4 Ways to Overcome Your Social Anxiety

Yes, You Can Change!

… Are you the person who feels nervous about going out to social parties, networking with small or large crowds, or simply meeting even one person?
… Do you hate small talk or cannot pretend to be interested in social conversations when you are not?
… Do you have shaky nerves when you are speaking?
… Do you prefer to stay buried in your phone or pretend to speak to someone on the phone when you are not? (I do that many times!)

I do! And, these are some signs that you have social anxiety like me. I grew up avoiding people, and most of my education and career choices were based on a single rule — “I won’t have to interact with a lot of people.” But, the universe had other plans for me — I was drawn into the profession of coaching people, a profession where I had no choice but to meet people, talk to them, and support them in their lives. It will be a lie if I say that I took some magic pill and my social anxiety vanished. I am still anxious around people, and I am working on overcoming it, one step at a time.

Here are a few things I have learned over time that have helped me lessen the dread of meeting people:

Me — speaking to a group of students
  1. Understand that your anxiety is stemming from some sort of fear. Ask yourself, what is this fear really about? Is it coming from some past embarrassing moments? Or, are constantly afraid of being judged or rejected? What is it really about? The more you question, the easier it gets for you to become more aware of your social anxiety.
  2. We all have a spotlight effect bias. Our brains have not really evolved as much as we have culturally, scientifically, and technologically. We constantly keep thinking that we are being noticed far more than we really are. We feel that all eyes are on us, all the time! And, because of this pattern of thinking, we dread social events! The truth is that everyone has this bias. So, everyone is really thinking about themselves more than they are thinking about you.
  3. Name the emotion rather than labeling yourself. Do you find yourself saying, “I am anxious,” “I am nervous,” every time you have to say yes to a social event? Instead of labeling yourself, name the emotion, and say, “I am feeling anxious,” or “I feel overwhelmed,” or “I am feeling excluded.” The moment you switch this self-talk, something magical happens in your body — your amygdala (the part of your brain responsible for processing fearful and threatening stimuli) tapers down, and your prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain that’s responsible for logical thinking) steps in.
  4. As you feel yourself getting nervous, do the 5-senses technique. Here you feel your anxiousness and see where you are sensing it in your body. Take a deep breath and then ground yourself in the present moment. Look around, and observe what you see, hear, smell, and taste. See the other people in the room, see the lights and seating arrangements, hear the buzz, hear the music in the background, and smell the flowers, food, and fragrances in the room. Pick up a drink or simply sip on water and taste what you taste. Doing this literally brings you into the present moment within 20 seconds!
Me — at the beginning of my TEDx talk (notice the nervous smile)
Me — After I ground myself into the present moment

How do you deal with your social anxiety? Post in the comments below.

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