Coping with Social Anxiety

This is not an article about the symptoms or science behind social anxiety. There are plenty of good articles online about it. Plus, if you look hard enough you can no doubt find research that will suggest that it is caused by a chemical imbalance or difference in brain structure. While this is often the case in many mental health issues it can often lead to a justification in not making changes. After all it is not my fault, it is hereditary or a difference in brain chemistry.

There is a difference between enjoying a quiet life spent mainly at home and being housebound due to fear. I imagine if you have social anxiety you already know the difference and the effect it is having on your life. When it comes to mental health issues I am more interested in what can be helpful and can facilitate useful change. Whether you want to be more social overall or just want to be able to function better when out socially, hopefully the following tips can help.

One of the fundamental issues I hear from people who feel social anxiety is a worry that everyone is looking at them and/or that they may do something foolish. If you fit into this category, then I have some good news for you. The truth is most people are too busy with their own lives and what they need to get done to be worrying about anyone else. Dare I say most people are so self-absorbed they really don’t care what others are doing, so try to acknowledge that next time you are out and feeling like you are being watched.

Another helpful tip is to look for similarities in people when you are out socially. It sounds simplistic, but it really does help. It tends to have a twofold effect. Firstly, it draws your attention away from focusing on yourself and secondly it helps you to realise you are not unique. So how does this technique work? It works by looking for anything that helps you identify with those around you. It can be as simple as noticing that someone else is wearing the same style of clothing, someone has the same style or colour of hair, or no hair if you are bald. If shopping centres are a source of anxiety for you then just look around and notice how many people are buying from the same stores you like or buying the same type of groceries. It sounds almost childlike, but it really does work. Children tend to do this naturally so maybe we could learn a lot from them. If you focus on anything that makes you feel part of society rather than apart from society it can really take the edge of any anxious feelings. 

While I have tried the above techniques for day to day activities I can personally vouch for this one in a party or social gathering. There is always, and I do mean always someone in a social gathering who feels uncomfortable. They are usually not hard to spot. Try engaging this person in conversation and ask them questions about themselves. Most people love to talk about themselves and once again focusing on someone else takes away any self-conscious feelings you may be experiencing. It not only makes your own experience more enjoyable, but you might just make someone else’s experience more enjoyable. I don’t think there is any down side to this, and it really does work.   

Finally, it can be helpful to realise that most people have insecurities. Most people have a public persona that they use in social situations. So, while everyone is special and unique in their own way we are all very much the same. Looking for and appreciating our similarities can be very helpful in alleviating some of the symptoms of social anxiety. Like any technique it takes willingness and a little practice, but the results are well worth the effort. If you have any techniques that have worked for you let me know in the comments section below.

Wishing you all the best in your journey

Phil Miranda 

Social Anxiety : Easy Daily Strategies for Overcoming Social Anxiety and Shyness, Build Successful Relationships, and Increase Happiness

 

 

 

Don’t believe everything you think.

Many people go through life convinced that every thought they have about themselves and others is an absolute truth. Now for those who are generally positive, have good self-esteem and see the world as a friendly and beautiful place, keep doing what you are doing. It is obviously working for you. However, for many this is not the case. Many people go through life doubting themselves, doubting their abilities and viewing the world and other people in a negative fashion. What is most interesting about these differing views is that we all live in the same world. Of course, it could be argued that not everyone is born into the same circumstances. This is true, but if money or fame were the key to a happy life then why do celebrities and sports stars suffer similar levels of depression and anxiety as the general population.

I have written previously about how thoughts greatly influence our emotions and subsequently our behaviours. I mentioned how the meaning we attach to different circumstances in life can affect how we feel. So, I will pose the question again. How do we know whether our thoughts are true? Barring any intellectual disability or an acquired brain injury we all have the same ability to think. Therefore, it is our thoughts that determine how we feel and in turn how we behave. It has been said that often we cannot control the first thought that comes into our head, but we certainly can control the next ones. It can be helpful to examine those thoughts and apply this simple rule. Does the thought I am having help or hinder. Given that I cannot be sure what is the absolute truth then why not chose a thought that is more helpful.

If you can open yourself to the possibility that not every thought you have is true, then then you have an opportunity to challenge and change your thoughts into something that serves you better. I remember a period in my life when nothing seemed to be working out and I had people tell me it was my fault. A wise person told me “you can’t always be wrong”. Even a broken clock is right twice a day. That got me thinking and challenging about how I was believing what I was thinking. It caused an immediate shift in my beliefs and my emotions. This in turn changed my behaviour and ultimately my circumstances at the time.

So, if you are open to the possibility that not everything you think is true you have the option to choose thoughts that are empowering, comforting and helpful. This is particularly relevant when you don’t know what someone else is thinking or why a situation is not working out the way you would like. All of life is lived between the ears. Nothing outside of us can change the way we feel unless we allow it to do so. It sounds simplistic but often it is the simple things that work the best. A complex problem does not necessarily require a complex solution.

Finally, one of the best analogies I have heard about how thoughts and feelings work and how changing them can change our lives is as follows. Think of life as a mirror. A mirror is just reflecting to us how we are feeling at any given moment. Now if we are feeling sad or depressed it would make no sense to go to the mirror and try to change the reflection from a frown to a smile. Yet if we change ourselves and turn our frown into a smile the mirror has no choice but to reflect that change back to us. Try changing your thoughts into more happy, helpful ones and watch how life changes the reflection it sends back to you.

Wishing you all the best in your journey

Phil Miranda

Sources: Excuses Begone!: How to Change Lifelong, Self-Defeating Thinking Habits
The Poetry Of William Makepeace Thackeray – Volume 2: “Life is a mirror: if you frown at it, it frowns back; if you smile, it returns the greeting.”