Did you know that physical pain and social pain can activate the same parts of the brain ? So if you're experiencing social anxiety, it's your brain's way of trying to protect you against social pain such as from being embarrassed or criticised. The struggle is real and if you're suffering, it's important to take some action. There is a lot you can do about social anxiety so please don't put up with it and suffer in silence. Here are my top tips.
1. Think of yourself in more positive ways
Boosting your self-esteem is a crucial step in overcoming social anxiety. The stronger and better you feel about yourself, the less concerned and bothered you'll be about what other people think of you. For many with social anxiety, a feeling of 'I'm not good enough' is at the root of things. To counteract this, start to reprogramme your mind by getting into the habit of thinking of yourself in positive ways. This may be tough at first, especially if you've been thinking negatively about yourself for years, but push through the *cringe* factor because each time you do, you're building new neural pathways that make it easier and easier to think nice thoughts about yourself in the future. So I suggest you make a list of things you like and appreciate about yourself; do you make cakes worthy of bake-off? Did you get some incredible feedback from your boss last week? Do your friends tell you how supportive you are? Do you have an awe-inspiring knack for choosing the best restaurants? Make a list of up to 50 things and refer back to it often.
2. Speak to yourself in a kinder way
How you speak to yourself is incredibly important. Are you being kind? Or kind of a bitch? When you have social anxiety, it's likely that you fear judgement from other people, but could it be that you judging yourself is the biggest problem?
There's a sense in society that harshness and criticism are the ways to encourage ourselves to do better and improve. But we actually need kindness and positive encouragement to be at our best. Who responds well to bullying?! When you have social anxiety, it's incredibly important to be kind to yourself, especially in social situations, no matter how they go! Be your own best friend and your biggest cheerleader and watch your confidence grow.
3. Question your inner critic
Remember that you are your biggest critic and it's highly likely that the things you berate yourself for ('I was so nervous, she must think I'm an idiot!') are things that other people wouldn't even notice. The majority of people are so focused on themselves and how they're coming across, that they hardly notice if you're feeling anxious. And even if they did, they're likely to be compassionate, rather than judge you.
4. Recognise shades of grey
People with social anxiety can be prone to 'catastrophising' and black and white thinking. You might interpret a presentation that went 'ok' as being a 'disaster'! Or maybe you believe that a person that greets you in a neutral way, did so because they 'hate' you. When you have these sorts of black and white thoughts, ask yourself: ‘Am I blowing this out of proportion?’ ‘What could another perspective be?’ ‘Is there a shade of grey that I'm not recognising?’
step by step, do things that challenge you and take you out of your comfort zone
5. Do things that you enjoy
Nothing boosts self-esteem and self-worth like doing something you're good at and that you enjoy. Seeing yourself achieving and improving at something gives you real world evidence that you're capable and valuable. Whether it's playing a musical instrument, doing a sport, writing a blog or planning an event - brainstorm ideas of things you love doing and schedule some into your diary.
6. Slow (your schedule) down
Modern life can be incredibly busy. Battling through crowds on your commute, inhaling your lunch at your desk, drinking a zillion coffees, going to adrenaline soaked spin classes and having tight deadlines are all fine in themselves (in moderation!), but if we don't give ourselves a break, it's a lot for our nervous system to handle. Modern life often doesn't convey a feeling of safety and security. Not having enough relaxation time can add to the feelings of anxiety about social situations. So it's super important to schedule in downtime, make time for self-care, slow down and have breaks. What feels like relaxation for you? How can you make more time for it?
7. And finally, face your fears
This is perhaps the most important of all when it comes to overcoming social anxiety. Social anxiety will make you want to hide away and avoid situations like parties or presentations like the plague. And no one would blame you for that; feeling anxious is horrible. But the truth is the way to overcome a fear is to face it. There's no need to jump in at the deep end though, but step by step, do things that challenge you and take you out of your comfort zone. Speaking up in a meeting, going to a party and promising yourself you'll stay for at least an hour, or picking up the phone and speaking to 5 people could be small steps which, in time, will grow your confidence. Be kind to yourself as you do this; you're brave for even trying. Slowly you'll teach yourself that you can handle these social situations and that they are not, in fact, dangerous, and your confidence will grow.
Chloe Brotheridge is a hypnotherapist, anxiety expert and author of The Anxiety Solution .
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