5 Best Practices To Overcome Social Anxiety

Does Social Anxiety Keep You from Fully Enjoying Life?

Sharon would later cheerfully admit that she had been dreading meeting me; but for now, it was still a sickening nightmare.

Social anxiety is more than just shyness. Just thinking about meeting or mingling with others can cause a pounding heart, shaky voice, rapid breathing, sweating, blushing, an upset stomach… It’s no wonder it sometimes feels easier to avoid other people completely.

For Sharon, even seeing people she’d met many times before – such as family, friends, and colleagues – felt like an ordeal imagined by the Spanish Inquisition. Actually, it was curious:

“I’m okay in a work context or when things are a bit more formal. I know what to talk about. But as soon as it’s kind of unorganized – you know, just mixing with other people – I go to pieces. It’s like I need a well-defined focus or I panic!”

Social anxiety spoils life by getting in the way of what should be fun opportunities to connect with others. Crippling self-consciousness, nervousness, not knowing what to say: all add to the unpleasant mix.

Yes, most people get a little self-conscious at times or feel somewhat shy around others, but social anxiety significantly worsens the quality of life. When you become more confident socially, you open the door to so much – new job opportunities, new friendships, and, of course, more fun.

How do I get rid of social anxiety?

It will come as no surprise that the key is in learning to relax in social situations. When you feel calmer socially, thoughts like: “What do I say next?” disappear. You go into flow and allow conversation to take its own natural path, without feeling you have to force it.

And that horrible feeling of ’all eyes on me‘ fades as it starts to feel much less important if others are focusing on you or not.

The following tips for social confidence will help you feel more relaxed when out with others and allow you to begin your journey from being socially anxious to being the confident person you really can be.

1) Practice being relaxed

Not many people think of worrying as self-programming, but it is. When you worry intensely about upcoming social situations, you are repeatedly linking anxiety to the events. Then when you actually go into the social situation itself, you feel anxious – you’ve programmed yourself to feel this way.

You can start to change this response by taking time to think about the future gathering whilst relaxed – maybe when sitting in a comfortable chair or relaxing in a warm bath. Imagine seeing yourself at the social event, looking relaxed and confident. Do this repeatedly and your body and mind will forge a new and better automatic association to these times.

2) Seek out social situations

Imagine living in a house for thirty years, but always avoiding one room. When you finally ventured into the mysterious room, you might feel a little tense and anxious. Why?

The more we avoid something, the more we send the message to the unconscious mind: “I am avoiding this because it is dangerous.” Your mind, trying to be helpful, builds up the fear of what it is you’re avoiding even more. In nature, we avoid a clump of trees because it might have lions in it or we avoid cliff edges because falling off means death.

We avoid what frightens us and, in return, are frightened by what we avoid. So start actively putting yourself in social situations. In fact, even imagining doing this, as well as doing it for real will help show your unconscious mind: “This is normal.” (See Tip 1)

3) Focus your attention outward

Studies have found that people who rate themselves as shy in social settings have much worse recall for external environmental details because they’ve been looking inward (focusing on their feelings), not outward. So it makes sense to focus outward to lower anxiety. When in social settings, make a mental note of three aspects of the situation you’re in.

For example:

  • The colour of the furniture.
  • Any pictures on the walls and their subjects.
  • What clothes other people are wearing (I must confess I never recall that).

This might seem strange, but it will get you accustomed to focusing away from yourself – which is, after all, the purpose of social situations.

Another way to cultivate outward focus is to ask questions. Social anxiety has us worrying what other people think of us, so focus on other people instead. Be curious. Ask people open-ended questions that require more than just a “yes” or “no” answer. Make a point of remembering what they say and referring back to it later to demonstrate your interest. Again, this forces your focus of attention to shift outward. It’s also nice for other people, meaning you might accidentally make more friends as a ’by-product‘ of this strategy.

Now, overcoming social anxiety is as much about stopping doing certain things as it is about doing new things, so…

4) Use care in how you use your imaginative mind

Your imagination is a wonderful thing. Used constructively, it can be a massive help (see Tip 1 above). But social anxiety often has you using it to scare yourself. This is like using a hammer (a potentially useful tool) to wash the dishes.

