Category Archives: wellbeing

3 ways to beat Social Anxiety

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Rewind to be beginning of the year.  Remember when you told yourself that you would get out and meet new people?  Then the excuses started. You are busy at work, you are short of cash…the list goes on.  Deep down we know you are nervous, if not terrified. Social Anxiety can cripple any thoughts of socialising – and it is important you learn to manage it if you want a fulfilling life. 

You may have liked and shared social anxiety memes.  You know the ones which glorify our excitement about cancelled plans.  Whilst it is great to talk about mental health openly – and acknowledge the fact you have social anxiety – it is a form of anxiety which should be mastered.  Before you hurl abuse at me through the screen. Know this. I used to suffer crippling social anxiety.

Social Anxiety and Shyness are not the same thing.

You would not believe me.  I was quiet and introverted at school, yet I had a small group of friends who shared my imagination and interest in the natural world. I was shy when I first met people.  Yet this was somehow deemed as a fault and I was pushed into a drama group in order try and give me more confidence. Because there is nothing like being stood on stage in front of the whole school to cure shyness and introversion.  What I did learn is how to fake extraversion I suddenly started to care how others saw me. It was the start of my relationship with anxiety.

So, on entering a room, I was the one who talked a million miles an hour, would make others laugh with my self-deprecating humour and dressed to kill.  Yet – if you looked closely – you could recognise how anxious I was. I was often late. I wouldn’t be listening, instead over-analysing what I had just said.  If anything went wrong – it was met with diva-like tendencies.

So trust me in the advice that follows.

You cannot hide behind a screen.

Like many people –  your current friendship group have been with you since university. Back then, making friends  involved drunken declarations of affection in bathroom of a cheap club.  

As we grow older, our life choices means that we grow apart from our friends.

Maybe they are married with children, whilst you moved to another part of the country with your career.  

Maybe you are more content watching a play, than partying to the small hours.

Social media is great for connecting with like-minded individuals. But nothing beats spending quality time with friends and loved ones. Research suggests that forming strong social bonds is essential to good mental health.

So you have to get out there and *gasp* actually meet people.

As you consider the prospect of meeting new people, a million questions run through your mind.

Will anyone talk to me. What if they don’t like me? I really don’t want to walk into a room full of strangers and have everyone stare at me.

Soon all your worst nightmares are dancing through your mind and you find a reason not to attend the event you had been looking forward to.  Maybe next week?

Stop.  I have been there, I have made the excuses but then paid the price.  

I do understand.  Anxiety is an absolute nightmare.  But it can be overcome following these baby steps.

#1 Take a breath

When your body experiences anxiety, many changes can take place. The physical symptoms of anxiety include increased heart rate, pounding chest, dizziness and muscle tension. Learning to take a minute and slow down your breath can help you take back control of your body. There are several breathing techniques that can help to relax and calm the body.  When going to a social gathering, simply take a seat, get comfortable and take the biggest breath you’ve taken all day and hold it in for four seconds. Then exhale slowly, pushing out as much air as possible. Take another deep breath filling the stomach with air and continue until you feel your breath slowing down to its normal rate. Then, just focus on your next step.  Whether it is putting your coat away or seeking out the host. A word of warning, whilst it is natural to want to reach for a glass of wine to help with your nerves, this is not always helpful and can actually make you feel worse. Always drink responsibly.

#2 Don’t focus on yourself

It’s hard to stop the anxiety demons chattering when you’re in social situations. We often focus on ourselves and how others will perceive us, almost always assuming it will be negative. The thought that everyone will be looking at you when you walk into a room and judging you in one way or another. This isn’t the case. Stop focusing on yourself and what other people are thinking of you. Focus on other people, try to be present and make genuine connections.

Anxiety isn’t as visible as you may think. Chances are that there are others feeling the same way. Even if someone notices you’re a little nervous, they’re not thinking of you negatively. No-one is perfect. We all suffer embarrassment at some point.

In a small study where three job candidates were being evaluated for the same position, they chose the interviewee with great scores who spilt coffee all over himself. Instead of choosing a perfect candidate they chose someone who made a small blunder. Their reasoning was that he seemed far more approachable!!

