Social anxiety is terrible – it can make you freeze or feel like fleeing…
It certainly doesn’t help you in trying to accomplish something that you really really want – giving presentations, meeting new people, starting to date or even setting up your own business can be a huge struggle when you’re socially anxious.
First of all, you might be wondering: what ARE the symptoms of social anxiety? Is this really something that I experience? Good questions! Check out this image to see if you can relate with the symptoms of social anxiety:
Secondly, it’s important to think about when these symptoms of social anxiety started showing up in your life. Did you feel socially anxious as a little girl?
Like shyness, social anxiety is learnt behaviour. Fortunately! Because that means that we can UN-learn this behaviour, too!
Oftentimes, we can pinpoint some specific experiences in our lives or even early childhood where other people (mostly adults) ‘shamed’ or silenced us in a way for our behaviour.
The Road to Social Anxiety
Just an example: I remember that I was a very (highly) sensitive, introverted little girl who used to be in the background observing other people. And that observing nature was probably misinterpreted by my mother and by others in my surroundings. They took it as shyness – and started labeling me as a shy girl ever since. I remember I hated that kind of attention, it felt almost like ‘being in the spotlight’ for the way I behaved. And I didn’t like it one bit! It made me (painfully) aware of my own behaviour. And I guess that that self-awareness grew into social anxiety as I grew older.
Also, it’s quite possible that perhaps you were bullied in primary- or high school. Or that you felt like people laughed at you in a certain situation.
Whatever your story is: try to find the root cause of your social anxiety. No, it won’t solve anything if you know. But it WILL make you more aware of the reason that you feel anxious. Only then can you look for a fitting solution.
Add Some Perfectionism to the Mix…
Did you know that scientific research suggests that about 70% of all Highly Sensitive People are also introverts?
Being an introvert means having a different working brain – you’re literally processing information in a different way. Via a different route in your brain. Meaning it takes you longer to process information from your environment. In other words: you tend to overthink more and need more time to recharge due to your introverted nature.
On top of that, being an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) also makes you have less filters on stimuli as well. And it makes you more sensitive to social cues and needs and desires of other people.
Combine the two, and it suddenly gets pretty obvious that if you’re a person who feels other people’s needs AND you have an (introverted) overthinking tendency AND you take longer to process information, you are more prone to wanting to do things RIGHT and not hurt other people’s feelings. Right?
The Search for a Solution Continues…
Perfectionism in the work-related form can lead to stronger feelings of social anxiety. And perfectionism of the social kind (as explained above) can lead to even MORE social anxiety.
Think you’re a bit of a perfectionist too, besides having a form of social anxiety…? It’s quite possible, I often see these two combined in my clients. Perhaps this article will help you: https://www.yayforyou.nu/perfectionists-are-epic-procrastinators-and-self-sabotagers/
After trying to figure out when social anxiety started to show up during your life, try to ask yourself: am I a perfectionist? And if so, am I mainly a perfectionist in the work-field? Or am I also an overthinker and perhaps HSP, meaning I might have ‘pleasing’ tendencies?
It’s really important that you know these things about yourself in the search of solving your social anxiety issues.
How to Tackle Social Anxiety: A Short Guide
So then, you’ve looked through your personal history (gosh, that sounded more melodramatic than I intended…). And then you’ve figured out if you can add some form – and if so, what form – of perfectionism into the mix.
Now use these steps below to work from here to reduce your social anxiety:
Learn to be Mindful
Mindfulness will help you deal with social anxiety, because it teaches you to come back with your attention to the here-and-now. Some people believe that mindfulness might only make their anxiety worse, because mindfulness makes you focus on yourself even more. Fortunately, it doesn’t work that way. With any form of anxiety, social anxiety included, you have all these negative thoughts about yourself and the social situation. ‘Can I even do this?’, ‘I’ll probably be blushing and people will laugh at me‘, or ‘Why is he staring at me like that… am I doing something weird?’ are examples of thoughts that may pass by. Mindfulness teaches you to a) not take your thoughts so serious by viewing as just thoughts and b) to focus your attention on other things like your breath or a neutral item in the environment.
Challenge your Negative Thoughts
Second, it’s really important that you learn to distance yourself from your thoughts related to social anxiety. Now, I know this is a tough one. But just start by identifying the anxious thoughts. Write them all down. Then ask yourself: is this really true? Can I be 100% sure of that? Do I have full evidence that it’s true, or is it possible that I lack evidence? For example: that people were laughing at that one presentation a while ago, doesn’t mean they were specifically laughing at you OR if they were, it doesn’t mean that the exact same situation will happen again.
Distance Yourself from the Negative Thoughts
Third, learn to distance or ‘defuse’ yourself from the negative thoughts related to your social anxiety. Defusion comes from the Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. This is all about learning to stop identifying with our thoughts and beliefs as human beings. You are not your thoughts. You are other things, such as your core values. Thoughts don’t matter – they come and go quickly.
There’s tonnes of defusion exercises you can do. One quick example is this: write down a few words regarding the situation that you feel socially anxious about (e.g. stomach ache, anxious, scared, scary etc.). Then start by taking these words one by one, saying them quickly out loud. Keep repeating the same word for about one minute. And see how you feel about the word then. What do you notice? (There’s a lot more exercises, this is just a short one. Either Google them or send me an email!)
Calm Down Your Nervous System
When you have social anxiety (or any form of anxiety, for that matter), it’s important to step up your game when it comes to self-care! Do you know what calms you down? What soothes you? When you’re feeling anxious and stressed, do you like to take a long hot shower? Go for a walk? What do you need? Now use those things in daily life.
Note: Don’t expect these self-care things to instantly work whenever you have an anxiety attack! Self-care needs to be done daily in order to consistently calm down your nervous system and help you with your social anxiety in the long run.
Slowly Grow your Comfort Zone
The fifth and last thing I want to talk to you about is huge: even when you’re scared as heck, you will ONLY ever get over your social anxiety issues if you keep pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. This doesn’t mean you should push yourself hard. On the contrary. That will probably make the social anxiety even worse, because it’s sort of doomed to fail… (sorry). But try taking babysteps every-single-day. Make a list of every social situation you usually avoid, because avoidance feeds your anxiety. And then practice with one of the things on your list every day. Hanging around in your comfort zone sure is comfy, but if you keep avoiding social situations then your comfort zone will shrink to the size of a mushroom in no time.
Want More Tips?
So those are my main tips. Need more? Keep a close eye on this blog, because I’ll be posting on these topics regularly! Hope it helped. Wishing you the best of luck.
With love, xo, Jamila.
P.S. Are you tired of feeling anxious all the time? I know this is a big step for you, but you can get help with this! Don’t keep struggles for years like I did. Hop on a very low-key 60 minute Power Call with me to see if I can help (no selling, I won’t do anything to make you feel uncomfortable – btw: there’s only 5 spots each month!): https://jamilayayforyou.youcanbook.me/