Years of public speaking taught me that trying to imagine what people are thinking of you is a big no-no. If you catch yourself ‘mind-reading’, tell yourself the truth: “Look, I really don’t – and can’t – know what these other people are thinking right now!” Ultimately, we can influence what others think of us, but we can never control it. And as you become more socially confident, you’ll care less anyway.

To change any behaviour, your mind needs positive instructions. Don’t think: “I hope I don’t feel terrified as usual!” – this is like someone asking you directions by telling you where they don’t want to end up. Instead, ask yourself: “How do I want to feel in these situations?” And get into the habit of focusing on that.

Find your ‘target feeling’ by looking to times when you are comfortable with others (say, old friends or trusted family members). Then you can use these situations as templates for preparing your mind to perform the way you want in social situations.

To do this, close your eyes and get yourself nice and relaxed. Take time to remember how it feels to be with these familiar people until you get a strong feeling of comfort. Imagine seeing yourself in a formerly less comfortable social situation, but behaving like you do with your trusted friends. This sort of mental rehearsal is extremely powerful and can make a massive difference over time.

5) On being yourself

Part of social anxiety treatment involves teaching people to be relaxed enough to be able to present a less-than-perfect image. That’s right; people who are relaxed about sometimes making a ’bit of a fool of themselves‘ tend to be much more socially confident. There’s no need for you to become a party buffoon, but being prepared to show a less-than-perfect side of yourself is a sign of great confidence. For example, being humorous is a (slight) risk because it might just produce a stony silence (it’s happened to me – no, really!).

The point is that social anxiety gets us caring too much about what others think. Trying to present a perfect front makes us stilted by driving out spontaneity.

Typical self-conscious thoughts are:

  • “I hope no one notices I’m tense.”
  • “What if people think I’m stupid?!”
  • “Who would want to hear anything I have to say?”
  • “I think I’m coming across as a weirdo!”

These all imply that occasional tenseness, weirdness, and inappropriate speech are somehow out of the norm for human interaction. Believe me, they’re not (even, I’m sure, inside Buckingham Palace!).

Worrying about ever ’putting a foot wrong‘ is a form of perfectionism. Being a perfectionist is fine when doing surgery, but not for meeting the in-laws or going to that neighbour’s party. Even socially confident people occasionally act a little weird or get the wrong end of a conversation or feel flustered. The difference is, they relax with these things when they do happen.

 

I worked with Sharon for seven weeks. At the end of that time, she invited me to a party with her husband. We had a real laugh and I could see she was relaxed and having a fun time with many people she’d never even met before (and without too much booze).

I liken overcoming social anxiety to rubbing the rust off a valuable ornament. It may take a little while, but soon enough, the real beauty is evident and things become what they were supposed to be all along.

Mark Tyrrell is a Guest Blogger for PickTheBrain,  therapist, trainer and author. He has written thousands of articles on self help and personal development, many of which can be found at his website UncommonHelp.me

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  • http://www.craftylistening.co.uk Michael Mallows

    What an inspiring site; excellent, inspirational and thought-provoking.
    Thank you – Go well

  • http://francois.pourrier@mac.com Fro

    Fonzy say : Be cool…

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  • http://www.worldofselfimprovement.com Sam (World of Self Improvement)

    I used to have bad social anxiety.

    I’ve since overcome it and have written about it in quite a lot of detail at my site http://www.worldofselfimprovement.com

    I actually think that having that triggered my interest in self improvement. Good does come from the bad stuff we experience.

    Thanks for the article, I could associate with your every word!

    Sam

  • http://www.relaquil.com Jennifer Goodwyn

    This is a great article for easy ways to beat social anxiety that everyone can start right away. Have you checked out this article: http://ezinearticles.com/?Ten-Free-Ways-to-Naturally-Treat-Anxiety-Today&id=2837798

    That article includes similar tips that I believe will be helpful to your readers.

