A Starting Place for Dealing with Anxiety
From personal experience, I know the feeling I get when there’s a situation where I need to be social and get out of my comfort zone. Many others suffer from some sort of nervousness when faced with situations like these.
Whether it be going to a gathering, meeting new people, getting criticism, talking with people you see as “important”, or speaking up for yourself, there is an overwhelming weight that I know always places me in a not-so-great head space. The anxiety causes me to not present my best self and I’m always left with lingering regret and further self-deprecation about what I should and could have done differently. It is important to know that there is no fix-all for social anxiety, but there are certain methods worth looking into if you have ever felt this way. This piece is not meant to be a “how to not have social anxiety” post, but rather to hopefully provide some approaches that may help you and others who deal with this.
First, it is important to recognize when you are feeling nervous or anxious. It is definitely not something to ignore. Analyzing why you feel this way could help you find an answer to this problem. If you happen to be hiding in the back of a room, staying quiet, experiencing a racing heart, or feeling sick, this may be because you are experiencing anxiety. If you know this is your anxiety, that’s good. There is always a cycle of negative thoughts that invade your mind about what you could do wrong, what you’re already doing wrong, and what you think others feel about you. Easier said than done, you must try and challenge these thoughts. Consciously recognizing these thoughts and immediately confronting them with their opposites can help. I can calm myself a lot of the time when I analyze how catastrophic my fears are.
We tend to think people are more evil than they are, so thinking about how you would treat people can help you try and see the best in others. There is an unhealthy thought process when addressing your negative thoughts where you try and read others' thoughts, and this is where I usually mess up. I tend to create fake quotes they said and make up hypothetical, terrible situations. This is obviously unhealthy, and confronting your anxiety’s illogical and out-there nature helps you move past it.
I spend a huge portion of the time I’m in social situations thinking about myself, and I always regret that later. Do your best to focus on the present and on others, listen around you, and remember that the word “anxiety” isn’t written on your forehead. When you listen more and are more present, it gets a little easier to forge conversations and connections. Also, even if people see you have anxiety, it is rare that they judge you for it. Once again, people are generally not that cruel.
Wearing a different hat may help bring out some of the qualities of yourself that you want to display — not to act like someone else, but like the you that you want to be: the enhanced, amplified you on steroids. Yes, this is a “fake it ‘til you make it” attitude, but don't forget who you are altogether.
There are many breathing exercises people use to calm their nerves and it could be worthwhile to explore some of them. It is nice to focus on your breathing rather than the anxiety directly. Slow it down and become progressively more aware of where you are and what is happening to you.
Go out with a plan. Set small and attainable goals for the night. Talk to one person. Make one friend. Talk to this certain one friend. Ask this one person about a certain topic. Some of these situations are hard to put yourself in, but they are doable. And if they don’t happen, do not beat yourself up about it. If it has no immediate consequences, it will be okay.
Moreover, being upfront with people in your life about this anxiety is soothing. It helps release some of that stress knowing you have people on your side. I tend to use this as a crutch at times, just sticking to one person. I know it is definitely something I need to work on, so I’m preaching something I have yet to mend. But when it works, their presence helps me build up my energy off of theirs. Varying the friends you stick with could be useful so you don’t always feel attached at the hip to one person. Make sure you are telling your friends what is happening to you and perhaps have a game plan for them on what to do when you are freaking out. Ask them to do specific things for you in different scenarios, even if it is something as simple as asking you questions to keep you talking and focused on the conversation.
I don't think that I do all of these well, or that I’ve even attempted all of them, but some have helped me and some have helped others. Taking care of this is hard. Some days, it is big; other days, it is not. The good days are reminders of why I should always consider this journey to be a work in progress. It is almost always worth exploring new ways to help yourself.
You never know if reaching out of your comfort zone to others may be helping to alleviate someone else’s social anxiety or loneliness. I urge you to not seek help alone. As I have mentioned, this is not a how-to. Hopefully, this is just a starting place to creating a plan that works for you.
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