According to psychologist Thomas Richards, at least 7% of the world’s population suffers from social anxiety.
In this article, Dr. Richards points out that people with social anxiety experience distress in these situations:
- Meeting new people
- Encountering teasing or criticism
- Feeling judged.
- People watching you when doing anything
- Communicating with people of more authority or social status
- Sharing information with groups
- Talking to girls, getting dates, and starting relationships
If any of those sound like you, then keep reading. In this article we will cover ways to overcome social anxiety in those situations.
Another psychologist, Johnna Medina, points out that:
A person who suffers from social anxiety tends to think that other people are far better at public speaking, or hanging out in a social situation and mingling with others at a party. The person tends to focus on every little small mistake they do in a social situation, and exaggerate them out of proportion.
Just because you are afraid of embarrassing yourself in social situations doesn’t mean other people are more skilled at socializing. Other people are also worried about messing up. If you want to test the severity of your social anxiety, then take this test. It can tell you some interesting things about the severity of your social anxiety if you don’t already know.
Overcoming social anxiety, can seem very difficult. You might try to talk to people, but your words come out awkward and quiet. Social phobia prevents the awesome social life you want. Imagine finally making new friends and expressing yourself confidently.
Luckily, social anxiety is very treatable. Here are some tips for overcoming social anxiety:
#1 Overcome Social Anxiety by Challenging negative thoughts
Most socially anxiety sufferers I coach get stuck in loops of negative thoughts. They often say thinks like, “I can’t change, nobody likes me, people never listen to me.” All their negative thoughts are framed in absolute language that indicates they aren’t yet open to change.
Just because you weren’t open to change yesterday doesn’t mean you can’t open to change today!
Identify your negative thoughts, and then challenge them!
Step 1: Identify the negative thought
Here is an example…..
You are just minding your own business playing a video game and then bam! This thought enters your mind, “I’m such a loser, I’ll never make any friends. I hate my life.”
Well here is what you do: You look that thought in its imaginary eyes and say, “Hey, you’re a negative thought. What the hell are you doing here?”
That will give the thought anxiety. It only has the confidence to take over your mind because you always let it do whatever it wants. Stop being such a push over and these negative thoughts will stutter, shake and eventually get the fuck out of your thought neighborhood.
Step 2: Challenge the thought for dominance
If the negative thought is still loitering, it’s time to piss in its face and reclaim the priceless territory of your mind. First, find logical reasons to reinforce the opposite beliefs. Such as, “I”m not a loser, I’ve been successful at lots of things! And I’ve made friends before, I can make friends again! I don’t need to hate my life, I have a lot of potential, and I love this, this and this about myself.”
Evaluating these thoughts help you gradually change them into more positive beliefs.
You don’t need to assume other people find you unattractive or boring. Never assume you will never get positive results from social interactions. It’s often low self-esteem and self-doubt that contributes to poor social interactions anyway. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you people people won’t like you that’s exactly what happens. The opposite is also true. Haven’t you ever seen a person with delusional confidence get tons of attention from people when they don’t even have a single thing to be proud of?
People are attracted to the emotions you give them, not the content of your speech, accomplishments, or appearance! Though dressing better and taking care of your physique and style can help make a good first impression, it isn’t as important as actually liking yourself.
#2 Focus on other people
Social anxiety can have be caused by a lot of past trauma you haven’t dealt with yet. I share highly effective exercises for doing that in
Social Confidence Mastery.
One other major cause of social anxiety is getting stuck in your head and focusing on yourself rather than others. You might start to worry that your clothes aren’t cool enough, or that your body language looks awkward. Paying attention to all the ways you worry about people judging you just makes you more awkward, nervous and tired. It really exhausts your energy to think about all that.
Instead of worrying if you are cool or socially skilled enough, focus on other people. Form opinions about their behavior and things they say. Ask them questions and get to know them. Listen to what they say instead of worrying if you will have enough to say.
This gives you more energy to enjoy the conversation. It also gets you focusing on the present moment rather than worrying about getting awesome results from social interactions.