So remember.  99.9% of the people you meet are nice and would not write you off if you are nervous. Instead focus your attention on the person you are talking to and ask them open questions about themselves.  It takes the pressure off yourself and has the added bonus of making the other person feel great about themselves too!

#3 Seek out social situations.

Yes, you heard me. Making a conscious effort to be more social is how you actually overcome social anxiety. Little by little,  the anxiety starts to fade.  Soon it is replaced by genuine -and enviable – confidence.   Actively look for supportive social environments that can help you overcome your fears.  Perhaps start by looking at groups who offer events that appeal to your interests. You’ll also be engaging with people who have similar interests so you’ll know at least one thing you can talk about and will have in common.  If you are nervous about your ability to hold a conversation, then there are plenty of courses where you can work on your communication skills and build rewarding relationships slowly.

It can help to attend an event  or gathering with a friend, or even just let the host or organiser know how you are feeling.  I remember confessing my nerves to a host in advance of a Social Circle event. She was so kind and offered to meet me outside.   Of course, by that point I already felt I knew someone – which gave me a much-needed boost of confidence.  

Be kind to yourself

Social anxiety can have a massive negative effect on numerous areas of your life. From family life to education as well as work and close relationships. It can be helpful to list different situations from low anxiety to full panic attack.  Choose events that are in your comfort zone, perhaps that have minimal interaction like going to the cinema and then progress gradually from there. 

Overcoming social anxiety is a long journey and it takes time so be kind and patient with yourself.  On days where your anxiety is high, do not be tempted to overlook the progress you have made.  

Is your social anxiety is constantly interfering with your daily life? Then don’t hesitate to seek professional help in whatever form you feel comfortable looking for. There are great ways to help overcome your social anxiety including Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and Hypnotherapy. 

Although it seems like an impossible obstacle, it’s so worth overcoming so you can live your life to the fullest.

A new year. A new resolution?

A new year. New resolutions. New challenges.

A new year. New resolutions. New challenges.

It seemed 2018 gave many people, including myself, a rough ride at times.  But with the new year comes a blank page and new opportunities to live our dreams.  New year. New Resolutions. Right? Given January is typically the most depressing month of the year, it’s a good idea to set yourself a challenge so you get a sense of  well-being and achievement when you smash your goal.

Life need not be spent working the same 9-5 job then slumping down in front of the TV night after night.

That is a life in dreary monochrome.

It is depressing and not fixed by setting the same old resolutions such as joining the gym or doing Dry January. Life should be a colourful and  glorious tapestry of all senses. To have a great sense of well-being you should aim to feel fulfilled in your career, have a good strong social network, get plenty of exercise and have lots of fun.

The secret to happiness is a life is full of rich experiences and great people. 

You don’t need max out your credit card on material possessions to keep up with the Joneses.  The latest diet, the new dating app and all the self help books in the world will not bring you happiness.

The first step  is to be totally honest with yourself about what you really love.

Now, I do understand that stepping into your dreams can be really scary at times.

I have been there.  

I moved to Manchester with nothing and no-one and then started a business from scratch.  But trust me when I say it can lead to amazing things.

If you have built a career in the office, it can seem too big a risk jacking it all in to chase your dreams. 

However, just taking small steps can reap big rewards.

Maybe a few dance lessons will light up your life.

Maybe a few dance lessons will light up your life.

Why not start that photography course? Take photos of friends, or when you are out walking in nature.  This will light up your life and all the wonderful windows of opportunity waiting for you.

Have you always poured over Strictly Come Dancing, and secretly wished you could dance?  Maybe you have always wanted to paint or learn more about art. Trying to pluck up the courage to get out and meet new people so you can find your soulmate?  

Well then I guess we are going to have to find a way of making sure you can do all those wonderful things and more 🙂

As for me, I focused too much on work and not enough play!  So this year I am combining my love of travel and adventure by taking myself and my fellow social circlers to the West Coast of Scotland to climb the mighty Ben Nevis.  It is definitely on my bucket list of things to do before I hit the big 5-0 in 2020.

Whatever your dream, it is important to take inspired action. That way 2019 can the best year of your life so far. 

