The biggest struggle for those with social anxiety is getting over our own self-judgement. We judge ourselves harder than anyone else in our lives ever has, or ever will.
Conquering that internal over-analysis is an important step if one wishes to overcome social anxiety, but it’s also the hardest.
I get it- I know how it feels. The thought of having to meet new people in an open setting (or any setting), the idea of speaking in front of others, even being asked normal questions by people I know and am familiar with…all of these things and more can trigger social anxiety. If there was a party I was invited to and my attendance was required, I would be there- but I would be hidden in the kitchen, away from anyone who may want to strike up a conversation.
Justin Weeks, Ph.D, an assistant professor of psychology and director of the Center for Evaluation and Treatment of Anxiety at Ohio University, calls that “covert avoidance.” Yeah, that sounds about right.
Why do those with social anxiety experience the things they do, during the situations that trigger them?
Weeks says, “At the heart of social anxiety is the fear of evaluation.” According to his research, it’s not just negative evaluations that cause people to worry, it’s positive evaluations as well.
He suggests that those with social anxiety automatically attach negative consequences to social situations, regardless of how poorly or well they do something. For example, “people who do well at work might worry about the social repercussions of outshining their coworkers,” said Weeks.
To say it another way,those of us with social anxiety don’t want to be noticed, and we don’t want to stand out. “They want to be as inconspicuous as possible,” says Weeks.
Of course, social anxiety lies on a spectrum. We all critique ourselves, judge our actions, words, and appearance, and we worry about things that we really shouldn’t concern ourselves with too much. But for those with social anxiety, it is a constant, gnawing bother that disrupts our daily lives.
It’s not all gloom and doom; there is good news for those with social anxiety! There are several ways you can reduce the stress associated with social anxiety and overcome it, completely!
Here are 7 proven techniques to overcome social anxiety:
1. Start your day off right.
Whether it is doing a guided meditation for 10 minutes when you first wake up, or telling yourself daily affirmations in the mirror, start your day off right and on a positive note. I know some people still doubt the benefits of meditation, but there is science to back everything up.
Weeks elaborates on this by saying, “It’s helpful to engage in deep breathing before an anxiety-provoking social situation. But practice this technique every day. This way it becomes second nature, and you don’t hyper-focus on deep breathing and miss an entire conversation.” Essentially, breathing techniques assist with boosting oxygen levels in the blood and brain, which aid in mental clarity and focus, and regulate cortisol (the stress hormone).
3. Look outward, not inward.
Social anxiety is akin to looking in a mirror, constantly, and only seeing a flawed reflection. We assume that others must see this same, broken version of ourselves. The words we speak are probably “silly,” and our outfit is probably “strange.” Even if this is completely absurd and untrue, it’s what a lot of us think from time to time. Instead of looking inward all the time, look outward and focus your attention on the beauty around you.
To get used to focusing on the external instead of the internal, take note of the colour of the walls in a room, or how many pictures on hanging on the wall (or who the pictures are of). Ask questions about others when in a group of people, and watch how easily the anxiety shifts to comfort.
4. Avoid stimulants.
Stimulants can have unwanted effects on our body and our mood. Sugar, and caffeine (when consumed too much) sets off a chemical reaction that makes us react differently than we normally would. Our thoughts become clouded, and we feel more easily agitated with simple things that normally wouldn’t cause a reaction. If you want to be more in control of your emotions and your reactions, you need to cut out the things that stimulate responses in our body.
5. Stop reading minds.
Or rather, stop believing that you can. The truth is, you have no idea what someone else is thinking. So, to assume that you “know” someone think of you in a certain way, or is judging your every move, is just plain ridiculous. Not to mention it’s a complete waste of energy. Don’t cut off a potential friendship, or relationship, with someone simply because you think you know what they think of you. You don’t. And it doesn’t really matter in the long run anyways. Once you realize how awesome you are and how much you like you, you’ll start to realize that other people already like you too.
6. Stay rational.
It sounds harder than it is. Let’s say you’re giving a speech. Weeks says, “You might initially think, ‘I’m going to bomb.’ But if you’ve given speeches before and done well, then this isn’t a rational or realistic perspective. You might say instead, ‘I’ve given speeches before. I’m prepared, and I’ll give it my best shot.’ Social anxiety is highly treatable. You can get better, and grow in the process.”
Not everything is going to end in failure, and having expectations is only healthy if they are positive, and of yourself.
7. Don’t worry about being emotional.
I know this might not fit with all of you, but it’s one I thought was relevant. Some people with social anxiety experience emotions on a grander scale than others. They cry during movies, laugh loudly at funny jokes, and sometimes they even have moments of anger that can only be described as “passionate.” Understand that this is not a bad thing, and you shouldn’t judge yourself for having emotions- or for expressing them. The world is already full of robotic people, living robotic lives. Be genuine and embrace all the parts of you that you think you should hide.