#3 Socialize More
The more you socialize the easier it gets! There are lots of events you can go to. Search for what’s available in your area. Find people who share your interests and go hang out with them.
No matter how reclusive you’ve become, open up to the fact that it’s possible for you to gain more social experience and learn to relax in social situations. I really hope you get the help you need. Consider a coaching session if you want support taking that first step.
With more social experience you will gradually form new beliefs about your confidence and ability to enjoy social situations. Facing your fears is an essential step to overcoming social anxiety. If you want to stop feeling anxious, then find at least one new event this week and go to it!
#4 Adopt an anti-anxiety lifestyle
This is a great tip I found on helpguide.org about social anxiety disorder.Basically, your external environment has a major impact on your anxiety and self-confidence. If your lifestyle increases your anxiety, it might be time to adopt new habits that limit the anxiety in your life.
Here are the tips helpguide.org’s article on social anxiety disorder suggests:
- Avoid Caffeine
- Eat more omega 3 fats because it’s good for your brain and mood
- Quit smoking and avoid stimulants
- Drink only in moderation
- Get enough quality sleep
and here are my own suggestions:
- pursue goals
- get new hobbies
- Start inviting people to things
- go to bed and wake up at consistent times every day
By doing more things, you start creating a new environment, that supports and more positive mindset.
#5 Cherish Your Alone Time
This is a great tip I got from Arlin Cuncic. A lot of socially anxious people hate feeling alone. It fuels negative beliefs that nobody wants to hang out with them. But being alone doesn’t need to be negative and lonely.
Enjoying your time alone is perfectly acceptable. It’s okay to be an introvert and value your alone time. You don’t need to socialize all the time if you don’t want to. But at the same time, hopefully your enjoy your alone time out of choice, not because social anxiety keeps you stuck in a constricting comfort zone.
#6 Be careful what support groups you join
Social anxiety support groups provide a helpful supplement to overcoming social fears in combination with those methods. However, individuals stuck in a coping / victim mentality care more about feeling safe than building confidence.
Support groups may help them reinforce an identity as “the shy person.” This prevents openness to cultivating a more socially confident version of themselves.
I have empathy for that mindset though. After all, if you’ve never felt confident before, then how could you believe it’s possible? Of course it may be difficult to imagine at first.
It becomes tempting to reinforce the only identity you’ve ever known. The kindhearted support of others becomes a replacement for acceptance missing from your daily life.
Instead of furiously searching out and testing solutions to overcome anxiety, they are satisfied with confirmation that their experience is both common and acceptable.
Of course, not everyone seeking out this support is unwilling to look at solutions.
The way to test this, is to see how open people are to solutions when they make comments like these:
“Do you have trouble talking to coworkers? I never want to talk with them.”
“I hate when people always invite me to things. How about you?”
“Do you ever feel scared of making eye contact?”
What Do Social Anxiety Sufferers Really Want?
Sometimes people just want to be listened to more than they wan’t solutions. They want to feel like someone cares enough to listen. That’s not necessarily a problem. But ideally, if you want to improve, at least be open to solutions in addition to the sympathy.
Unfortunately, many rely on this sympathy and ignore solutions.. Responses from people who have overcome the exact same problems are ignored.
They want to hear, “Yes! Oh my god! I experience the exact same thing! I’m so happy to meet someone who thinks exactly like I do!”
You might assume these responses help. After all, it feels good when you get exactly what you want. However, it’s the same as someone begging you for a huge bag of cocaine and you give it to them. You want them to be happy so why not give exactly what they want!?
Obviously, this isn’t helpful in the long-term. They become stuck and unable to grow as a human being because you enable their addictions. You might really want to help these people. But it can be difficult to tell if they just need a little support or if they need more help than you are capable of providing.
I recently saw a post by a man in one of these groups.
He said roughly, “I’m leaving this group. Nobody here ever cares about what I have to say and i’m really leaving.”
