Many people have a hard time in social situations, often feeling anxious, worrying about what others are thinking, and over-analyzing everything they say. This can make it hard to form new relationships, maintain existing connections, reach out for support, and engage in group activities. Social anxiety involves mindreading, fear of judgement, anxiety, and avoidance. In short, it can greatly impact the quality of your life, because it takes away the one thing all humans crave – connection. It can make interacting with others difficult, and lead to isolation. It really becomes a problem when it gets in the way of being able to function, such as going to work, going to the grocery store, and interacting with family members and friends.
Social anxiety is quite common, however everyone experiences it differently and in different situations. Getting to know how social anxiety impacts you individually can help with understanding how to help yourself. What situations do you feel anxious in, and what does your mind tell you is going to happen? What do you imagine people will be thinking, and is this realistic? Most thoughts people experience when in social anxiety are not realistic, and are more guesses about what might happen, rather than actual facts. Developing realistic thinking about what could happen in social situations, and how others may react, is important.
Next time you are about to participate in a social situation, and you are noticing those nasty mind-reading, self-critical, and catastrophizing thoughts popping, ask yourself the following questions:
Am I 100% certain this will happen?
How many times has it actually happened?
Is there evidence that does/does not support these thoughts?
Does one person’s opinion reflect everyone else’s?
Do I have to please everyone, and is that even possible?
What is another way of looking at this situation?
Not only is it important to understand the way social anxiety presents itself for you, but participating in those situations that bring on the anxiety is crucial. Engaging in exposures to test out whether or not your thoughts are true and realistic, as well as allowing yourself to sit with the anxiety and let it pass on its own, is key to minimizing social anxiety. Purposefully facing your fears (repeatedly) gives you power and lessens the power those fears have over you. Make a list of the social situations that are hard for you, and start with the least anxiety-provoking one, slowly moving up the list.
Because social anxiety can rob you of so much in your life, it is incredibly important to put the above strategies into practise. Even as you start to move past the social anxiety, continuing to practise the exposures and engage in those situations will help maintain the changes you are seeing. It will open you up to connection, relationship, and a life outside of anxiety.