So the big question is – what your your new year resolutions?

Want to get fit and lose weight? Ditch the Gym.

Getting fit and losing weight does not have to mean joining a gym.

Getting fit and losing weight does not have to mean joining a gym.

 

It’s that time again.  You look down at your slightly soggy bits and tell yourself that 2019 *is* the year you will achieve your dream body.  The ‘offers’ from local gyms look so tempting and you sign up for a year long contract without a second thought. The gym gear and protein shakes are on sales and on your shelves.   After all you will go this year, right?  Just stop. You know how this ends. If you want to get fit and lose weight this year: Ditch the gym.  Why waste money on expensive memberships when there is another way. 

Newsflash. Joining the gym is not the key to happiness.

Let us spell this out to you.  

Losing weight will not magically transform your life.

Your weight or shape does not define you, or your happiness. So don’t let any gym advert tell you otherwise.

You may feel miserable about the way you look.  But that is about a lack of self-love and compassion rather than what your body looks like. You deserve to feel happy and loved right now.  Just as you are.

We tell you this because if you tell yourself –I will be happy when …  you will put too much pressure on yourself which will ultimately lead to failure.

Likewise if you are putting off other goals such as joining a dating site or meeting new people until you see the magic number on the scales – you are placing too high a burden on yourself. Placing all those expectations on yourself a means that your inner bully has some real ammunition when you skip a session or have pizza. 

Ironically, allowing yourself to be happy and accepting yourself – just as you are – will lead to you taking steps to improve your sense of health and well-being.

So exercise  or lose weight because it makes you feel good – and in ways that you enjoy-  rather than pinning all our hopes on romance showing up when you hit that magic number.

Is it really a priority?

It is worth mentioning that even if you are carrying a spare tyre, be honest about whether you want or need to commit to achieving your best body now.  

You may find that your focus is best served by focusing on more pressing matters such as money or relationship issues as these often drain us of energy and resources.  Of course, regular exercise can increase your sense of health and wellbeing.  But over committing yourself only leads to burn out. 

If this is the case be kind to yourself.

Focus on your main goals for now as you can decide to exercise more and be healthy any day of the year.

Even if you do want to focus on your body and wellbeing, you don’t need to go to a gym every day or go on a strict calorie controlled diet.  In fact fitness professionals advise against this as you need to rest and recover between exercise sessions. 

Sticking to a consistent routine gives better results in the long run.

Be SMART to be successful.

Do you want to know why most people fail their new years resolutions? It is often because their goals are not Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-based.

Saying you need to lose 20lbs is missing key motivating factors. Dropping a dress size by the end of January may not be realistic either. Fails also come from joining gyms or trying out a new diet because you have told yourself you *need* to get fit, or lose weight, when you have no endgame in sight.

Therefore, figure out what you really want. 

Why do you want to get fit?

What will you be able to do when you achieve your goal?

Drilling down on your dreams will give you a better insight.

If you think ‘getting fit’ looks like being able to run a race then  it is better to say ‘I will run my first 10k by June 2019.  Likewise, the goal to lose weight a can be replaced by ‘ I will lose 10lbs by my holiday in April or ‘I will be wearing a size 12 dress to my best friends wedding in September.’  

Even just general goals can be made SMART. I need to get healthy can be ‘ I will incorporate exercise into my routine at least 3 times a week.’ or ‘ I will go out walking on a weekend’.

 

Find your sweet spot.

 Gyms are not bad places, but  be realistic about whether you want to go – rather than thinking you *should* go. For some, the gym is a personal retreat, for others it is clinical and isolating. If you are really undecided you could always get a free pass.

The good news is that there are  fun ways to get fit without joining a gym.  You can achieve your best body ever – but as a side effect of enjoying an overall healthier lifestyle.

walking can help you get fit and lose weight

walking can help you get fit and lose weight.