    Also a safe effective Natural Anxiety Treatment such as Relaquil might also be beneficial to your readers.

  • http://www.OptimisticJourney.com Jarrod@ Optimistic Journey

    Tip 4 resonates we me. I think that if we can imagine ourselves being happy in social situations it would help. If we picture ourselves shaking, sweating and hyperventilating then that’s what will happen. But if we picture ourselves being relaxed, smiling, and being calm and confidently social then that will manifest itself into action!

  • http://enlightr.com Craig Thomas

    Nice post. I used to have pretty bad social anxiety – I’m so glad that’s all gone now. Caring what others think was the only thing keeping me back.

  • http://www.apolloinnovations.com/Pocket_Coach.html Chris Levis

    Hi, Thanks for sharing valuable insights. Even i do share some insights which i have gained while using Pocket Coach. I could able to increase and track productivity on a daily basis.

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    +1 to #5.

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  • Andy

    Hi, I suffer really bad from Social Anxiety/Social Phobia. I take medication for it and I’ve had some successful years, but I need to work on it myself too and not just rely on the drug.

    So I have spent a lot of time learning ways to beat this myself, and most of them are crappy. Most of the websites I read are crappy too, and the ones that aren’t are just ‘OK’. They have one or two good points but too much “YOU CAN DO IT!” crap that doesn’t actually help.

    This list however is 100% good stuff. Every single one of these things I have found to be key to helping me, and I think that if you fully focused on living your life by this list, you could beat this problem.

  • Andy

    ^ And also perhaps mix in some Cognitive Behavioural Therapy too for the sure fire solution to this problem. Although number 4 is similar to that.

    Great list.

  • http://leannewatt.com psychologist in Pasadena

    Thank you for such a thoughtful list of constructive tips. I especially appreciated your section entitled “Use care in how you use your imaginative mind”. You really nailed it on the head with your direction to be mindful of the voice in SA sufferers’ heads. As a psychologist in Pasadena, I work with many patients who struggle with social anxiety that is quite crippling. Most often, I find that SA sufferers are very cruel in the way that they observe themselves. They’ll berate themselves in overt ways, but often, in very subtle forms that are not entirely recognizable, but just as abusive. Judgments are made when they start to get scared– “you’re weak”, “what’s wrong with you?”– often in an attempt to motivate the self to not be anxious or scared. Many will defend the voice in their head, believing that it’s simply “telling the truth”, not realizing how much it compounds the problem, making them more anxious.

    What they really need is a soothing, kind voice that understands their fear and recognizes the stress that’s involved when entering a new social situation. Often, these patients are naturally introverted (introversion is a genetic, inherited style),which means slow to warm up to new social situations. These patients need to accept this part of themselves with a loving voice– not always easy to do, which is where therapy comes in. Often these patients were shamed by a parent who didn’t understand their fear… it’s helpful to internalize a new voice that can compete with the unkind and shaming voice.

  • http://avocat-oradea.weebly.com/ Teo

    Ciao.. complimenti un blog molto interesante

  • Pinkrose456

    woah! thanks …
    this article is really great..
    i get really anxious when it come to social events too..so this is really helpful!

  • Jana Stromajer

    Best article on social anxiety!!! Thank you

  • soooooanxious

    This is a well-done article. I’ve had  experiences with turning the focus on the others  by asking them deep leading questions where if it was a male (I’m female), he thought I was flirting. I have large doe-eyes and looking in the mirror it kind of looks like I’m sending  ‘those’ signals but I’m really not and this is also a source of embarrassment.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/EJVGS5FTUQZBMG7O3MNBOL6L5Y Karen

    Mark, you provide great advice for encouraging to overcome panic attacks. I have struggled for a long time fight the chest pains and muscle tensions. I am trying to help myself by using sites like http://onlineceucredit.com/edu/social-work-ceus-tpa to help reduce my stress and become motivated to leave my comfort zone to start living once again. It has been a rough journey so far, but I am starting to see an improvement in my life.

