As the festive season kicks off, it can be the time of year that leaves you cowering behind the sofa wishing it was over! As the invites start rolling in for Christmas do’s, are you trying to think of the most authentic excuses to get you out of going to them? Does the thought of a social situation leave you sick to your stomach? Is it your idea of utter hell? Simply put, this is social anxiety.
If this all sounds too familiar, the good news is, it’s possible to overcome, in fact its possible to learn how to stop creating it in the first place. I speak confidently about overcoming it because I was able to, using some simple and easy techniques from The Thrive Programme.
Social anxiety/social phobia/social anxiety disorder is quite simply a fear of being judged by others. This can present in numerous different ways from fear of being rejected by others to shy bladder, and anything in-between where you feel under the imaginary spotlight. No matter what you are doing, you are constantly creating worry about what others will think of you, whether they’ll be judging you, whether they think you’re useless…it goes on! Notice I said you are creating the worry? That’s because it doesn’t really exist apart from inside of your head. Think about it! Someone invites you to a party, and you immediately start thinking up reasons why you don’t want to go. Thoughts will probably be something like “I’ve got nothing to wear!” “What if I make a fool of myself?” Before you know it these thoughts have grown arms and legs and you’ve started imaging several fictional scenarios. The trouble is, at the moment the fictional scenarios and the anxiety you have created are enough to stop you going to the party. This can leave you feeling powerless.
The thing with social anxiety is its purely and simply a projection of what you think of you, its nothing to do with anybody else really. You’re judging yourself very harshly and you think everyone’s opinion of you will reflect your negative view. Let’s look at an example of this. Think of a part of your body you are happiest with? Mine are my eyes. I know they are my best feature! So even if someone criticises my eyes, I know they’re attractive, so the criticism would just go over my head because it doesn’t reflect my view. You would do the same with the body part you like. On the other-hand think of a body part you don’t particularly like about yourself, mine are my thighs. If someone criticises my thighs, (before doing Thrive) I would have started creating anxiety about it because it’s a projection of what I think myself. Again, it would be the same for you with whichever body part you don’t like. This is just a direct result of low self-esteem. If you don’t have much self-belief, you’ll put little weight in your own opinions and more in the opinions of others. This is people-pleasing. When you think little of yourself, your priority is based on pleasing others, reinforcing the message that others views are more important than your own, reducing your self-esteem further. So the lower our self-esteem, the higher our social anxiety,
Even where genuine social judgements do exist, its nowhere near as in-depth as what we think it is. Do you wander around paying this much attention to everybody’s behaviour? Or are you simply too caught up in your own life, thinking of what you need to do today? Most people are the same. Yes, as humans we notice other people but it’s nowhere near in as much detail as what we think of ourselves. You have approximately 60-70,000 thoughts per day, very few of them will be in relation to judgements of other people, you just don’t pay that much attention! But in all honesty, where folks are judging your behaviour, learn to tolerate it and bounce back as quickly as you can from it. The tips below will start you on the right track.
Tips to start overcoming social anxiety
- Start listening to your inner voice and how you speak to yourself. People with social anxiety, judge themselves very harshly internally. Start changing this around by getting your inner voice to speak to you with kindness and compassion. I tell my clients the rule needs to be “If I wouldn’t speak to my family and friends that way, I don’t speak to myself that way either.”
- Focus on remaining calm when you’re at a social gathering, rather than creating anxiety about how you are coming across. If you focus on remaining calm, you’ll come across to others as calm! Tell yourself “I can remain calm and in control.” “I have the skills to deal with this.”
- Social anxiety is purely and simply an unhelpful thinking style passed on from a carer. I’m not talking about via genes-all behaviour is learned; you’ve learned social anxiety. So the good news is we can “unlearn” it by building up new habits of thinking. If you’re thinking and processing events through “socially phobic eyes”, you’ll be in the habit of thinking in a powerless way. Start challenging yourself by recognising the anxiety and judgements are coming from you, no one else! You are creating these feelings, so you can change this.
- Start building up your self-esteem. The more you believe in yourself, the less weight you give to other peoples’ views and opinions. See my previous article, Your self-esteem is only ever two weeks old, for tips on this.
- Start taking back your power by accepting every invite as soon as you receive it. With any type of anxiety, the more we avoid it the bigger it becomes. So rather than anticipating how bad its going to be, imagine it going well. What will that look like? You will probably feel uncomfortable at first, but the more you tackle it, the easier it will become and the more powerful you’ll feel. This is what I did, it does take some practice but it can be done.
Or better still if you like the sound of this, why not come and do The Thrive Programme. I guarantee it’ll change your life for the better. It’s based on positive psychology so there’s lots of fun exercises to arm you with a whole bunch of tools for a thriving life. You learn how to build strong psychological foundations so you can weather whatever life throws at you. When you feel powerful, in control and have ultimate self-belief, others views and judgements are no longer important or relevant. In fact, you just don’t create social anxiety, there’s no reason to, you believe in yourself, that you have the skills to deal with whatever life hits you with. And that’s a very powerful place to be!
Michelle Winter is a full-time Thrive Programme Consultant. Thrive is a 6-8 week programme teaching people skills about Locus of control, self-esteem, social anxiety, unhelpful thinking styles, to make positive changes in their lives. Prior to being a Thrive Consultant, Michelle was a mental health nurse in the NHS working in various settings. After finding Thrive to overcome some physical and mental health problems, changing her life, she was keen to share the programme with others. You can read more about Michelle and her services on her website.