So lets look at how you could do this;

  • If you find yourself excited by the prospect of a goal such as climbing Ben Nevis, then the best way to train is to get out and walk as much as possible. In fact walking is said to be as effective for weightloss as running and carries less risk of injury.  You definitely don’t need a gym for that.
  • If you would rather exercise in a group setting rather on your own –  Joining a class will give you both a chance to try something new and an opportunity to meet new people.
  •  Signing up for a triathlon or a race?  you could join local running clubs where you will get excellent advice on training and preparing for an event.
  • Maybe you have always wanted to try a new activity and can incorporate that into your fitness goals.  Some of our members swear by Man v Fat football, we also have keen riders and dancers too.

Don’t forget to reward yourself.

No we don’t mean that you can inhale a chocolate bar for simply getting a sweat on.  But you do need to plan rewards for reaching major milestones.  

Aiming for a 10k race?  Why not have a nice massage when you are able to complete 5k. 

Wanting that beach body?  Take yourself on a city break  when you have lost 10lbs. 

Or you could do all these things, meet new people, and try all those healthy new activities right now.

No gym needed.

Surviving your family at Christmas.

Its the Christmas dream....until the kids start arguing

Its the Christmas dream….until the kids start arguing

Christmas is T minus 48 hours away. Many of us have put on our Out of Office, wrapped our presents, and are preparing for the annual family get together. But when the festive glow fades and you are all cooped up in a living room, a family Christmas dream can quickly turn into a nightmare.  We have had plenty of experience dealing with family drama at Christmas so we rounded up some great advice from Social Circle HQ. So here is our guide to surviving your family at Christmas.

Accept them for who they are.

Uncle Nigel may voice a few right wing opinions.  Grandma may ask if you have tried ‘batting for the other side’ because you have been single too long. Your brothers may get into a burping competition and Mum’s screams of frustration from the kitchen may be heard from miles around.  It is annoying being expected to help clean the kitchen whilst the teens are snapchatting their friends. Just breathe. Offer to help with cooking or even take them out if forty years of mum moaning that ‘she does everything’ is wearing thin.  

Whilst we are not saying you should put up with toxic behaviour,  it is far easier, for one day, to accept them for who they are and try and see the humour in the situation – any awkward or embarrassing moments will make for a good belly laugh when you meet your friends for post-Christmas drinks.  Believe us when we say we all have stories to tell.

Invite a friend (and use them as a human shield).

Really this one pays off all round.  One of our hosts is often kidnapped by friends who insist she shouldn’t be alone at Christmas. Rather than feeling guilty, she quickly realised she was saving her friends sanity too. Your family suddenly adopt their best behaviour and lavish attention on your friend – which is always appreciated – and you have a wingman/woman to turn to when everything gets a bit much.   

Remember that whilst your family may be a deep source of shame for you – your friend loves you for who you are – meaning that they are more likely to help you see the funny side of Aunt Magda’s quirks or point out that your cousins boasts about his promotion or new car may mean he is lacking in other areas. *snigger*

Put yourself first.

The ultimate survival tip is to put your own well-being above any traditions or guilt trips you may have been subjected to.  If your family relationships are really strained and toxic then you can make other plans if it is best for your well-being. You could visit friends or even take yourself on holiday. Spend the day on your own if that is what is best for you. (If that feels a bit raw due to a recent break upread this)    If you do go, don’t feel you have to stay – book a hotel nearby if necessary.

Even if you want to see your family – you can still need a little mental break.  Take the family dog for a walk. Take a book to read whilst the family watch the same Christmas films for the hundredth time.  Go for a nap.

Remember, it is just one or two days, and a great opportunity to make memories with your nearest and dearest. Even if those memories belong in a sitcom.

So share your own Christmas funnies below and have Merry Christmas from Social Circle HQ

Your First Christmas Alone? Read This.

 

Single this Christmas? Make it your happiest yet.

Single this Christmas? Make it your happiest yet.

My friend reached out to me for advice on spending her first Christmas alone.   “Heather – I am dreading Christmas alone – how do you cope?”  This is her first Christmas following her separation and – as a long term single blogger – she reached out for my advice on best of it. She is not alone, as statistics show that the run up to Christmas is a peak time for break-ups.  

That is cold comfort when you are left out in the cold, whilst your neighbours homes seem to embody the warm and loving spirit of Christmas. I have been there. So when my friend reached out to me I looked back over how I turned what use to be a miserable time of year into an amazing period of fun, love and happiness even though I am single.  I promise you can have a very happy Single-mas.

