Do you get nervous speaking in public? Going to a new group where you might not know anyone? Having to make the dreaded small talk about the weather? Your mind might race, palms might sweat, words might not come out at all or at least not eloquently. We’ve all been there, although some people might experience this more intensely and more pervasively than others.
Avoidance is common when we’re anxious.
- We might not go to that new group.
- Or we might go to the party but instead of mingling, we avoid eye contact and interacting with others.
I remember feeling apprehensive when I attended a conference last year and felt anxious about meeting so many “big shots” in the psychology field. I found myself getting to events late (which is very unlike me), sitting in the back of the rooms, staying quiet, and only talking to people I felt comfortable with. I was avoiding making eye contact with people I didn’t know and avoiding introducing myself to potential colleagues. And avoidance works! It works in the sense that we do not expose ourselves to the situations that make us anxious.
However, it also perpetuates some of the social anxiety.
So, how do we begin to combat social anxiety?
- Increase awareness. Notice when you’re avoiding or feeling anxious, and give the feeling a name. Yes, that sounds incredibly simple–and it is! By labeling an emotion, we’re acknowledging its presence
- Remind ourselves that thoughts don’t equate to reality. Although again this feels obvious, it’s easy to trap ourselves. I ran into a college classmate at the grocery store a few weeks ago and said: “oh my goodness it’s so good to see you–how are you doing?” She didn’t acknowledge me and kept walking. My initial thoughts were, “yikes, guess she doesn’t like me” and “geez, do I look that different from graduation that she doesn’t even recognize me?” and “I am so awkward” I took these thoughts –that she didn’t like me, that my appearance had drastically changed to an unrecognizable form, and that I was awkward–as truth. But then I reminded myself that thinking something does not make that something a fact. It was a passing thought, just one of many we each have every day.
- Take a few deep breaths often and especially before engaging in anxiety-provoking social situations. Sometimes, our thoughts and feelings become so intense that they make it difficult for us to remain calm physically.
- Have realistic, objective goals. If you’ve struggled with social anxiety for a long time, you might be very frustrated that you’re not yet a budding socialite without any self-conscious or awkward auras. It is most helpful to start out with realistic, small, and objective goals like saying hi to the Wegmans cashier or asking a stranger for directions. Once achieved, those small goals can lead up to something more anxiety-provoking, like going to the movies alone.
These suggestions may be helpful, but social anxiety, especially when severe, can be difficult to overcome. You may be struggling with social anxiety and may want to increase your connections with others. If you’re near me in the Buffalo area, I invite you to call me and we can set up a time to meet!
Awesome Photo by RONIT VALFER
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