Social Anxiety beat down

photo_1256_20060310 Many folks who struggle with social anxiety are typically focused on how they come across and one or more undesirable outcome they feel will likely happen.   A trigger many folks with social anxiety identify in treatment is their performance in one to one discussions and the inability to initiate, carry or tolerate breaks in a conversation.  If you struggle with social anxiety, here are a few tips that may help you.

Practice mindfulness-

Mindfulness is about observation and involves pushing your attention away from the thinking that’s driving the anxiety to your senses. Focus less on what you think and focus more on what you see, hear, smell, taste and touch.  While observing move your thinking to a factual description of what you’re receiving from your senses; describe only what you are sensing. Avoid coming to an opinion or conclusion on meaning- focus more on what is actually happening.  Negative thoughts may come into the narrative but fill the real estate in your head with what is outside of you so there is less real estate available to fight what’s going on inside you. Don’t engage the negative thinking, treat it like confetti-holding onto it or engaging it is fruitless, just let it pass by your awareness and away from your attention.

Try this first at home. If you have pets, they provide an excellent opportunity to practice mindful engagement safely.  If you don’t have any pets please take one of mine. Seriously. Ill pay you.   There is a really great article on mindfulness at the end of this post.

Be curious-

A great way to begin and maintain a conversation is to come from a place of curiosity.  In being mindful you’ll be able to hear more of what the other person is saying.  Ask questions about what they are presenting to you, even if you don’t necessarily care about the subject.  People aren’t focused on you, they (much like you) care more about how they come across. Asking questions demonstrates interest and removes the burden of “having to come up with something”.  It sort of goes like:

A: “When did you start working here?”

B: “Three weeks ago, I left my job as a basket weaver.  Tarot card reading is where the money is at.”

A: “Basket weaving? That sound pretty cool did you actually weave the baskets?”

B “No dude it’s all made by machines.  The man is basically keeping us down. We’re all going to be replaced by robots. I was just a cog in the corporate machine. I fed the machine, the machine made the basket and the man made his money ”

A: “That’s a pretty interesting theory, do you think its possible for every profession to be replaced by robots?”

B: “Are you kidding man?  Just the other day I read this blog on Above Top Secret and it’s like you don’t even know if the person making your sandwich is a robot or a real person…it’s like so sophisticated now. Do you want to eat a robot made sandwich? Think about it dude……seriously.”

A:  “So what interested in you in Tarot Card reading?”

Get the point?  The subject of the discussion is readily available; it’s the person you are talking to.

When the questions are asked of you and the person runs out come back with a question about them.  Questions are a safe way to demonstrate social competence without taking large risks.

Have a script-

Sort of.  Write down a list of things you’re interested in and pick out those that tend to have wide audience appeal.  For example movies, books, music, Little Debbie snack cakes…the ones with the strawberry jelly and white creme in the middle. Also include areas you may not necessarily be interested in but play a part in everyone’s life -family, friends, career, etc. Use this list as your go-to in trying to initiate and maintain a discussion.  If you’re uncomfortable in disclosing your interests in these areas then ask about theirs.  What do they listen to, what do they read and what books have they read lately, favorite movies etc.

Have an escape plan-

Give yourself three or four reasonable excuses to leave the situation but make sure that they don’t let you off the hook for good.  Going to the bathroom or making a call are socially acceptable ways to exit a situation but hold you accountable to return.  Every time you come back try to stay a little bit longer than the time before.  Make your breaks productive; play a game, engage in breathing – do something that allows you a mini-escape from the distress and calms you down.

Desensitization always works-the more you confront and tolerate what makes you uncomfortable the less uncomfortable it becomes. Like hot sauce.  Do you remember how much hot sauce you were able to take the first time you tried it?  I’m not talking about that Goya nonsense. I’m talking about the real hard core stuff.

Hold to your virtue-

We’re all afraid of something so avoid judging your fear, instead give yourself credit for confronting the fear and hold yourself accountable to the virtue at play- courage.  Create a visual in your head of what it would look like to act from courage and act like that.  Make it less about performing socially and more about beating the crap out of your anxiety.  Anxiety is the guy that wants you to be alone, he’s controlling who you see, who you spend time with, what you are allowed to do, what you are allowed to say…hell I even think he said something inappropriate about your mom the other day. Are you going to let that jerk get away with that?

If the evidence doesn’t exist then “it” doesn’t exist-

Really think about what you’re thinking about.  If it feels certain and critical then demand evidence.  If the evidence is lacking create a more reasonable belief and iterate the evidence to support the belief in your thinking. If the evidence supports that how you’re coming across is socially awkward like-

“I’m picking my nose and everyone is staring at me”

then stop picking your nose and move on.

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