The first Christmas alone is the hardest. But it does get better.

Breaking up leaves you conflicted.  There is anger, shame, guilt, depression, and confusion to deal with.  All of which are perfectly normal. Christmas brings that home more than any other time of year especially when once close friends seem to distance themselves.  For those of you in long term relationships it can feel like you have lost half your family.

So needless to say.  It is painful.

Firstly, accept that grief is part of the process. But it is temporary.  Do what you need to do to process your emotions in a healthy way.

For me, my first Christmas was spent asleep in my beautiful apartment. I was totally alone.  It was the first time I felt safe for a long time. I wasn’t ready to deal with people – and if you feel that way too – it’s OK.  

As those fluffy millennial memes will tell you. Self-Care is important.

However, note the advice to deal with things healthily.  This does not mean exacting revenge on your ex or asking friends to take sides. It should not mean a war over the kids or pets.  It does not drinking/eating/spending your way into oblivion. If you feel this way then do not be ashamed to seek professional help.

Over time I came to accept  the fundamental truth. There is no changing the past. You cannot see the future.  

But you are here now and you can make choices that enrich your life and for your longer term happiness.  You can decide to have a very merry Christmas – whether single or not.

#1 Define what it means to have a Happy Christmas.

The truth is – we often compromise with our loved ones at Christmas.  Perhaps you always went to ‘hers’, Maybe he always insisted on putting the star on the tree. Perhaps you always had to cook and entertain the same people. Maybe she always mocked the need to spend the entire day in a Christmas jumper.

Well, here is the good news.

You can have exactly the Christmas you want.

I suggest starting by making your own list.  First, write all the things you will miss about Christmas with your ex.  Yes, this is painful but bear with me. Secondly, write all the things that you wanted to do – but never did.

Go through your list and do your best to give yourself everything on that list.

Buy yourself an advent calendar. Decorate the tree how you want. Take yourself to a beach if you want to.  Sing your heart out at a carol concert.

Just indulge that little boy or girl inside who is really in need of a lot of love right now.

Define what makes you happy - then go do it!

Define what makes you happy – then go do it!

#2 Find your own way to give to those you love

Separation does not just impact on your emotions, but your finances too.  Having to find a new place, pay childcare etc, often means you cannot be as generous with gifts as you once were.  

Now is the perfect time to let any creative talents shine.

Maybe you have taken beautiful photos on your phone – in which case give them to your friends as a gift.  Maybe you have green fingers and can give home-grown flowers to your nearest and dearest. Make cakes, or layer cake ingredients in jars for a pretty gift.  Perhaps write a thoughtful letter to those who have supported you. Make decorations for those you love. Perhaps give a second hand book or movie you loved to someone you know you will enjoy it.

True friends will understand this, and unleashing your creative side will give you a happy glow.

#3 Get that Christmas Connection.

It can be easy to get grinch-like if you are feeling lonely – but here is the newsflash.  You are not the only person who is single at Christmas.

Firstly, you may find that a flurry of invites come through your door.  

No one likes the idea of someone spending Christmas alone. Over the last few years my friends have ignored my protests and bundled me into the back of a fiesta.  Thereafter I spend the day being force-fed amazing food whilst my friends children let you play with their toys.  I am eternally grateful for my friends. 

Other single friends may suggest a Christmas dinner together.

Go to a fancy restaurant or take a dish round to your friends.  Get merry and laugh. Distance is not an issue either! I have skyped friends in the USA whilst they are preparing dinner.

Don’t forget that there are charities that work all year round – and are desperate for volunteers.  Helping out at a soup kitchen or visiting lonely pensioners can be rewarding for all involved. It also is extremely humbling so hear how much hope and gratitude  people living in the worse possible circumstances have.

#4 Just remember – It is just one day.

Give yourself the gift of a life well lived.

Give yourself the gift of a life well lived.

I am not going to pretend it’s not tough at times, even years later.  But it is just one day. Wipe your tears-and the slate – clean. Think ahead to what you want your future to look like.  

Do you want to relieve the pain of what may have passed, or do you want to give yourself a gift of a bright and happy life?

