Feel the fear.
Fear in social situations can contribute to physical reactions, we may shake, blush, speak less clearly or sweat, fearing this will be obvious to others, compounding the problem. Or we may have less visible symptoms such as a racing pulse, shortness of breath, nausea and dizziness. Other reactions include a fear of looking foolish, or boring, and putting pressure on ourselves to be liked by everyone. These stresses can also increase our sensitivity to perceived criticism, inhibiting our ability to cope. Most people who have social anxiety problems know that this is irrational and doesn’t make sense. Knowing something though, is not the same thing as feeling it in the moment and using this feeling constructively. For these people, thoughts and feelings of anxiety persist and usually show no signs of going away.
Fear also causes us to notice and remember negative events, which reinforces the sense that the world is a scary place. We can work to change that by deliberately noticing the positive things in our life. The joy we feel when we see someone we love, the pleasure of a sunny day, the beauty in nature, the fun of an outing, the humor in a situation. We have to slowly place ourselves in the situations we fear. The first thing to do, is to remove avoidance from the equation and let yourself feel the fear. This way you will learn to survive without safety measures and avoidance tactics. When we suffer from social anxiety, it’s crucial to take gradual steps towards healing. Putting ourselves into the situations we fear, can be counter productive, unless we introduce careful thought and planning.
Fear in social situations.
A good starting point for us, is to make a list of our most feared social situations, from the lowest, upwards, based on our anxiety levels. Then we start with the least feared situation and expose ourselves to it, until we have successfully faced the fear. It’s a mistake to move on to the next level too quickly, we have to practice and feel confident before we can proceed. Social interactions of course, are between people so truly hearing and listening to another person, has got to be the biggest act of kindness there is. Not only will they love the fact that we find them so intriguing and interesting, but as we focus on them, we will be distracted away from ourselves and our own anxious thoughts and feelings.
Keep in mind that social fear is in our head. If we could look past the fear, we would find there is nothing on the other side. In fact there is very little in the western world that we do need to fear in our everyday lives. The “fight or flight” tribal fears are gone now, we are not going to be bitten on the arse by a saber tooth tiger anymore, but our brain is still geared up to protect us in the same way. Of course this is still very useful in certain situations. In social settings though, where most of our fears are now centered, it is of little help and more of a hindrance. If I go into the city and do a stand up comedy routine on the street. I will be completely useless, but there is nothing to fear physically.
Practice feeling fear.
We go to our nearest coffee outlet, preferably when it’s busy, and order a coffee and a muffin. When they ask us for the money, we are going to say, “I would like a 10% discount please”. This of course is going against normal social protocol, as we don’t live for the most part in a bartering economy. The first reaction we are going to get, is amazement and disbelieve that we have asked this question at all. Who asks for a discount on an amount of $7.95, we are not going to offer any explanation, just ask for the discount. Watch the reactions you get, feel the fear but don’t explain yourself. Our request will most likely move up the chain of command, and that’s fine we just wait patiently.
Eventually we will most likely be told it’s company policy, we don’t give discounts or a variation of this. Then we just smile sit down and enjoy our coffee and muffin. The more we do this the less we will care about the glances we receive and the imagined gossip that we think is happening. Now the venue is a popular restaurant in the evening, where plenty of people are socializing. We’re not asking for a discount this time, the only stipulation is we book a table for one. We just turn up sit down and enjoy a bottle of wine and relax. We’re there for one hour, so there is no point in rushing the meal, we can’t reach for our phone either, or a book, as we left them in the car. As we look around us, we make eye contact with people and smile, that’s all we have to do.
Fear nearly under control.
These two social situations, are ones I have used but there are many more of course. My social fears now seem to be under control. On the sliding scale of anxiety that I mentioned previously, the social skill of talking impromptu in front of an audience, is still something I’m not comfortable with, and possibly never will be. In a social situation though, it’s the closest I’m ever going to get to that sabre tooth tiger.