If you want to overcome social anxiety, you’ve probably already read tons of articles on the subject.
There are many techniques for dealing with social anxiety, but they don’t work for everyone. Some are too complex, others are too challenging, such as forcing yourself to talk to strangers. Today, I will show you how to overcome social anxiety by asking yourself just one seemingly stupid question.
The Irrational Fear of Social Interaction
A socially anxious person tends to overthink the most insignificant social situations. Interaction with strangers or even being in a crowded place may leave them uneasy and worried. This is accompanied by a whole plethora of intrusive thoughts. “They were staring at me, weren’t they?” “Do I look weird? I shouldn’t have put on this silly dress.” “What did he think when I said that stupid thing?” etc.
A person suffering from a severe social phobia may find him/herself ruminating for hours after a simple talk with a neighbor or a salesperson. “Why did I say that? She must have thought that I’m a weirdo. I should have said this instead.” If you have social anxiety disorder, you are probably familiar with this kind of thoughts.
There is a technique for dealing with these anxious thoughts that doesn’t involve throwing yourself into the hell of uncomfortable social interaction (luckily!). So it’s a much safer way to face your irrational fears.
A Simple Trick to Help You Overcome Social Anxiety
The technique is very simple and comes in three steps. The first step is about being mindful of your anxious thoughts. Listen carefully to what your anxious mind has to say. Let it talk and fully express all the fears and worries that are overwhelming it.
The second step is to let your anxiety elaborate on the situation to the extent of exaggeration. So you basically need to imagine all the scary consequences of the stressful situation you are in until you reach the worst possible outcome.
The third step is when the silly question I was talking about comes into play. So you’ve imagined the worst outcome of a social situation. Your irrational anxious mind is literally shaking with fear and embarrassment. Now, let your sober rational mind take over by asking yourself,
Let me demonstrate the effectiveness of this technique with a simple situation every socially anxious person has been in.
Say that you were at an office party and were trying to be friendly with your colleagues. At some point, that nosy girl from the marketing department started to ask personal questions and you gave an awkward answer, revealing something about yourself which you now regret.
This is a common situation a socially anxious person may find themselves in. Sometimes when you are trying to socialize, anxiety makes you say really stupid, embarrassing and awkward things. It’s like if some demon is whispering in your ear, ensuring that you make the worst possible impression on others.
So of course, after that, you spend hours recalling every single detail of it, blaming yourself and wondering why you said this.
So let’s start exaggerating now.
First of all, this colleague has certainly noticed how awkward you looked saying this. She has probably thought that the situation you told her about was really stupid and you must be an idiot if you had let this happen. And the most terrible is that she loves gossips and will tell this story to everyone. So when you go to work tomorrow, everyone will be staring and laughing at you.
Now, put your anxious mind to rest and let your rational mind speak. Ask yourself, “So what?” Everyone in the office will know this story tomorrow. So what? Will they laugh at it for one year? No. Will they remember this story for a lifetime? No. Will you lose respect forever? No. Will you be fired? No. Will you die? No.
The truth is that this colleague may not even find your story significant enough to share it with others. Or even if she does, most people won’t find it interesting enough to listen. It can also be that a couple of colleagues will discuss it and then forget about it. The only certain thing is that nothing terrible is going to happen.
How to Overcome Social Anxiety by Facing and Beating Your Fears
No matter how far you’ve gone with exaggerating your fears, the question “So what?” will show you the sobering truth about your social anxiety. You will instantly see how tiny and absurd your fears actually are. And this is a key step to overcoming social anxiety.
Nothing serious is going to happen if you say something awkward to your colleague trying to have small talk. Nothing will happen if your neighbor thinks you are weird. And nothing will happen even if the whole office knows that embarrassing story from your college years.
Because the truth is that no one cares and neither should you. The majority of people are self-centered in nature and care only about themselves. So even if someone thinks something negative about you or even discusses it with a friend, they will probably forget it ten minutes later.
Some people just seek food for gossip in order to entertain their empty minds when the TV is not available. And these people’s opinion is absolutely not worth your attention.
I know that this truth may be particularly hard when you are a teenager or a young adult. This is when other people’s opinions seem incredibly important.
Everyone wants to be popular, respected and admired during this stage of life. However, what others think about you is the last thing that should bother you. The sooner you realize this simple fact, the faster you will be able to overcome your social anxiety.
Just like any other mental disorder, social anxiety distorts your perception of yourself, other people and the world. To overcome social anxiety, it is important to be able to look at your fears from a rational perspective.
Remember that anxiety is not who you are and your worries don’t reflect the real truth. No matter how terrible, embarrassing and scary a social situation may seem to you, it is probably so insignificant that it is not worth a single bit of your attention.
Try the above-described technique next time when you start overthinking your social performance and you will soon see the bare truth of your fears. Hopefully, with time and practice, this will help you overcome your social anxiety once and for all.
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Dear Ms. Lemind, We have a mutual interest in a number of things: the mind, reality and the universe in which we reside. Thanks you for your part in this very interesting and informative web site and for your part in The Learning Mind. I greatly enjoy reading it every day. I am a long time meditator but it was only recently that I have gained a new and deeper understanding of who and what we really are as human beings and our universe. It is true that we are not what we think. Our existence goes far beyond this concept of our reality. We are not our body or our mind or our thoughts. Our existence goes to a much deeper level. If we look at each of these surface qualities, in time we begin to understand that we are missing the most significant part of our existence: Christians call it our Soul. I prefer to call it our Self (note the capital S) This part of our existence looks at who we are and puts Ego in its’ place. I have found my reading of books by Eknath Easwaran to be really insightful I thought you might also find them to your liking. Easwaran was a professor of English who taught a U.C. Berkeley. He is also, i think, a Hindu.