How many times have you walked into a party and taken a deep breath, bracing yourself before talking to anyone? It’s normal to get nervous before talking to people. According to psychologist, Rick Hanson, in his book, “Hardwiring Happiness: The new brain science of contentment, calm and confidence,” he indicates that humans share ancestry with creatures, like bats, whose self-fulfillment is founded on the carrot and stick philosophy. The carrot was their reward for doing well while the stick was punishment for acting poorly. These creatures thrived by avoiding the stick instead of pursuing the carrot. According to Dr. Hanson, over time, humans have transformed this into a desire to avoid negative environments instead of actively pursuing positive ones.
As a culture, we’ve become so used to the feeling of social anxiety that we’ve normalized the concept of ‘taking the edge off’. It’s normal in society to revert to a crutch (often alcohol) to make ourselves feel calmer in social settings. Anxiety is triggered when we feel disproportionate levels of distress, worry or fear over an emotional trigger. More often than not, when we walk into a social situation, that emotional trigger is the fear of being judged. We focus heavily on avoiding being judged instead of focusing on just being content in the moment. In putting this pressure on ourselves, we create internal anxiety which triggers even more negative commentary in our minds and an increasing amount of self-doubt.
Typically, anxiety sets in when one or more of the below thoughts pop into our minds:
1. I should be doing…
2. How do I compare to them?
3. If I say this, they’ll think that…
How do we conquer these thoughts?
1. Thinking that you should be acting or speaking in a certain way puts a lot of pressure on yourself. Remove the “should” and replace it with the word “want”. What do you want to get out of this conversation? How do you want to present yourself? You’ll immediately feel lighter and you’ll actually attract what you want instead of trying to control others judgements of you which is essentially, as we all know, uncontrollable.
2. Stop comparing. The more you let yourself cycle through thoughts of comparing yourself to others, the less progress you’ll make towards becoming your own best self. Anytime you hear your thoughts making a comparison between you and another person, stop. Refocus your thoughts on the progress you’ve made in your life and your own future goals. With that in mind, who has time for comparisons?
3. Be vulnerable. Maybe you’re right about people judging you. They probably will. Humans aren’t perfect. But if you’re being true to yourself, who cares if they do? They are not living your life.
The funny thing about social anxiety is that it often stems from a pressure we put on ourselves to be perfect. The irony is, the best conversations come from authentic connections. But who can connect with perfect? No one. Because no one is perfect.
So the next time you find yourself filled with anxiety in a social situation, listen to your thoughts and replace the ‘shoulds’ with ‘wants’ and the comparisons with things you love about yourself. Then enjoy just being open with people. Deep connections can only be formed through trust, vulnerability and authenticity.
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