David Silverman, M.A., LMFT
Surviving Social Anxiety
A lot of writers are shy, or introverted
Do you feel anxiety around networking or pitching? If so, do you feel nervous, feel your heart racing, have trouble communicating, stutter or “freeze up” in front of a group? I believe the source of all social anxiety goes back to a fundamental fear of being judged. Nobody likes to be judged, especially when you don’t feel you’re at your best. When I feel that people are judging me, or my performance, and I’m nervous about it, I can suddenly think of a million reasons why they’re right. The funny thing is, they most likely aren’t thinking anything of the kind. If fact, I’ve had plenty of positive experience giving presentations. All too often though, I forget about the good experiences and go right to the bad ones. Do you believe that something like that is going on with you?
How can you relax around other people?
One thing you can do is take a deep breath. Before going into a meeting, try taking a few deep breaths, or engage in “yoga-breathing.” This means you inhale through your nose and exhale slowly through your mouth. When you’re talking to people in a meeting, continue to breathe in and out slowly. There’s a method called “tapping,” where you tap acupressure points. You also can relax by slowly breathing on the back of your thumb. Anything else that will relax you will help. Some people can do self-hypnosis. Some people can do stretches. Some people can actually just “shake it off.”
Think about what you’re doing rationally.
Say you’re giving a speech, and you have a of history of doing it successfully many times, but you’ve “frozen up” a few times, too. Why does your mind go right to “freezing up?” You’ve given successful presentations before, but your mind doesn’t go there. Even after you’ve practiced your speech in front of friends without a hitch. Even after you’ve given successful speeches in front of the same people. We sometimes go there because fear takes over. When we talk about rational thinking, we mean thinking logically, without fear. So take a deep breath, do what you can to relax, and look at the situation rationally. Since you’ve done it before, you can do it again. Be confident.
Show up prepared.
What happens when you show up at a gathering alone, and unprepared? You become totally reactive; you wait for things to happen. When you’re just waiting for something to happen, you’re not in control. You get nervous waiting, and you lose your confidence. If you come prepared with an interesting story, or some news – even if it’s gossip – you can approach others at the event. You get to be in control. Your confidence goes up. Everything that follows gets easier. Instead of waiting, be proactive. Approach somebody. Get it over with.
Everything gets easier once you’ve moved past the first part. Use whatever you can to get this over with. When it’s happened to me, I’ve sometimes used a “prop.” I’d bring photos of my dog on the cell phone. I’d bring a friend to the party. I’d do anything I could think of, so I wouldn’t be the center of attention. It always helped.
I’d bring a PowerPoint presentation if I had to speak in front of a group. Then I could point to the screen the whole time. On dates, I’d always suggest we go to a movie. After the show, I’d always have something to talk about, in this case, the film. What did you think? Did you like the ending? And so on. Anything was better than trying to talk about myself. At parties, I’d use the “three-second rule.” I found that if I waited around to talk with somebody, I’d get anxious. If I just went up to someone before three seconds were up, I’d get it over with.
Attempt the easiest goals first, then build to the most difficult.
Stepping out of your comfort zone can be overwhelming, especially if you attempt to go too far too soon. If you have a goal that seems overwhelming, start small. Always break overwhelming goals down into manageable pieces. When you’re working on being more social, start with something easy. Ask a stranger for directions. There’s not a lot at stake. Work up to more difficult social situations slowly. Every time you take steps outside your comfort zone, be sure to reward yourself, whether you have a positive outcome or not. Even if the stranger ignores you, you’ve succeeded by reaching out. Work your way up the ladder, taking slightly larger risks each time, until you’ve achieved your goal. If you want to ask a girl out, just talk to her. Don’t jump straight in.
This article originally appeared on Psych Central and was reprinted with permission:
David Silverman, M.A., LMFT, treats creative and highly sensitive individuals in private practice in LA. He received training at Stanford University and Antioch University. Having experienced the rejection, stress, creative blocks, paralyzing perfectionism and career reversals over a twenty-five year career as a writer in Film/TV, he’s uniquely suited to work with gifted, creative and sensitive clients experiencing anxiety, addiction or depression. David can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 310.850.4707.
Image credit: Creative Commons, Grand Canal Quay – Dublin, Ireland – black and white street photography, 2017 by Giuseppe Milo, is licensed under CC By 2.