I sat at the end of the sofa. This is the spot I’d been in all night watching people move around the room, and listening to whomever chose to sit next to me talk. This is how I used to inhibit a party. Motionless and quiet, waiting for just the right moment to hurry home.
This was not just my way of dealing with parties. It reflected the way I dealt with much of my life. Too afraid to show the world who I really was, I’d try my best to stay quiet and still. Don’t say too much. Don’t laugh too loudly. Don’t let them know you are anxious. Don’t let them notice that you are different.
Do you ever think you might be the only one whose heart races at the thought of going to a large social gathering? Do you ever wonder if anyone else’s voice shakes when too many people are listening to her talk? Do you ever feel like you’re the only one who would rather not attend a party?
For much of my life I thought I was the only one. Then one day I noticed the slight unsureness in the voice of an acquaintance as he addressed the room at a social event, and I thought maybe he feels it too. I noticed it again as I sat in a fast food restaurant alone eating and I saw a woman I worked with pull into the drive through window to order her lunch and pull into a parking space to sit alone in her car eating. I wondered if she felt it too?
I was an anxious, scared child who grew up to be an anxious, scared adult. The source of much of my anxiety was dealing with social situations.
When you have social anxiety you can feel like you’re alone? Other people put on such brave faces you might wonder how they do it. You might assume that they have never experienced this before, but more people are anxious in social situations than you realize.
My natural tendency is to become a kind of recluse. I could stay in the house for days and see no one and be fine with that. That life is easy, and safe, and tempting to me, but it is too easy. With such ease comes unhappiness.
As human beings we need to be challenged. The pursuit of true happiness requires that we stretch and grow to push ourselves just a bit further than we ever have before. That need to grow and push myself is why I started trying to work my way past my social anxieties.
At first I simply tried to will myself to feel more at ease around people. I made goals to engage in more conversation, but that just made me feel stressed and sad. I was fighting my introverted nature too much. There is nothing wrong with being quiet, as long as that quiet doesn’t come from a place of shame.
I realized that I had to work on my confidence first. Being an introvert wasn’t really the problem. The problem was not feeling like I was good enough. Here are some ways you can build your confidence in life in general and help you rid yourself of social anxiety.
Accept who you are. We are all different. Some of us are extroverts and some are introverts. In our society, it seems as though being an extrovert is more desirable, but in reality both introverts and extroverts are necessary. One is not better than the other. They are simply different.
As an introvert you’re keeping company with the likes of Bill Gate, Albert Einstein, JK Rowling, Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi, Rosa Parks, Audrey Hepburn and countless others. Being an introvert doesn’t mean you have a disadvantage in life. If you don’t have a lot to say in a conversation that’s fine. Most people really want to be listened too anyway, and you can be a very good listener.
Challenge yourself. Like I said before we need to learn and grow to be happy. Try new experiences. Learn about a new subject. Challenge your fears.
I was very much afraid of speaking in public so I decided to join a Toastmasters group. The first speech I made was terrifying, but it’s gotten easier with time. Now I feel much more confident about my ability to speak in front of others.
Feel the fear and do it anyway. Yes, sometimes we have good reasons to feel afraid, but social situations aren’t usually one of them. Putting myself in a situation where I was speaking in front of a group on a regular basis helped me tremendously. I can’t say that I’m no longer afraid of speaking in public, but I am a lot more comfortable with that nervous feeling that speaking in public gives me. I know it well and am able to ride it out.
Be mindful and present. Pay attention to what’s going on around you. A lot of the times anxiety consists of worrying about things that haven’t happened yet and may never happen. Pay attention to the moment and let the future happen. Being present in the moment will help you interact much more effectively with others.
Dress the part. Wearing clothes that make you feel good actually gives you a boost in confidence. Wear clothes that you really like. I used to have a closet of clothes I didn’t like. Then I realized that dressing differently naturally made me stand up a bit straighter and feel better about myself.
Visualize. When you’re feeling anxious about a social situation normally you sit about thinking about how it could go horribly wrong before the event. Stop that. Start doing just the opposite. Visualize how it could go incredibly well.
Realize you’re not the only one. There are lots of people who feel a bit anxious in social situations. I’m sure you’re not the only one in the room.
Lovelyn Bettison is an author and artist who helps people reclaim their dreams and conquer their fears. Go to her website to get your free copy of A Dreamer’s Manifesto and take the first step to living your dreams today.