How to Deal with Your Social Anxiety and Shyness
ShoomKloom Editorial Staff
Anxiety is NOTHING but repeatedly re-experiencing failure in advance…What a waste!
A blog by an ‘ex social anxiety sufferer’
What Does Social Anxiety Look Like?
Social anxiety or social phobia creates the following labels about you: withdrawn, aloof, shy, timid, quiet, awkward, nervous and fearful. Others might perceive you as disinterested, arrogant, judgmental or snobbish.
But is that who you are?
Your fear results from anticipating a realistic or fantasized threatening event or situation. When being around people you might tense up, blush, sweat, space out, have a racing heartbeat, think obsessively or feel close to fainting. And more is happening in the brain which can’t be so obviously seen.
You get busy thinking about:
- that worst case scenario! (expecting a negative personal assessment or a disastrous outcome)
- how others judge and think about you
- desperately wanting to make that good impression
- imagining ALL that can go wrong
- what to say and how to say the right thing
- rejection or making a mistake
Actually you give more importance to what others might think of you than believing in your own self worth and goodness. You struggle with your internal judge to accept your mistakes and while being self-conscious you feel easily awkward and stressed around people.
You do want to socialise, yet you are so identified with expecting a rejection that you exclude positive outcomes. In order to cope with the edginess of your anxiety, you might isolate or use alcohol, cigarettes or drugs to relax and feel at ease.
You feel like you have no or little control over your fears and feelings.
Do you find it challenging to see the cause of your anxiety?
What Causes Social Anxiety?
To protect yourself from possible perceived threats, you develop a set of negative beliefs and strange ways of behaving; which actually feed into your social anxiety.
The following thoughts frequently ran through my head when I experienced social anxiety:
- I am going to mess it up again.
- Nobody likes me.
- I don’t belong anyway.
- I will say something stupid.
- They are judging me.
- Others are better than me.
- Nobody understands me.
- I never know what to say.
- There is something wrong with me.
- I am safer on my own.
When having low self worth, it is easy to think you will be a nobody at a social happening. Maybe you even believe that you don’t deserve an enjoyable social interaction, which just increases your fear of social criticism.
By not attending an event, you cancel out all possible positive connections as well as avoiding to learn that making a mistake is not the end of the world (making mistakes is normal and healthy). Can you see that your beliefs feed your social anxiety?
I have experienced intense social anxiety moments especially during my teens and twenties.
During school years:
- being too shy to approach peers and hardly make any new friends
- withdrawing in my shell when being bullied on the school bus
- feeling ashamed when standing in front of the class unable to speak out.
- scared to say the wrong thing therefore failing exams when I knew the right answer.
- feeling intimidated to approach anyone I like: first boys, later men and people who inspired me.
- preferring to eat by myself than sit with others and stress about what to say
- fear of rejection or to make a fool of myself and not attending social events (like dance classes or parties)
- staying quiet while hanging out with friends while being too scared to say something wrong
I remember years ago being with two women and our mentor in a meeting. I felt exposed and thought that they were judging me because I was not living up to their expectations.
My entanglement with my negative beliefs created so much tension in my mind and body that I left the room. I just couldn’t stay there. As soon as I reached my bike and my perceived threats (= their scrutinising eyes) had disappeared; I broke down in tears.
In truth, nothing had happened for real except in my vivid imagination. It was my own judgement which was overwhelming me.
Do you see that your thoughts make reality appear worse than what is?
Understanding the Cause of My Social Anxiety
Through a guided self – investigating process of my thoughts and beliefs; I came to see:
– What was driving my social anxiety.
– The way out of social anxiety!
#1 I believed every thought that I had to be true.
I was obsessively thinking negatively. And busy trying to figure out what others might be thinking about me. Every look, gesture or tone of voice meant that there was something wrong about me. I believed each one of my ‘I am’ thoughts to be true.
