This post follows my last two posts on social anxiety. It is worth reading both parts first, this will help you understand how you can control your social anxiety.
How we think determines how we feel, how we feel guides our actions, this makes our thoughts the first link in the chain. Our happiness and success are relying on our thoughts, but can we always believe and trust our thoughts? With so many different ways to interpret the situations that we find ourselves in, how do you know what thoughts to trust?
The answer is that we don't really know for sure so instead we need to evaluate the thoughts that drive our actions.
How to evaluate a thought;
Check the accuracy of your thought by looking for distortions. Remember from last week that the distortions are spotlighting, catastrophic thinking, social perfectionism, mind reading and labelling.
Examine what your thought can lead you to feel and do, does the action from your thought lead you away from what you value.
Imagine yourself eating your lunch in a virtually empty food court when a group of people that you know appear and join you at the table. You suddenly feel self-conscious, your stomach clenches, your mouth dries up and you lose your appetite.
Anxious Thoughts-"They are going to watch me eat." " I'll disgust them."
Distortions-Spotlighting, mind reading and labelling.
Feelings-Self-consciousness and shame.
Actions-Stop eating immediately by avoiding any social situation that involves eating.
Toward Avoidance or Values-Avoidance.
Turning down social situations that involve eating will leave you feeling less connected and more alone.
Take a look at a personal situation that makes you feel anxious.
Under these titles write down three examples;
Toward Avoidance or values?
After this exercise, you can see that your anxious thoughts aren't necessarily true and they are making you do stuff that is stopping you from moving towards your values. Challenge your anxious thoughts with reasonable questions instead of wiping them out;
Catastrophic thinking: What is more likely to happen and how could I cope with it?
Labelling: Does the word I have labelled myself with apply to me all the time in every situation?
Discounting the positive: What I have achieved that was good?
Social perfectionism: Am I asking too much from myself? Do I really expect perfectionism from others?
Spotlighting: Do people really care what I am doing? Are they only watching me and not paying attention to anyone or anything else?
Mind reading: Have I really got any evidence that I know what people are thinking?
What distorted thinking does your anxious prediction rely on?
By questioning your thoughts, this will help you train your brain to face your fears. If you face your fears you will gain new experiences that will create new ways of thinking. Come up with a new coping thought and it will give you an alternative to the automatic anxious thoughts you've been using for so long. By facing your fears repeatedly you will learn to manage them and move on.
Take things in small steps like a ladder, begin from the bottom and you will get to the top.
If you worry about speaking in public, think of how you can achieve this by starting at the bottom:
First practice prepared speeches in front of people you are comfortable with.
Tell a joke to a group of friends.
Read aloud in front of one person to start with, then two and finally three.
Ask or answer a question when you are with strangers.
Speak briefly in front of others as part as a group.
Finally, you will be able to present your oral report and speak in public.
If you start at 1, with practice you will be able to achieve 6!
You can prevent your anxious prediction from actually happening by avoiding eye contact and rehearsing what you are going to say.
The key is to prepare yourself, make a plan, remind yourself of your values and what you want to achieve. If your plan doesn't always go exactly the way you want it to, change the way you managed it for next time. We all learn as we go along, practice makes perfect. If we never practice then we will never learn. Don't be afraid to make a mistake, we all make mistakes, instead, tell yourself that making a mistake makes you the same as everybody else. You are not different and you are certainly not alone.
There is no guarantee that your social anxiety will completely go away. You may still get days when you want to avoid situations that didn't bother you at all the day before. This is normal. Your level of anxiety, like other moods, can be influenced by a lack of sleep, menstrual cycle, alcohol, drugs and even by the food you eat. If you can identify what seems to make you feel more anxious, you can help yourself by regulating the influence. If you notice that you feel more anxious after a poor night's sleep, you can remind yourself that you will feel better when you are more rested.
New life events may trigger an increase in social anxiety. Write a new plan for each new event and practice your techniques.
My posts are based on cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and acceptance and (ACT).CBT focuses on the relationship between thoughts (cognitions), feelings, and action (behaviour). ACT is a type of CBT that focuses more on changing behaviour and less on changing thoughts. The intention of ACT is to find values and commit to actions that will lead you to live a more meaningful life.
CBT and ACT are very effective for all anxiety problems, including social anxiety. If you feel like you need more help in controlling your anxieties a therapist that is trained in CBT and ACT may be able to help. I would also like to recommend a wonderful app called Headspace Meditation and Mindfulness, this has helped me and my daughter lots.
Good luck on your path to success, you can master your social anxiety!