Social anxiety and nervousness
Are you nervous of attending that social event?
I’ve run a social group for people not currently in relationship, for 9 years.
People are nervous
The most common thing I get messages about, is how nervous people are about coming to one of my events. Not everybody puts themselves in this category, but I see that social anxiety is very common. A lot of people arrive at my group frozen with nerves, forcing themselves to be there. Many people will have thought about it, and put it off, sometimes for years.
I try to have clear sign posts and to greet each person at the door. There must be nothing worse in this situation than not knowing which group or person to approach, or not being greeted at all!
Many people ask me what they should do or what the format is. I can offer words of encouragement or introduce people, but then they have to find their own way with talking to each other. Sometimes I feel like a Mother bird encouraging the chick out of the nest, not knowing whether they will fly or fall!
People assume negative things about other people
I’ve learnt that most people make these common assumptions:
- If they see that people are talking to each other, they assume that these people are in a clique of people, who already know and like each other.
- It would be rude to interrupt.
It’s not true. People are generally welcoming
About 80% of the time, I would say, neither of these are true. My observation is that most people are grateful to get into any conversation at first, and then may not know how to get out of it! I see that most people at my events are happy to include an extra person in the conversation. Most people are really very polite, especially at first.
This is great! As people find their feet, dare to ask questions, and offer information about themselves, or discuss various subjects, I can feel the intial tension reducing. My hope is that people start to realise that they are not so different to other people after all, and that everyone else isn’t the amazing conversationalist, or as mean, as they first supposed!
Ways to tackle a nerve wracking social situation
Preparing in advance might include:
- Preparing your outfit, dinner, travel route, and timing, in advance
- Arming yourself with a list of interesting questions
- Reading about or taking a course in communication skills, boundaries or assertiveness
One step at a time
Social anxiety is apparently the fear of being judged critically. In my line of business, this means you are already judging yourself harshly. Here are some things you can try, to ease that pressure:
- Take it one step at a time. Just focus on getting ready, rather than on the event itself. Allow yourself the permission to quit at any time if you feel uncomfortable.
Challenge self criticism
Do you put yourself down with everything you say, how you look, everything you do? Are you your own worst enemy?
- There are lots of ways to address it self confidence. But mainly, the idea is to like yourself. What unkind things do you say to yourself in social situations? What would it be like if you could stop that? How out of order would it be if someone else said the same things to you??
Challenge criticism of others and self consciousness
We can be so focussed on our self consciousness that we actually miss making any meaningful connection with anybody, and become very critical of others as well.
- You could try challenging yourself to remember three things about each person you talk with. Or even more brave, telling them three things about yourself, before you move on.
Mindfulness eases social anxiety
I’m not scientific, but my rudimentary understanding of neuroscience, is that when we are anxious, we are in one part of the brain system. When we feel calm, we are in a totally different part of the brain and nervous system. So what might help, is inhabiting the calm part. This is mindfulness. I know that’s easier said than done. But here’s one way of practicing this experience. It takes practice, just like any exercise or new learning:
- Think of someone who you feel able to be yourself with. Someone who you know wouldn’t judge or criticise you. Someone who likes you. Call up and remember what it feels like to be in their company. How do you feel about yourself here? How do you communicate? Do this before, during, and after, a challenging social situation. It’s important to try to realise that there might not be actually anything wrong with you.
The way I work most with clients with social anxiety, is to stay with the experience of it. It might sound counterproductive, because all you may want to do when you’re anxious is pretend it’s not there. Unfortunately, this can make it much worse. But, if you stay with a feeling, and just pay attention to it in your body and your experience, it often passes or fades.
- Where is it in your body?
- How does it affect your breathing?
- What would it look like?
- What happens if you just slow that right down and stay with it?
In therapy we also explore where the feeling comes from, what it relates to, and how to challenge or let go of any self criticism embedded in that.
- What is it exactly that you’re afraid of?
- If you were to get really curious about it, what can you discover?
How I got over it
I was actually pretty shy before I started ‘The Bristol Social Solos’. I’ve been working out that I have something valuable to say, with all the methods above, for years. But there’s nothing like facing your fears and running a social group, to start the ball rolling! Personally, I now love being forced out of my sofa to mix with strangers and a community of lovely regulars, no matter how I’m feeling beforehand. The satisfaction that I’m facing down my fears, my inertia or my resistance, is enough to make me want to carry on doing this for years. I can say with conviction, that it’s always been worth it.
After all, what’s worse than shame and depression inducing social anxiety?
Loneliness. But I’ll talk about that next time…
Read about working with me in psychotherapy individually, here: http://www.bristolcounselling.co.uk/Counsellingforspecifics.html
*My social group can be found here. But, please be aware that because of the ethics of my profession I would not be able to work with you in psychotherapy if you are, or ever have been, an active member of my social group. But I can coach you through The Calling in ‘The One’ process. Ask me about this! : http://www.bristolcounselling.co.uk/contactshelleytreacher.html.
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