Do you want to laugh more?  Have more fun? Try new activities?  Maybe meet new people? There is nothing to stop you.

You can commit now to making each and every day special.

You never know – it may mean you get to kiss that special someone under the Mistletoe.

But in the meantime. Have a Happy Single-Mas!!

P.s You are still loved, and will be fine I promise. You just need to realise that. 

How a Digital Detox let me connect with Loved Ones.

We rely on our phones for so much. But is it time you took a digital detox?

We rely on our phones for so much. But is it time you took a digital detox?

Have you ever felt so tired and cranky that you are just completely joyless?  I used to think it was the time of year or that business was getting on top of me. It was only when I read more about the effects of being glued to my phone did I realise that I really needed to switch off from the world and take a digital detox.   I found it was the best way to reconnect with my loved ones, and myself.

Believe me it was a tough call.

After all I run a business and need to be able to answer emails and calls from members.  My business is based on connecting people after all.

But I found myself scrolling through my emails instead of watching my favourite TV programme.

I found myself checking my phone, even briefly, whilst at dinner with friends and family which annoyed them intensely.

That all too familiar feeling of guilt and annoyance when the messenger bubble pops up.  ‘Can’t you all just leave me alone’ I wonder.

A quick scroll through social media late at night when I couldn’t sleep doesn’t seem too bad, yet I kept waking up cranky and not looking forward to my day.

Sound familiar?

I was shocked to find that smartphone addiction is a thing. We rely on our smartphones for everything, from paying bills to connecting with family and even booking social circle events.  I know people who liken misplacing their phone to losing a limb.

Yet, if we are not careful we can find ourselves hunched over our screens, taking in all the drama of other people’s lives and disconnecting from our own. It is damaging to our relationships and our emotional and physical health.

So I took action.

I vowed to take a digital detox.

Ironically, I used my phone to book a holiday for me and Louise to Malaga. 

Me and Louise relaxing away from our phones!

Me and Louise relaxing away from our phones!

I delegated any Social Circle stuff to Cathy and my team of amazing hosts.  I confess at times I did cave in and I did send a few emails only to get told forcibly ‘ thought you were on holiday’.

Whilst it was hard not reaching for my phone, after 24 hours I felt less stressed and got the best nights sleep in a long time.  I found myself looking up as I explored the old towns with my wife, hand in hand. We got some good quality time together and found ourselves laughing and talking over our evening meals rather than looking at our phones. 

It is the best thing I have done in a long time.

If you needed convincing as to why a digital detox may be good for you, then read this article for inspiration.

In the meantime, I have had some ideas of my own as to how I can maintain this sense of calm and not let my phone rule my life.

Switch off notifications.

Your phone constantly pinging causes you to reach for it constantly.  We touch our phones a minimum of 80 times per day. Half of the notifications are not even important and cause you to lose focus.  Change your phone settings so you only get notifications from certain apps.

Switch off an hour before bed.

The blue light in phones and laptops can have a disruptive effect on our brains, interfering with our sleep patterns.  Further, energy and happiness can be quickly zapped by getting yourself embroiled in social media drama meaning the last thing we think about before we hit the sack is Julies latest brawl with the in-laws or Pete’s political standpoints.  

Use your phones flight or do not disturb mode so no one calls. Leave it in another room and buy an old fashioned alarm clock.  If you must have your phone near you at least use ‘night mode’.

Have a phone free day a week.

Easier said than done but if you have a day off from your laptop and phone then you will really feel that you are getting a break. You will boost memory, creativity and concentration for switching off so put your emails on auto respond and peel yourself away from facebook.

Imagine what you can do with all that free time?  Perhaps read a book, have a lie in or connect with nature by going walking or cycling.  

Put your phone on flight mode when you are with friends.

The saddest thing I saw recently was a family at a restaurant all glued to their phones. There is no excuse really. You only need one photo (if any) of your food and when everyone has arrived then put your phone onto flight mode and put it away.

 If you are attending one of our events, then vow to put your phone onto flight mode and put it away so you can connect with like-minded people through good old fashioned conversation.

So no excuses. Switch off when you can so you can connect with those around you.