Are you living with social anxiety? If so this wonderful guest post from Caroline will be perfect in helping you to have a social life when you have social anxiety!
Without further ado, let’s turn it over to Caroline!
How to be Social When Living with Social Anxiety
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The effects of anxiety vary tremendously. Some only experience mild anxiety while others are faced with crippling fear that keeps them from most regular daily activities. But no matter what level of anxiety is in your life, there is always hope.
Beyond that, there are ways to allow for some amount of social activity without letting anxiety dominate your actions. It’s important to realize that we all have different definitions of what constitutes a social experience; for some of us, meeting with a single person seems social, while others require a much greater level of exposure.
And while you might not realize it, socializing is a learned skill. Those not especially versed in it will struggle at first. This is normal and not something to be ashamed of. All learning takes time and we learn at different paces.
To begin with, you need to define your comfort zone.
Determining Your Boundaries
When we say boundaries, we’re talking about a few different things. In short, your boundaries are a sum of these criteria:
- The distance that you consider “personal space”
- The type of information you’re comfortable sharing with others
- Your level of willingness to share personal possessions
- The amount of trust you ascribe to strangers
You might consider these general guidelines. But put together, they can give you a fairly accurate picture of where your boundaries with the rest of the world stand. Once you know how large your “playing field” is, you can tell how far your comfort zone extends and thus how far you can go without exceeding it and entering the “discomfort zone.”
Knowing that is only the beginning. Once you have a good feel for what’s safe, you need to extend. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a safety net. It also means you want your bases secured.
Securing Your Bases
One thing to work on is making sure you don’t have other concerns to distract you while you focus on new things such as socializing. This is akin to locking your house up and making sure the coffee pot is turned off so you don’t have to trouble yourself.
That also means taking proper care of yourself; that doesn’t just mean taking a shower every day or feeding yourself. It also includes maintaining your belongings and your relationships. Having a close family member or friend you can always confide in helps a ton. Knowing that your computer or phone will properly boot up when you need it to because it isn’t run down or hit by hackers and malware is important too.
Once you’ve got that stuff taken care of, you can move forward with fewer concerns.
Exceeding Your Limits
Don’t allow yourself to be fooled into thinking you’re somehow inferior to other people; that simply isn’t true. While your personal anxiety may be greater than the average person, that doesn’t mean other people don’t suffer from fear and discomfort when they go out of their comfort zone.
Understanding that you’re just different is critical to the next step. When you start to reach out and try to be social, you’re going to be crossing the comfort zone you previously defined. That’s not to say you need to go too far; baby steps are always the initial goal.
That’s not to say you need to engage in exposure therapy; uncontrolled exposure can actually be counterproductive, as you may have experienced before. When you put yourself into an uncomfortable situation, you need to be in control, at least at first.
If, for instance, people touching your things gives you anxiety, then exposing yourself to that fear needs to be at your own behest; you need to ask them to touch your things, not just invite strangers to molest your personal belongings.
Changing Your Attitude
Changing how you think is arguably one of the most effective ways to deal with any kind of mental problem. The brain is capable of both creating and correcting major problems throughout the body just be training to perform a different way. This knowledge is the motivation behind the currently most accepted treatment, known as cognitive therapy.
Anxiety is no different. The chief difficulty is finding the motivation and strength to truly change to more positive thoughts and genuinely believe what you’re saying. Positive affirmations have long been stressed as a key to success with good reason; they work.
As you prepare to engage in social activities, consider what you’re telling yourself. If you find yourself using words or thoughts that foster uncertainty, change that. Rather than “I’m not sure I can do this,” your mindset needs to be “I will do this.”
That goes for accepting failure too. You won’t always succeed, yet that failure can be used as a powerful learning tool and motivator. Don’t look at bouts of anxiety or difficult times as your failures; they are the stepping stones to your success and achievements all of their own. They say so much more than “I didn’t try.”
Extroversion is a Skill
As you start interacting with people, understand that it will be awkward. There will be times when you don’t know what to say or may need to just back down entirely. This is fine; if you’re introverted now, you won’t instantly wake up as an extrovert.
But you can learn. Many of the world’s most successful extroverted started as introverts but kept pushing themselves to interact with others. Through no shortage of hard work and painstaking effort, they developed the skills needed to look like natural social beings.
This can happen for you too so long as you keep trying. Even after you’re successful, there may always be some traces of anxiety in the back of your mind. But the better you become, the duller those nagging voices become.
Will you step out of your comfort zone and talk to someone today?
Tell us how you plan to combat anxiety.
Caroline is a health blogger who works predominantly online, she understands anxiety and its effects on our society. She hopes this article will offer some insight into how you can still be social when living with anxiety.