I'd like to apologise for the delay with the second part of my Social Anxiety post. My daughter had a very serious flare up with her Crohn's disease and we spent a week at the hospital with her so I was unable to write.
Understanding your social anxiety will help you manage it and gain some control of your life.
When you face situations that make you anxious, avoidance is the action you will most commonly take. Avoidance prevents the thing that you are afraid will happen from happening.
Here is an example;
Sam is afraid he won't know what to say to Laura. If he hides and avoids her, there is no risk of this happening. It's a foolproof short term solution. The problem? In the long run, Sam never gets what he really wants, which is to get to know Laura better. He winds up feeling isolated, discouraged, and depressed.
Automatic thoughts, anxious feelings, and avoidance are the three links in the chain of events that make up social anxiety.
Let,s review Sam's thought, feeling and action chain in this situation.
Thought-I have nothing to say, so I'm weird and silly.
Feeling-Embarrassed and insecure.
Action-Hide, silence and withdrawal.
Thought-What are you afraid might happen?
Feeling-What are you feeling at the time?
Action-What will you do?
The thought feeling chain happens quickly in anxious situations, so quickly that it seems beyond your control. Does that mean you are doomed to a life of everlasting avoidance? Certainly not!
A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Take a closer look at your chain reactions. If you can identify the links, you can find ways to break the chain. Look at what situations make you anxious;
You are within a new group of people and you all have to introduce yourself. The meeting is started by going around in a circle and introducing yourself.
Thought-When it's my turn my face will turn red as a beet.
Feeling- Everyone will see how anxious I am.
Action-You are anxious and embarrassed so you blush.
You are allowing your thoughts to distort your mind take over your feelings and lead to an action. When you recognise the distortion in your thoughts, it becomes easier to take them less seriously.
What's the worst that can happen? When a trigger situation occurs and your mind jumps to the worst possible outcome, even though there are a hundred other possible outcomes, you are using catastrophic thinking.
Think of a situation in your own life where you used catastrophic thinking. What was the worst possible outcome that you assumed would happen?
Stop discounting the positive, when something good happens to you, don't put it down to luck. When somebody praises you, stop assuming that the person was just trying to be nice. When you enjoy a conversation with somebody without being tongue-tied don't conclude that the conversation has only gone well because they are nice. It is difficult to develop confidence when you ignore your successes, when you discount the positive it will leave only the negative.
Stop calling yourself names, calling yourself names degrades you. For example, you drop your keys whilst trying to unlock your car, and you tell yourself your lame and clumsy. We have all made clumsy mistakes. Are we all lame?
Losing a game doesn't make you a loser. Suggesting a silly idea doesn't make you an idiot. Words like lame, loser and idiot are labels that don't really explain who you are.
Stop turning the spotlight onto yourself. An actress on stage doesn't watch her hands as she speaks her lines. She wants to lose herself in her role, not reflect on the mechanics of her performance. When you turn the spotlight of attention onto yourself, you become self-conscious. What should be a natural and spontaneous self-expression becomes an agonising performance. Spotlighting can make you feel very different from others. Things that you say may sound odd or fake, this will make you feel awkward and not like how you come across. You will start to feel like everyone else is watching you closely as you are watching yourself. If you are so preoccupied with what is going on inside you won't be able to connect properly with others.
We all feel self-conscious from time to time, but most people are able to notice the feeling and stop it from taking over, almost like flicking a switch to turn the spotlight off. Most socially anxious people dial the spotlight up, increasing their self-awareness to the point where they are paralysed.
You can spotlight what is going on in your body as well. If you are sweating, blushing or shaking and you focus your attention on that, these normal signs of anxiety intensify. If you are nervous and you notice your heart is beating fast, when you focus your attention on your heartbeat, the pounding intensifies.
When you feel like you are in the spotlight you will also worry that everybody is thinking about you. You will feel like a mind reader and assume you know what everyone is thinking, especially when it is something bad about you. You haven't any physic powers so try to stop assuming that you know what people are thinking.
For the social perfectionist, there are only two categories, either you are fantastic, clever, witty, and popular or you are an outcast, silly, annoying and dull. Social perfectionist's feel like there is no such thing as being ok or good enough. If you are not invited to every social event then you feel like nobody likes you.
Stop setting the bar too high, stop feeling like you need everyone's approval all the time. It is impossible to please everyone, give yourself a break, allow room for error and stop being ruthless to yourself!
If you look around you and observe others you will get a more realistic view on how people normally act, nobody is as perfect as you think. You will learn by watching them and this will help you lower the expectations you place on yourself. Other people are not as perfect as you perceive them to be.
Try this exercise thinking about yourself. Close your eyes and imagine your wedding day in the future or a special birthday party for yourself. Picture someone that knows you, imagine what the person is saying about you at a speech. What words and phrases would you like to hear used to describe you?
The words and phrases that you imagine reflect qualities that are very important to you. They show how you want to be in the world. These are your true values. Write these words and phrases down. Your list can help guide you and act as a compass in your life. They can help you move in the direction that you know in your heart you want to move in. Move towards your values and not toward perfectionism and avoidance. You may feel safer if you move towards avoidance but it will never take you where you truly want to go.
So this week take some time to think about some situations that have caused you anxiety.
Title your anxiety and pop it in the comment bar below. I can then show you how to try and deal with your anxiety with methods in next week's post. Include your thoughts (what were you afraid might happen?), feelings (what were you feeling at the time?) and action's (what did you do?).
I will not include your name and will only use as an example.
Hope this had helped you understand more about your anxiety and please remember that you are not alone, there are more people that suffer from anxiety than people who don't!