In reality, the thoughts I have about myself are acquired beliefs and don’t indicate what is true. Also other people are not that ‘busy’ with thinking about me. I needed to stop believing each thought to be true and come to see reality.
Can you see how tiring it is wanting to figure out what others think about you?
#2 I expected bad things to happen.
I was so scared of something bad to happen. It was impossible to surrender to the not knowing of what would happen in the future. I categorized everything (including myself) in good versus bad, as if someone sat on my shoulder judging and criticising every move I made. At least this labelling was something I could control! I was incredibly judgemental on myself.
As I expected others to judge me; I bypassed my own internal judge. I thought I was scared of other people, while actually I was scared of myself (my own thoughts, beliefs and perceptions)
Can u see that you don’t do – say – be- as you are; just to avoid criticism?
#3 I ‘tried’ to avoid mistakes and to control reality.
Because I was so busy anticipating what might go wrong, I was never truly present and available. My mind stories ran the show.
In truth, having someone laugh at me or reject me, is not ‘the end of the world’. That I make a mistake is not the ‘end’ of me. It is life; I learn by doing and making mistakes. The only thing I can control are my own responses to whatever is happening. Trying to avoid mistakes or trying to be someone different just doesn’t work!
Can u see that success is going from failure to failure with enthusiasm?
3 Steps to Shift your Social Anxiety & Shyness…and What Worked for Me
I was guided in these self-exploration classes of ShoomKloom to find out the nature of my feelings and thoughts. I had the opportunity to open up to this anxiety and see it for what it is!
Step # 1. Learning to not be scared of fear itself.
I came to see that the ideas and my monologues about my fear, made fear grow beyond what it actually is. Fear might not be comfortable for a moment; but I realised that I scare myself more with the stories I tell myself (like thoughts that I am not good enough, or that nobody loves me or that I always mess it up). So, I learned to see the difference in an unpleasant feeling moment and the story drama I create around it.
When anxiety comes up (like after scratching a friends’ car and feeling anxious about her reaction and humiliating me) I will:
- take a moment to really allow the anxiety and welcome it
- feel my fear without adding thoughts, judgements or pictures to it
- notice where I am tense in the body without trying to get rid of any discomfort
When I go over these steps, either my anxiety dissolves or the tension can just be there without overwhelming me as I am not judging it as being wrong.
Can you see that the way you talk to yourself about your anxiety, makes your anxiety stronger?
Step # 2. Learning to relate with thoughts & feelings in a healthy way.
Life still throws all kind of situations at me. I still have the same thoughts and feelings, but I no longer become lost in the anxiety. I know that each thought and feeling comes and goes. I don’t need to hook into my thoughts as this will create more stress.
Whenever I think I did or said something wrong and get anxious about how others see me, I will:
- take a moment to pause and stop feeding the anxiety with extra thoughts
- allow the sensation of anxiety without telling myself: ‘Oh I feel anxious because of this and this’
- not compare this anxiety to past anxiety, I allow it without any thoughts
- bring my attention to the present moment by looking around me and feeling my feet on the ground
With these steps I am able to be with an anxious moment and relax knowing that my thoughts and feelings always come and go.
Can you see that you will never have this day again and with worrying about another far away day – you waste this day?
Step # 3 Learning to not give ‘meaning’.
I realise that what I think and feel doesn’t mean anything particular about me. I see that I give the flavor of meaning to a situation and when I look into it, it is hardly ever related to what is really happening. So now I know that what is happening in my mind, is usually more funny than real.
When my boyfriend ignores me because his friends are around and I get anxious believing I did something wrong, I will:
- stop ‘talking’ to myself for a moment and let the thought about the meaning I give it fall in the background
- stop giving attention to any harsh thoughts (like: I am bad, I did it wrong) or to judgements and thoughts about past or future
- stop imaginations or pictures in my head
Usually I relax and calm down as there are no thoughts fuelling any sensations or feelings. Often there is a spaciousness and reassurance arising where I know that I am ok and I can meet whatever is happening in life.