Social Anxiety Can Be Overcome

Posted: June 25, 2011 in Psychology
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Social anxiety is a fear of social situations where you may be evaluated by others. You don’t know what other people are thinking or how they may react to you. That element of mystery should make socializing interesting. If you have social anxiety, you experience fear instead of excitement.

The Cause

Part of the problem is going over bad memories of past social events. This builds up your social failures in your imagination. When you don’t deliberately choose your memories, you will recall more failures than successes. It’s human nature.

Another element of social anxiety is focusing on yourself instead of the situation. This increases performance anxiety and you don’t react well. You’re not paying good enough attention to the other person.

You fail because you fear failing.

The Cure

To reduce social anxiety, remember successful social situations. For example, you want to introduce yourself to someone who looks interesting at a large social gathering. The first thing you think of is the last person who got offended when you approached them. You go over it again and again in your mind. You decide approaching that stranger is not worth the risk.

Now imagine taking a different approach. You remember the introduction that went bad and put it out of your mind. How? Think of a time when you introduced yourself to someone new and it went well. Think over that encounter as many times as you need to and then go make a new friend.

And if it doesn’t go well? The other person has a social disorder. You’re fine because you’ll try talking to a different stranger right away. Some small talk is fine. You don’t need to make a new friend every time you talk to a stranger, just be friendly.

What if you’ve had a bad experience every time you’ve tried to make a new friend? You need to keep trying until you create a positive memory that you can use to make it easier in the future. The best place to start is in social situations where you have a higher chance of success. Large family gatherings and social groups where you all share the same interests are a great place to build positive memories of first encounters.

Public Speaking

Maybe your anxiety is limited to public speaking. That can be an especially tough social anxiety to get over. There are many books dealing with becoming good at public speaking. Most of them assume you’ve already conquered your fear. I’ll walk you through the steps I learned and used to overcome my own fear of public speaking.

  1. Prepare some material to present to a group at a later date.
2. Learn your speech. Don’t memorize what you will say. Read it over until you have a good idea of all the points you want to make.
3. Give the speech to an empty room without looking at your notes. You’ll miss some points. Review your notes and do it again. Repeat this step until you can give the speech and cover all of your main points.
4. Give the speech to one or two supportive listeners. Repeat this step until you are comfortable. If your listeners get tired of the speech, find more volunteers. You may feel some anxiety. Think of it as excitement and it will be a lot easier to take. With practice, you will be able to interpret it as excitement all of the time.
5. Expand your audience. Try to work your way up to larger and larger groups. Eventually, you will be able to give your speech to so many people that the size of the group no longer matters.

The key is practicing every step until you are no longer nervous. Once again, you are creating good memories to relieve social anxiety. And that’s what life’s all about, isn’t it? Good memories.

Extreme Social Anxiety

If your social anxiety is so bad that you can’t have a normal life, you should consider professional help. Search Google for “Help Line Your City” and click a health link with a local or toll free number. If they can’t help directly, they will refer you to someone who can.

To reduce the anxiety of calling for help, imagine that you’ve already done it and the person on the other end was cheerful and helpful. Those are the kind of people who work on help lines. Imagine having a good phone call as many times as you need to and then make the call.

Any form of anxiety can be reduced by taking small steps toward feeling comfortable with the feared object. As you notice nothing bad happening, you will become more confident and continue to grow out of your fear.

Even if you don’t feel you have social anxiety, how comfortable are you in social situations? When is the last time you made a new friend? When is the last time you talked to a stranger? What can you do to become more socially outgoing today?

Article text copyright 2011 David Arthur Smith. All Rights Reserved.


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