A woman, with no malicious intent whatsoever, replied, “Ok, good bye! good luck!”
He got angry and wrote, “I’m blocking all the bad people like you! You are terrible!”
He wrote more unnecessary insults too. Somehow, politely saying goodbye when someone announces they are leaving is now an insult… (Is it possible to roll your eyes, laugh, and feel sympathy for someone all at the same time?)
He was pissed he didn’t get the response he needed to cope with his pain. “Good bye!” implied rejection. He wanted people to beg him to stay. If he really wanted to leave. He would just leave. He wouldn’t need to announce it.
The most surprising part of this story is that other people actually supported this man’s unnecessary rudeness to the woman who refused to provide the type of attention he wanted! It’s as if they all have a tacit understanding of how this game is played and kick out those who don’t play by the rules.
It’s comforting to hear the answers you hope for. But real courage comes from openness to the truth. By simply saying, “Goodbye,” the woman in that story exposed the man’s insecurity and need for approval.
#7 Open up to Social Anxiety Solutions
By now, it should be obvious that you should be more conscious of what you provide others.
Give zero sympathy to someone who struggles with anxiety but actually wants to improve and you are a jerk. Pour on the attention to people who abuse it and you are just enabling unhealthy addictions that prevent progress.
Many just aren’t ready to open their mind to the possibility of being anything but socially anxious. Even when there are plenty of great resources to help them improve.
It’s like refusing the keys to a monster truck when you’re constantly complaining about how impossible it is to crush other cars with your Jeep.
Those suffering from the coping mentality love to hear stories that confirm what they already believe. When they complain about their socially anxious situations, they aren’t looking for a cure. They just want to know it’s okay to be the way they are.
What Social Anxiety Sufferers Need
Some socially anxious individuals may feel uncomfortable reading this. I admit it. I don’t know your specific situation. You may also suffer from PTSD or other traumas that complicate your current condition. I’m not trying to criticize your efforts to improve your life and find the acceptance you deserve.
However, many people are fully capable of developing more confidence, but refuse advice that could actually help. They might try to make this straw-man argument: “You are saying socially anxious people don’t deserve acceptance, and support.”
And to this I say, “That is not what I am saying at all!”
In fact, sharing proven solutions is the most compassionate response you can ever give anyone! It shows you actually care about their growth! It shows you actually believe in their potential to develop social confidence and overcome fears! Provide solutions from a place of compassion. Provide solutions that have worked for yourself, and others.
Getting your drug addicted friend into a rehab program is a much better alternative to enabling their addiction.
Let me extend an olive branch to the people who feel like they NEED these confirmations from fellow social anxiety sufferers in order to relax from their daily struggles. Often, all you really want is acceptance, respect, and love. To get it, you type a question that starts with the words, “Do you ever feel like….?”
Of course people will be supportive because they can relate to exactly what you are experiencing. But also, they are happy to use your comment as an opportunity to confirm their own reality.
The best option is to be aware of how much you rely on others for validation. It’s okay to seek out support for feeling weird when you don’t know how to talk to your coworkers. But the weirder thing is to not even attempt to fix that situation at all.
Combine solicitations for support with an openness to solutions. This helps you feel better and also be open to developing social confidence.
If you are open minded about overcoming anxiety, I invite you to read my new book, Overcome Social Anxiety: Cure Shyness and Talk to Anyone With Confidence.
#8 Accept all Outcomes to Prevent Social Anxiety
You will usually be most nervous before any socializing even begins. Think about what that means. You are scared of something in the future. The future hasn’t happened yet, so it isn’t real. You are scared of something you know for a fact doesn’t even exist! How crazy is that?!
Since we can’t have logical reasons for fearing the future, the best solution evolution has given us for preparing for potential dangers is the habituated fear response. Every time something scares you, it reinforces your fear response. This is very helpful for avoiding dangerous animals that could kill you. But to keep you safe, this function overreacts to anything you interpret as even mildly stressful.
