socialise, no one will like me.
The next step is to try find real life situations where we can test out our core belief. Start with a small experiment. Again – more often than not (I have assisted many clients in putting together behavioural experiments to test out beliefs) we find that our core belief is not true. When this happens, our need to believe and hold on to a core belief that limits us lessens. It loses it’s power as we prove to ourselves the exact opposite of what we thought.
Repetition is key – keep challenging, keep looking for evidence and keep setting up situations where you can test out your core beliefs (also known as “rules for living”.)
Tips for a healthy happy life:
Keep a balanced routine and healthy lifestyle
Develop a good social network – the key to contentment!
Develop a good professional network
Expect slip ups, failures and down days.
Don’t let fear get the better of you and remember that we often all feel anxious when we are out and about. especially on down days. Don’t be hard on yourself and stop the high expectations. Learn to live simply and never take life too seriously.