For most people with social anxiety, their immediate response to any sort of social situation is to avoid it. Sneak out of the club early without saying goodbye, play with your phone the whole time you’re there, make up an excuse to avoid going altogether (yep, I’m a pro). But the thing is, this feeds the problem, it doesn’t make it go away. Dealing with anxiety in social settings starts with facing your fears.
So, ‘challenging yourself’ doesn’t always have to be throwing yourself in at the deep end. What I actually mean is challenging your thoughts. You know, that nagging little voice at the back of your head, telling you: “They all hate you for being late;” “Everyone’s staring at you;” “You’re going to make a fool of yourself,” “Is their something on your dress?” The best way to deal with these thoughts is to just tell them to shut the hell up. Analyse them. Use logic. Question why you’re feeling that way, and whether its really rational. Nine times out of ten its not. Social anxiety is just one big drama queen, and once you realise that you’re better able to deal with it.
Okay, so I’m not an idiot, I’m not saying its easy, and I’m not promising you’re ever going to be the most confident person in the world, but there are some small things you can do to help you get by. Here are a few of my favourites:
Go to a coffee shop
Your social anxiety isn’t going to react kindly to a rave or public address. At least not yet. You have to learn to manage small situations before you can tackle the bigger ones. So, go to a coffee shop. They’re full of people, all minding their own business. Take a book, take some work, order a latte and just sit there. Even if you only manage half an hour. The trick is, even though you’re in a setting you find stressful, you’re doing something familiar and comforting (what’s more comforting than hot chocolate?). You can focus on what you’re doing, and slowly become acclimatised to your surroundings. The more you do it, the better at it you’ll get.
The more you learn about other people, the less scary they seem. That dude, desperately and drunkenly trying to chat up the bartender? He’s not scary, he’s hilarious to watch. Those girls sat at the back of the lecture giggling? They’re not laughing at your hair cut, they probably haven’t even noticed you’re there. That boy sat by himself with his headphones in? He’s not rude, he’s fighting the same battle you are.
No matter how scared you might feel inside, if you act confident enough no one will have a clue. And if no one has a clue how scared you’re feeling, the whole thing you were worried about in the first place? It doesn’t exist. Eventually, you’ll start to feel as confident as you look. Fake it ’til you make it.
Engage in social situations
I know its scary, but you shouldn’t miss out on anything because of your fears. Love that band, but hate crowds? Go to the concert anyway! Fancy that girl in your lecture, but scared she’ll laugh in your face? Ask her out anyway! The very worst thing that will happen is you’ll leave the concert early, or she’ll say no. But there’s a million other outcomes that are infinitely better, and you deserve the chance to find out what they are.
Above all, be gentle with yourself
Tried to go to a party but couldn’t handle it? Never mind, there’s always next time. Our minds are the most powerful tools we have, and that’s why its so easy for them to scare us. But imagine what would happen if we started using them positively. Be kind to yourself, encourage yourself and know that its okay if you don’t get it right the first time. There’s always tomorrow.
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