We all feel uncomfortable from time to time in social situations. But some of us feel much worse than others, even debilitated by our social anxiety at times. Here are 5 tips to nip it in the bud.
1. Identify the what and where behind your social anxiety. Where do you usually experience it, what types of thoughts do you have when you are in that situation? How do you typically cope with it?
Example: I feel socially anxious at large gatherings, like parties with many people I do not know. I notice thoughts like "I will make a fool of myself", "I have nothing interesting to say", "I'll do something embarrassing", "No one will talk to me." I cope with it by politely declining the invitation or downing three martinis upon arrival.
2. Stop avoiding. You will not be able to get past your social anxiety if you do not expose yourself to social situations. Avoiding is like pushing pause on a movie, once you finally do attend that event all of your anxiety (and more) will come rushing back. Avoidance is not a cure, it is an escape.
3. Prepare for the social situation in advance. Practice visualizing the event- what type of event is this? What types of conversations would typically be had at this type of function? What might I say? Even visualize yourself easily and smoothly conversing at this event; feeling comfortable and relaxed.
Example: The party on Friday night is a friendly gathering with several people I know but also several that I've never met before. I can ask them about themselves (people often love talking about themselves), which means I can ask them casual questions like how they know the hosts, what they do for work, if they have children, whether they checked out that new restaurant in town, etc.
4. Challenge your distorted thoughts. When your inner critic kicks up and tells you that you will say something stupid or people will judge you, no one will like you, you’ll embarrass yourself, you will come across as boring, it is time to challenge those very triggers. Ask yourself "How do I know for certain (100%) that this (embarrassment, no one talking to me, saying something stupid, coming across as boring) will occur? Also, ask yourself "How much do I care when others say silly things?" Am I as judgmental as I anticipate others will be? Finally, "What is the worst that can happen?" Do you really think people are more concerned with what you say more than what they say? If your best friend was sharing with you their anxiety about this very experience, how might you coach and support them through it? Take your own advice, do not let there be a double standard.
5. The BEST way to get rid of social anxiety is to engage in behavioral experiments. Trip, mispronounce a word, intentionally say something silly, knock over your glass. Find out once and for all how people actually react. Let's pull back the curtain and prove our inner critic right OR wrong. Does the world end? Are you now rejected from this group of people? By seeing what actually happens we take back our power and stop letting our distorted, mind reading thoughts drive the bus.