Well, this will be the last post before Christmas, so a happy Christmas to everyone. It is not my favourite time of the year and I am glad when it’s all over, but I will try and put my bah humbug to one side and enjoy the good parts of it 🙂
Today’s post is about helping with Social Anxiety, again the post may help some and not others, but I try to add a full range of topics, so as to hopefully help as many people as possible.
Social anxiety can take many forms and many people may not even know they suffer from it. I was one of those people that even when most of my anxiety had gone I would feel strange and odd in front of people and avoid any eye contact. I would also get what I call brain freeze where I would just go blank and clam up, not knowing what to say and then feeling really embarrassed and stupid.
It helped when I learnt this brain freeze was just a stress reaction and not something where I was wired up wrong and that I would always be this way. Initially, I truly thought I had no control over how I felt in front of people and would just try and get through it, hoping I did not make a total fool of myself. Many times I would just do everything I could to avoid social interaction. As usual, I was never happy with this and refused to just accept that this was me forever. I then went on a journey of discovery about every aspect of social anxiety and realised it was me that was doing this to myself and the main culprits were avoidance or when in conversation, trying to rush and act my way through it, whilst hoping people would not see through me.
I would also do the usual subtle avoidance tricks like looking at my phone to avoid chatting, sitting in the background hoping no one would notice me, staying silent and adding nothing to a conversation, crossing the road if I saw someone I knew. Does that sound like I was adding to my social anxiety? Of course, I was, I was reinforcing that people and conversations were the enemy and must be avoided at all costs. Of course, I was responsible for the way I felt and the lack of moving forward!
At this point through what I had learnt, I decided to reverse the bad habits I had developed and there really is not enough space here to write everything that I did learn, but here are the key points.
Firstly a lot of my Social Anxiety came through the fact that I thought people would see through me and the ‘anxiety’ game would be up, add that to the fact that I felt like I was always being judged. I always felt I had to keep things buried, smile in the right places, act my way through, that no one must know my secret and that I must come across as normal! Trying to do this makes you feel like two people, one trying to have a conversation and the other trying to hide how you feel. So this was the first thing to change. I had to understand that people were not judging me and even if they were and my voice wobbled and I said something silly then so be it. The key point here also was in the past when things went bad I would see it as a failure and build up my avoidance, now when I stayed and chatted, even if inside I felt awful, I would see it as a victory, something to be proud of, proud that for once that I did not run away. I understood that this was a long-term thing and conversations would still not go great for a while, but in time they would get easier. It was the long-term plan that was important, not the short term. In the past, I demanded way too much and wanted to get it right first time and if not, then I was sure I had made a big fool of myself and mentally punish myself and avoid even more the next time.
The second thing I did and this was a tough one, was to truly no longer care what people thought. This was hard at first, as we do care what people think, usually, the ones who say they don’t care are just masking the fact, that they really do. So, yes, we all care, but is it really that important? Always caring what people think has a big effect on your personality, in fact, it crushes it, as your always trying to come across the way you think you should and not as you really are, this in itself erodes your confidence. Also, many people who care always play it safe, like they daren’t show the real them in case people won’t like them, better to agree with others or say nothing, they also tend not to have an opinion on anything and it’s all to do with wanting others to like them. Well, I like people with an opinion, a view, it makes them what they are. So this was another step for me, no more agreeing if I did not mean it, no more hiding in the background with nothing to say and if I had an opinion I would share it. I would fully be me from now on. Again this was not an instant ‘I feel confident’ trick and it took time, but being me had me feeling far more real, it really built my confidence back up.
The other thing I did was to stop all avoidance behaviours, if I saw someone I knew I would not cross the road, if I was asked out socially, I would not make excuses not to go. Again this was tough at times and went against everything I had taught myself, but bad habits got me into this hole and good habits would get me out of it. But I had a new approach and that was ‘Instead of worrying about situations, I just took them as they came’. Without the big build up before the event, just taking it as it came made things go far better, many times I thought, ‘Wow how easy was that’. Again if it did not go great then that was fine also, I did it and that was the main thing.
Lastly, a big part of social anxiety is confidence, a confidence in yourself. To boost my self-esteem I decided to get myself fit and lose weight. Changing your life for the better can really make you feel good about yourself and that only adds to your confidence. I felt great by getting fit, mentally and physically and was very proud of my achievements and this led to me feeling far more confident and confidence really does help you when mixing with others. My anxiety levels dropped a hell of a lot also and I felt far more clarity mentally and this in itself made conversations far easier.
With my new look and confidence, I then decided to do something I would not have dreamed about a few months before and joined a running club. Meeting and talking to loads of strangers whilst doing something positive took me right to where I wanted to be. I no longer go to the running club, but a few of us still meet up a couple of times a year.
To finish I would like to say that whilst we think everyone notices how we are feeling, that people are judging us, they really are not. They are too busy with their own lives and problems to care about us. Also, a small stutter or odd conversation will not have others judging you, they would hardly notice and so what if they do, it’s hardly a crime and will be all worth it when you reach where you want to be.
So no more excuses, no more hiding away or playing it safe, no more worrying how things may go or what people think, just begin to put yourself out there and feel a new you emerge. I was rewarded for all my hard work, for all those times I put myself out there when my instinct was to avoid or make a quick exit. For making the effort to get fit and build my confidence back up, to begin to mix with people once again.
I hope the above helps