You might be scared to start a new conversation because you could be ignored, or rejected. Whenever you feel rejected, with or without reason, you build a habit of worrying about rejection. In order to avoid those feelings, you start avoiding social situations. Just as you would avoid animals you know are capable of harming you.
It should be obvious that social anxiety is often an irrational fear that comes from an excessively negative imagination. Knowing that fact is of course only the first step. You know it’s irrational, but it’s still triggered when you risk being judged by others.
Start imagining the best possible reaction you could get. Then accept it. Imagine everyone loves talking to you. In fact, exaggerate that possibility. Imagine the craziest possibility ever. Such as everyone thinks you are so awesome they immediately decide to hold a party celebrating how awesome you are, or they want to give you awesome gifts like a trip to anywhere in the world you want to go.
After you’ve established the possibility of an amazing reaction full of love, acceptance and praise it’s time to also accept the opposite.
Imagine the worst possible reaction and multiply it by 10. Such as people criticizing you, and loudly accusing you of all sorts of evil deeds.
Imagine accepting that ridiculous situation. Imagine it happens and you are completely okay with it. You are still alive. The truth is, most of these situations will never happen anyway. Practice accepting these highly unlikely scenarios and it will help you accept the much more likely results you will probably get.
What If You Can’t Get Everyone’s Approval?
In most social situations the most common outcome is a polite, short interaction. A short, uninteresting interaction is not a sign you’ve done anything wrong!
It only means you weren’t able to build a connection and that’s ok. That’s actually a good thing because now you have a chance to find someone you can actually enjoy talking with! You don’t need to be liked by everyone! So don’t worry when you realize you aren’t compatible with some people. It’s inevitable.
The worst possible reaction would be someone ignoring you. Maybe they are in a hurry. Maybe they are dealing with their own social anxiety issues. You really don’t know what is going on with other people. Everyone is different and has their own problems to deal with.
Even if you do encounter rude people, try to re-frame those experiences as positive. The truth is, the uncomfortable experiences will be the ones that build real confidence. If you only have positive interactions, then your confidence is built on a weak foundation. It’s dependent on everyone being 100% agreeable with you. As soon as someone says something negative, or disagrees with your ideas, that weak confidence will shatter.
By accepting and learning from every result, no matter how undesirable, you build your confidence on a sturdy foundation that is read to handle the toughest storms.
Hoping for only positive interactions is unrealistic and is giving you too much pressure. Someone who is too positive might need to be slapped by reality because of how blind they are to risk. Someone who is too negative might need to open their mind to the possibility of more positive social interactions. By trying to balance these two perspectives you get a more honest, and mature world-view.
#9 Be Patient With Yourself
It will take time to reverse the habits of social anxiety you’ve created for yourself. Be patient and don’t force yourself to improve too quickly.
With practice, you will build confidence.
I know you might wish you could magically turn off the fear. Especially because you know how irrational it actually is. But there is no better alternative than to face your fears, accept them, and accept yourself. These steps, in combination with support from people who genuinely care about helping you overcome your social anxiety is an effective strategy.
Here is a quick exercise that might help you:
Imagine after several months of facing your fears, what kind of person do you hope to become?
How about after just 2 more years and 10 more years later?
You likely could become a much more confident person if you invested in behavior that built your confidence. If however you keep investing in social avoidance, you will only get more scared of interacting with people and it will only hurt your life.
I know intentionally stepping out of your comfort zone with the goal of building confidence can seem overwhelming. I’ve spent years devoted to it and it’s both the most terrifying and rewarding self-improvement project I’ve ever worked on. That’s why I provide solutions that have worked for both me and my clients. You can find many of these in my books.
If you want a detailed plan that actually makes building social confidence enjoyable, then check out my new book, Overcome Social Anxiety: Cure Shyness and Talk to Anyone with Confidence.
I sincerely wish you good luck building social confidence and communication skills. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or need some help.
What has helped you make progress with your social anxiety? Please leave your answers in the comments. If you found this article useful please share it using the social share buttons provided.
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