Social anxiety is something that we see around us on a daily basis, though it can vary from mild to super-severe! Perhaps it's something that you suffer from yourself, or you just know other people who really don’t thrive in a social situation.
In today’s blog post I’m giving three powerful tips for those who suffer with social anxiety, to help them feel more comfortable and relaxed in social scenarios.
I can personally say that I used to be hilariously shy, quiet and retiring. The idea of being surrounded by a bunch of people I didn't know literally scared me more than pretty much anything else.
(Except roller coasters, that's the biggie…).
Now, just through a little mental programming, I have been able to completely change the way that I feel and now I love any opportunity to meet with other people and socialise!
Note: These tips should be used alongside conventional treatments, do not stop following your doctors or health professionals advice due to this information!
Incremental exposure is a strategy that works with loads of things in life that you want to learn or overcome. You've probably heard the term “dipping your toe in the water”? That's the perfect description of how this works.
You know, when you're on holiday and you know the swimming pool is going to be fucking freezing? If you're anything like me, you'll spend the first 25 minutes getting past your big toe and squeeling.
Then, eventually, once your body acclimatizes itself to the water, you'll get down to your ankle. Then your knees. Then the ‘tricky, sensitive parts'. Once you've nailed that, you're pretty much Tom Daley.
This process of slowly introducing yourself to something works well with social situations just as it does the pool in your favourite all-inclusive resort. It's all about starting with the least daunting scenario and then turning up the heat.
It's also a great way to discover your current limits. You can find out what makes you most uncomfortable and decide what factors and elements you need to bring into your life (slowly).
It's important that you practice this, surrounded by people you can trust, and that know where you're ‘at'. In a controlled environment, you'll feel more relaxed, knowing that you only have to push yourself as far as you're willing to go. And there is an escape button – if you need it.
For example, if you plan on going for coffee with friends, perhaps start by having coffee with one friend at your home or theirs. The next time, introduce one more friend to the occasion.
After you feel comfortable with this environment, take those friends to a local coffee house and see how you feel then. It's important that the sufferer in this scenario takes the same two people to the coffee house, as they will act as anchors reminding them that they felt safe with them in the previous environment.
In the digital age, there are tools and processes that social anxiety sufferers can use in such a way to ‘water down' social events, making them seem less scary or nerve racking.
For example, most people use social networking channels such as Facebook these days. If a sufferer knows the names of one or more of the people they may meet at a social occasion, they can look up the profiles of those mutual friends.
This will enable them to learn a few things about that person, making it easier to “break the ice” when they meet, and also cause the “unknown” factor about that person to be less intimidating.
A little research (NOT stalking!) always helps to lighten the load a little in advance of something scary.
It's no secret that a lot of people have this naturally pessimistic views of how a future scenario might pan out. When you suffer from social anxiety, you'll almost always anticipate that a scenario will cause you panic before you enter it.
Kinda like a kid who decides that they don't like a particular type of food without actually tasting it. I used to be one of them too ;-).
Problem is that this is really a bit of self-fulfilling prophecy and you'll normally find that thinking this way will actually manifest this exact situation, which is a bit of a bastard.
You actually condition yourself to respond a certain way when these situations crop up. It's done on total autopilot through internal dialogue or complaining to someone else about it.
Instead, you need to reframe the situation and learn to vigorously consider the more positive possibilities and rationally consider how you feel about it.
Use a scoring system from 0-10, 0 being the lowest amount of anxiety and 10 being the worst possible.
Grab a piece of paper and a pen and note down some social situations that you're expecting to encounter. Write down the common scenarios that will take place in these situations and note a score next to each using the anxiety scoring system.
For example, entering a conversation at a bar where there are four people in total but you only know one of them as a friend. On your paper you could have written:
– Make eye contact with friend and strangers – 5
– Walk over to friend – 6
– Greet friend and meet strangers for the first time – 8
– Have a conversation with strangers – 9
You'll find that consciously predicting scores such as the above will lessen the severity of the situation when you're literally in it.
Wrapping things up…
Alleviating social anxiety is something that you need to practise and slowly get better at, over a period of time. Don't rush it, but equally don't allow procrastination to set in.
It's always easier in the short-term to avoid something… but that's usually much more painful in the long-term.
By using these three simple tactics, you can dramatically reduce the severity of first time meetings with others, and the danger of overloading yourself emotionally when engaged in social events.
I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s blog post! If you've found it useful, don't forget to post a comment down below and let me know what your big ‘takeaways' were.
You can also share it with your pals on social media and help me to spread the word.