Managing social anxiety involves doing the opposite of your normal behaviour. Many people with social anxiety avoid social gatherings. Avoidance is the worst way that you can manage social anxiety. The more you avoid, the more the fearful thoughts rule and never get tested out in reality.
Use ‘approach’ behaviour for managing social anxiety
We often overestimate the threat and we underestimate our ability to cope. We think ahead and imagine all sorts of stressful situations. For example, with social anxiety, we imagine having nothing to say. We imagine standing in the corner looking like the misfit whilst everyone else enjoys the party. These frightening thoughts lead us to withdraw even further.
When we imagine the future in this way, we are taking on board our insecurities and fears as facts. No one can predict the future yet we scare ourselves thinking about worst-case scenarios.
Approach behaviour builds self-confidence. Usually, the worst-case scenario doesn’t happen. It’s well known that anticipatory anxiety is inaccurate and we go into a different mindset when we are actually in the situation. We don’t have time to worry about all that might go wrong and just get stuck in.
And even if the worst does happen and no one speaks to you at the social gathering, you soon find out that you leave the party and get into your bed at night and the world goes on as before. It’s never as bad as our inner fears tell us it will be.
Dismiss the fearful thoughts
Yep – they will always come. When managing social anxiety, it’s important to treat your thoughts as thoughts – not as real accurate facts. It could happen but then again it might not. Rarely does an event turn out as badly as you imagine it. Facing your fears improves self-confidence. No question about it. We are all quite egocentric, in that we worry more about how we are coming across than about how others seem. Most people are far less worried about you and how you are socially, than you think they are. We magnify our fears and assume that others are focused on us when most of they time, they aren’t.
One of the best ways you can manage social anxiety is to force yourself to focus externally. People with social anxiety tend to be hypervigilant about how they are coming across. “Am I blushing” Can they see that I am blushing? I bet I look real stupid”… Focusing on how you are coming across is not helpful. It increases your anxiety. Instead, try to focus on someone else or something in the room. Is there a clock in the room? What shoes are others wearing? Try to pick up info around you. Focusing inwardly is common but hugely unhelpful. get into the habit of focusing on others. make a point of finding out about people. Set yourself a goal to find out three new things about others there.
Baby steps does it
You don’t have to start out by attending a large gathering. If you have been avoiding social contact, start by going to a coffee shop and sit on your own and observe others. The next step could be chatting to someone one-on-one. Build it up and increase your confidence slowly.
Mind-reading is a common thought error. We assume we know what others are thinking. If someone displays negative body language we might blame ourselves or mind-read and assume we have done something to annoy them. Just remember – unless the other person has categorically confirmed that you have annoyed them, you are mind-reading. You could be right but you could be wrong. Perhaps they are grumpy because they didn’t get enough sleep the night before. Consider alternative explanations before jumping to conclusions. We cause ourselves a lot of unnecessary grief and anxiety when we mind-read.
The more you socialise, the easier it will get. Avoidance will make the issue worse. Get out there, don’t be afraid and have fun. We are all the same underneath and we all want to be accepted. People are often kinder and less judgemental than we fear. You will only find this out though by approaching your fears instead of avoiding them.