Your mind is not your friend when you have social anxiety
Have you ever been there before? Knowing that you are doing something that would eventually have to happen but feeling dead in the middle of it? You know everyone is watching and it’s just not going to get better no matter what. The anxiousness, withdrawal, or anger has become so overwhelming that your pride tells you the best course of action is to let someone else do it for you. But then comes the fear of them not doing well by some standard that you’ve only defined yourself. To overcome this situation and win against your own mind starts with understanding how anxiety works.
Take a deep breath and start identifying why your mind is telling you these negative thoughts about stepping into social situations. Without getting attached to the thoughts or going into a full-on panic attack, just see what is there. You might find that it’s nothing, but it could also be a very real thing and you have got to work around it.
For years, I talked myself out of going to even because I would imagine the worst scenarios happening. There is nothing worse than imagining a situation and never getting there. That is certainly not going to help you, so let’s go into some ways to beat this kind of social anxiety for real.
Understand what makes you anxious
Why does your mind think that the people involved in social situations will think lesser of you? What do you think they would see that would make them feel better about themselves at the expense of your own self-esteem? If you are like most then your own ego is talking to you and it won’t stop until it gets what it wants. It wants to push others away and define yourself below others.
Learn to recognize what’s going on in your mind and then work around it. With a little practice, you’ll notice yourself becoming more confident and able to handle situations where before you would have been worried or anxious. It’s not easy to do, but like any other skill, it can be learned.
Social anxiety is something that you can learn to control in so many different ways that could allow you to feel better about yourself and your own mind instead of living with negative thoughts. These are some of the ways that I’ve found help me take back my life from fear:
1. Become aware of what thoughts are going through your mind and how they work.
What I’ve found is that the unconscious mind is always working on something, even if you’re not aware of it. The conscious part of our mind is just a tiny bit higher up in the vehicle. Most of the time it goes unnoticed and what we’re thinking about isn’t important, but when it comes to anxiety, being able to recognize the thought patterns that run through your head can be a game-changer. With this knowledge also comes an understanding as to why they still keep coming back. Hypnosis has been a helpful tool for me to take control of my unconscious mind.
2. Know why you’re scared of these situations and how your mind behaves when it’s trying to take over.
What scares you? For me, it was the image in my head of people judging me or thinking that I’m not good enough or that I am weird and different from everyone else or whatever other things I could think to make me feel like I don’t deserve to be there. If you recognize those thoughts and understand where they’re coming from, then you’re halfway there.
3. Use positivity to combat the negative thoughts that are going on.
You can do this by visualizing (or actually executing) something small like smiling at the people around you or approaching them with an open mind and being genuinely interested in what they have to say instead of viewing them as competition. I learn to replace my negative self-talk with a positive outlook. Rather than feeding anxiety with thoughts like “don’t do this because it will be embarrassing”, try replacing it with something like “this is going to be fun, I’m feeling good and I know it’s going to be ok.” Putting a positive spin on things is something that has helped me a lot when dealing with anxiety and panic.
4. Realize that these thoughts are coming from your own ego and not from other sources.
The body and mind are both fascinating things and under any circumstance, the mind will do whatever it can to survive. The problem with this is that sometimes the survival instinct takes over and does things or has thoughts that aren’t necessarily logical or helpful for you, the person living your life. This is why people with anxiety will let their own ego talk them into thinking these negative thoughts about themselves. The ego wants power so it can be what you think defines you as a person. The only way to stop this is by seeing how these thoughts are just in your head, but not reality itself so there’s no reason to be worried about them.
The problem is that most people don’t realize that all their beliefs about the world come from their own egos! If you could look deeper into them and see that they’re just thoughts in your own mind, then you would realize that there’s not really anything to be scared about. They think it’s always real because they’re not able to see behind this curtain that covers the truth of what’s going on, but you don’t have to listen to these thoughts, they’re not real.
5. Use physical skills to keep your mind busy and off of these thoughts.
If you’re able to take control of your physical body, then you can take control of your emotions as well. I’ve found that when I meditate and do some creative thinking, I can get through lots of anxiety attacks or panic attacks by using my mind differently. Rather than letting it ruminate on the negative premises, it has built up about this situation, I find that directing them somewhere else makes me feel better about whatever is going on in my head.
I know this sounds silly, but when I started to do this, it helped me a lot to be able to go into these situations with a plan. Not necessarily like “oh I have to be outgoing”, but more so like “I’m going to smile when I see someone, greet them and say hello. I’m going to be interested in the conversation, act interested and ask good questions, I’m going to thank them for their time and say goodbye.” If you have a plan ready ahead of time that shows you what you’re going to do when it comes time to do it, then it gives your mind something to focus on which makes it feel more comfortable.
This is one of the most important things to do if you want to conquer your fear of situations where other people are involved or socializing altogether. Take a short time each day to practice these skills so they become second nature. You’ll eventually notice that others engaging with you is no longer something that scares you at all but something exciting and enjoyable. Joining a Toastmasters club was the best thing I did to overcome social anxiety. You get to practice your communication and leadership skills in a safe environment. It’s also a great opportunity to learn more about yourself and how you can be more confident in your own abilities.
Anxiety is the result of conditioned thinking that you’ve been doing for so long. That’s why most likely you feel the way you do about things now, because of your mind telling you that getting out into social situations isn’t safe or enjoyable.
Practicing this will eventually become second nature and you won’t have to think about it anymore, but don’t try to force yourself into doing something you don’t like, that’s just boring. Make sure it’s something that you enjoy doing and help you feel better in the process.
8. Know that it’s ok to not be ok in the moment.
It might be tempting to worry about what others think if they see you like this or imagine how they’re going to talk about you if they know what has gone through your mind. Don’t let fear of exposure control your life. Being nervous is natural and temporary, a little anxiety is normal. The best way to conquer it is by being honest with yourself, not denying or avoiding your emotions. The only way you can combat the fear in the moment is by letting it out. I recommend writing in a journal or talking to someone that you trust when you get these feelings of anxiousness. Or taking a walk and doing some breathing exercises, or just going outside for fresh air.
Exposure therapy is one of the most effective methods to use when working on mastering your fears and anxieties because it offers you a safe environment where you can experiment with different scenarios and learn how to manage them as they come up in real life.
I’ve found that the most enjoyable times are those where I keep my friends and family in mind while taking on a new experience but don’t let their potential thoughts or their judgment affect my confidence. I now ask myself things like “what would they think if they saw me succeeding right now?” that helps me to stay strong when facing something new and difficult that might otherwise make me run away. Whenever I see someone struggling, I try to avoid judging them or making them feel uncomfortable, I just try my best to help them get through whatever they’re going through at that moment.
10. Don’t make it a game, don’t try to “win” against yourself.
When I’m feeling anxious, I try to think about how my anxiety is going to affect me physically and mentally. What are the things that my mind is going to be doing? It’s pointless trying to beat myself up like it’s some kind of competition. If you lose it’s totally ok and that doesn’t mean you’re a loser or horrible person, just that it takes hard work and effort every day until you get good at something. As long as you continue to get better at this, then you’re good. Don’t make it a competition with yourself.
Don’t let your mind ruminate on these thoughts, again and again, try to focus on something else instead. It’s like the old saying: don’t ruin the good moment by remembering bad ones, give it time and you’ll see that everything will work out fine in the end. If you’re worried about what could happen, you’re not enjoying yourself in the moment.