Social anxiety: It’s never as bad as you think it will be
Social situations can often be challenging for those dealing with social anxiety. The fear of judgement, embarrassment, or feeling like the centre of attention can make even the simplest interactions seem daunting. The fear of experiencing this discomfort then makes you want to avoid a situation altogether. I know because I’ve been there.
As a child I was very shy, I used to blush when answering the register and would never ask a question. I was scared for my voice to be heard. So, I understand those of you who feel a sense of shame or who feel you might have to self-censor when you feel like your natural experience in a situation needs to be changed in some way.
All our brains have both a subconscious and conscious component. Our subconscious minds do an incredible job of helping us through life. It's been estimated that our subconscious minds process information at a rate approximately 500 times faster than our conscious minds. When we instinctively stop at a red light or pull away from a hot stove instantly, that's our subconscious mind at work.
Our subconscious mind basically does two things. First, it runs old programs we've taught it, automating much of our day. Second, it works to protect us and keep us safe. While this is tremendously helpful, the subconscious mind can sometimes apply specific patterns of thought, emotion and behaviours that aren’t that helpful in 2023.
This is most certainly true for social anxiety which is an automatic stress response which leaves us feeling like we can’t be ourselves in a social situation. Maybe your palms get sweaty. Maybe you can’t relax. Maybe your mind is racing with a thousand thoughts per hour. Whatever it is, on some level, part of your brain and body has unconsciously learnt that it needs to be on high alert. It perceives social threats in the same way as it perceives physical threats.
So what can you do?
Tips to ease social anxiety and build confidence
If you're someone who grapples with social anxiety, know that you're not alone. With a few practical strategies, you can gradually ease the discomfort and build your confidence. There are a few things you can do to help you feel more comfortable in social situations. These are things I’ve used based on my own personal experience.
It is hard to feel defensive when we are feeling curious. It’s actually physically impossible to feel both at the same time. Prior to a social situation see if you can think of 10 things you’re genuinely interested in finding out about the other person. This will help you shift your focus outward. See if you can actively focus on the person you’re speaking to more and more.
This not only takes the spotlight off you but also helps you connect with others on a deeper level. Remember, most people appreciate good listeners, and this can be a great way to forge meaningful connections.
Speak to a coach or a therapist
Taking time to unpick and reflect on where your anxiety comes from and the specific thoughts, feelings and events that can trigger it can really help you identify how it may well be a pattern from the past, an old coping technique that has little relevance to your life now.
Give yourself permission
Understand that not every interaction needs to be perfect, and not everyone is scrutinising your every move. Give yourself permission to make mistakes and embrace imperfections as a part of being human. This can also be very freeing for others around you. If you’re accepting of your own flaws others feel they don’t have to be perfect too.
Mindfulness techniques can be incredibly effective in managing social anxiety. Before heading into a social situation, take a few moments to ground yourself. Close your eyes, take deep breaths, and focus on the present moment. Engage your senses – notice the sights, sounds, and sensations around you.
This simple practice can help calm your nerves and reduce the intensity of anxious thoughts. You can also imagine the most socially confident person you know and visualise some of their energy, skills and qualities being gifted to you (imaging a golden light going into your body through the top of your head can work for some people).
After a social event, reflect on what went well. Note any progress you made and focus on the positives. Sometimes it can help to journal, too.
Remember that change doesn’t always happen overnight (though, sometimes it can!). If you’d like to chat to me about coaching for self-confidence then do get in touch. I'd love to help.