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    I always to try be myself and positive in social situations.

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  • Funlovingal28

    Love the bit about ‘putting a foot wrong’ is a form of perfectionism. I think that’s what I’ve got. I will try out your tips asap. Thanks so much for sharing

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  • http://www.nicoki.com/ Robert

    We cannot blame someone having a social anxiety especially if we know that it is their nature to be always shy. They  feel uncomfortable and unease. One way to overcome it is to know ourselves and focus to the things that can help us overcome it.

  • http://www.ongoodauthority.com/ social work ceus

    Well, I think they should go and ask for more advices from friends.

  • Rajith

    Thank you ..Thank you so much….Dis things actually stopping my career even though i have knowledge about my profession.Losing my friends and good connection etc… I don’t know from when i’m suffering di..And I’m wondering i have a fear to talk people….Oooo God……Thank once again…..

  • craig

    Thanks for the great article i will try this.

  • Oerd_as_152

    Thank you very much my friend! I’m feeling much better now than I used to!

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  • Rick Ward

    This really is an amazing article, I do really want to experience life at the greatest potential by letting social anxiety leave me, I’ll try to do this :)

  • Carl

    Try this site, it may help you. Goodluck! http://www.antisocial-carl.blogspot.com

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000737682212 Charisma Parish

     I was a nervous anxious wreck until I took it into my own hand and empowered myself. So many bad experiences throughout my life to make me the shy person I WAS. Here is what I used to help me, I hope it will help you as well. Best of luck!! http://c5f17yglocviio7znqq65x3o94.hop.clickbank.net/
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  • Charlie

    Really well said her…This is something I have struggled from my entire life…I have found that “exposure” therapy works really well and so does being healthy physically….I am making baby steps each day to overcome social anxiety…

    http://overcomingsocialanxietysupport.blogspot.com/

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  • Kyle MacDonald

    Great article Mark. I really like your tips. I’m particulalry interested in how people can use mindfulness and aceptatnce techniques to assist with Social Anxiety, and your suggestions all require a degree of being able to observe yourself first, before you can utilise the suggestions.

    http://www.overcomingsocialanxiety.com

  • http://www.overcomingsocialanxiety.com/ Kyle MacDonald

    These are great tips. But any help for social anxiety needs to help people do things that are easy to say, but hard to do. My clinically proven system provides a step by step session based approach to overcoming social anxiety and shyness.
    See: http://www.overcomingsocialanxiety.com

  • Not shy

    All these articles address anxiety and shyness. What about people that genuinely lack social skills? Me for example, I am confident, but people always look at me strangely and ask what am I talking about, and they say I am random if I ask them open questions. Whenever I ask open questions they say, “that was random”. What do I do about social skills? I don’t need confidence, I need skills! Someone please reply if they have the same issue or if they have a solution (with their email if they wanna keep in contact)

    • Me

      I think it means you need to focus more on studying “appropriate” social behaviour and conversation than on how you “feel”.

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  • anxiousaussie13

    i have social anxiety and ive been trying this but ive been struggling with anxiety severely for years now and im finding these methods arent working and i have no idea what to do nw this is really affecting my life.

    • Isabella McGuire

      Try EMDR with a good Psychologist who is really well educated and practiced in using the EMDR method. These stuck fears can be removed this way. Using techniques is not that helpful because the techniques do not address our individual stuck thoughts and images

    • Me

      I’m at the point your’e at, most of the time. I understand your pain. What I do is go to therapy and seek support groups. I think this is when a support group can be of most benefit. Look up “social anxiety support groups” in your area. Good luck!

  • hippiechick98

    sometimes, when I read articles like this it makes me panic, because I don’t want to admit that this is how I feel. I’m thinking of getting some CBT- because I’ve never really felt this way before, and it has even started to affect my relationships with some of my friends that I’ve had for years and years, who I’ve always had a laugh with. My dad died in March this year- so I don’t know if that has something to do with it. And it can be very up and down. But I think the perfectionist side definitely has something to do with it- expecting perfection from every situation just saps your quality of life.