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Archive for Social anxiety

Does Social Anxiety Keep You From Fully Enjoying Life?

 I came across an article today that was quite interesting! Social anxiety is so common among all of us. More than we think! I am an introvert and have been most of my life. When I got up in front of the class to do an oral report in high school, or even back in elementary school when it was for show and tell..It was agonizing for me! Later on in life when I had to do my first business presentation, I didn’t think I could do it. I went to  social events, networking events..all horrific for me! However, I came across a Toastmasters club and they were my saving grace! Toastmasters for those who are not familiar with it, is a place where you learn to think and speak on your feet. What a wonder it was to be in a room of people talking in front of them, some of them seasoned toastmasters, but most just like me. Getting back to the article I found today, there are many helpful suggestions in it that I want to share in regards to overcoming social anxiety. The whole article is rather large, so i’ll just break it down to the 5 main practices the author mentions. Here it is 🙂 :

Does Social Anxiety Keep You From Fully Enjoying Life?

By Mark Tyrrell

1) Practice being relaxed

Not many people think of worrying as self-programming, but it is. When you worry intensely about upcoming social situations, you are repeatedly linking anxiety to the events. Then when you actually go into the social situation itself, you feel anxious – you’ve programmed yourself to feel this way.

You can start to change this response by taking time to think about the future gathering whilst relaxed – maybe when sitting in a comfortable chair or relaxing in a warm bath. Imagine seeing yourself at the social event, looking relaxed and confident. Do this repeatedly and your body and mind will forge a new and better automatic association to these times.

2) Seek out social situations

Imagine living in a house for thirty years, but always avoiding one room. When you finally ventured into the mysterious room, you might feel a little tense and anxious. Why?

The more we avoid something, the more we send the message to the unconscious mind: “I am avoiding this because it is dangerous.” Your mind, trying to be helpful, builds up the fear of what it is you’re avoiding even more. In nature, we avoid a clump of trees because it might have lions in it or we avoid cliff edges because falling off means death.

We avoid what frightens us and, in return, are frightened by what we avoid. So start actively putting yourself in social situations. In fact, even imagining doing this, as well as doing it for real will help show your unconscious mind: “This is normal.” (See Tip 1)

3) Focus your attention outward

Studies have found that people who rate themselves as shy in social settings have much worse recall for external environmental details because they’ve been looking inward (focusing on their feelings), not outward. So it makes sense to focus outward to lower anxiety. When in social settings, make a mental note of three aspects of the situation you’re in.

For example:

  • The colour of the furniture.
  • Any pictures on the walls and their subjects.
  • What clothes other people are wearing (I must confess I never recall that).

This might seem strange, but it will get you accustomed to focusing away from yourself – which is, after all, the purpose of social situations.

Another way to cultivate outward focus is to ask questions. Social anxiety has us worrying what other people think of us, so focus on other people instead. Be curious. Ask people open-ended questions that require more than just a “yes” or “no” answer. Make a point of remembering what they say and referring back to it later to demonstrate your interest. Again, this forces your focus of attention to shift outward. It’s also nice for other people, meaning you might accidentally make more friends as a ’by-product‘ of this strategy.

Now, overcoming social anxiety is as much about stopping doing certain things as it is about doing new things, so…

4) Use care in how you use your imaginative mind

Your imagination is a wonderful thing. Used constructively, it can be a massive help (see Tip 1 above). But social anxiety often has you using it to scare yourself. This is like using a hammer (a potentially useful tool) to wash the dishes.

Years of public speaking taught me that trying to imagine what people are thinking of you is a big no-no. If you catch yourself ‘mind-reading’, tell yourself the truth: “Look, I really don’t – and can’t – know what these other people are thinking right now!” Ultimately, we can influence what others think of us, but we can never control it. And as you become more socially confident, you’ll care less anyway.

To change any behaviour, your mind needs positive instructions. Don’t think: “I hope I don’t feel terrified as usual!” – this is like someone asking you directions by telling you where they don’t want to end up. Instead, ask yourself: “How do I want to feel in these situations?” And get into the habit of focusing on that.

Find your ‘target feeling’ by looking to times when you are comfortable with others (say, old friends or trusted family members). Then you can use these situations as templates for preparing your mind to perform the way you want in social situations.

To do this, close your eyes and get yourself nice and relaxed. Take time to remember how it feels to be with these familiar people until you get a strong feeling of comfort. Imagine seeing yourself in a formerly less comfortable social situation, but behaving like you do with your trusted friends. This sort of mental rehearsal is extremely powerful and can make a massive difference over time.

5) On being yourself

Part of social anxiety treatment involves teaching people to be relaxed enough to be able to present a less-than-perfect image. That’s right; people who are relaxed about sometimes making a ’bit of a fool of themselves‘ tend to be much more socially confident. There’s no need for you to become a party buffoon, but being prepared to show a less-than-perfect side of yourself is a sign of great confidence. For example, being humorous is a (slight) risk because it might just produce a stony silence (it’s happened to me – no, really!).

The point is that social anxiety gets us caring too much about what others think. Trying to present a perfect front makes us stilted by driving out spontaneity.

Typical self-conscious thoughts are:

  • “I hope no one notices I’m tense.”
  • “What if people think I’m stupid?!”
  • “Who would want to hear anything I have to say?”
  • “I think I’m coming across as a weirdo!”

These all imply that occasional tenseness, weirdness, and inappropriate speech are somehow out of the norm for human interaction. Believe me, they’re not (even, I’m sure, inside Buckingham Palace!).

Worrying about ever ’putting a foot wrong‘ is a form of perfectionism. Being a perfectionist is fine when doing surgery, but not for meeting the in-laws or going to that neighbour’s party. Even socially confident people occasionally act a little weird or get the wrong end of a conversation or feel flustered. The difference is, they relax with these things when they do happen.

English: An anxious person

English: An anxious person (Photo credit: Wikipedia)