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.