Approximately 22 million people in the United States suffer from Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD)—an intense fear of being judged in social situations.
When I feel socially anxious, the simplest interactions are painful challenges. It’s difficult to maintain a social life with this condition.
Imagine if all that fear could be wiped away, and you could start over with a fearless mind. Imagine waking up, and meeting new people without hesitation. Imagine expressing yourself confidently without stuttering or having any inhibition. Imagine comfortably interacting with others, making them laugh, and having fun conversations.
There are effective methods for overcoming social anxiety. The most common treatment is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. This is a form of exposure therapy that asks social anxiety sufferers to reassess the reasons behind their fears. Next, you gradually expose yourself to those fears until they no longer create the undesirable reaction.
You start by practicing self-introductions, then ask strangers for directions, and engage in increasingly scarier situations. This incremental exposure helps people overcome their fears by showing that experiencing rejection is less likely to happen than you may think.
The Weak Point of Exposure Therapy.
Exposure therapy can be a very effective method of helping people overcome social anxiety. Most sufferers find that it helps them overcome shyness.
The weak point, however, is that first step out of your comfort zone. It will likely be the scariest because you’ve invested so much energy in avoiding your fears. It’s a habit that’s difficult to break. You might understand that talking to a new person is probably harmless, but the habit of fear persists. And you might not even understand why.
When you try to face your fears there is too much resistance and you might give up before you’ve even started.
Thankfully, there is an alternative way to overcome those persistent fears before taking action.
Overcoming Social Anxiety with Mindfulness.
To remedy this fearful state, mindfulness meditation has proven helpful to me.
Mindfulness meditation starts with observing an experience without trying to change or control it. It’s a practice in accepting reality and minimizing your resistance to it.
This means to stop judging social interactions with negative adjectives, such as, scary, intimidating, uncomfortable, embarrassing, and so on.
These words are just subjective labels. They don’t accurately define reality. You will only find the reality you expect to find.
By accepting experiences without judging them, you open yourself up to the possibility of finally having positive social interactions and building confidence.
While meditating, you can practice this method by paying attention to your breathing without trying to control it. This practice can later be applied to any activity, such, as talking with new acquaintances.
This can help the mindfulness practitioner relax in situations that previously may have been very stressful.
Mindfulness meditation can be a key step in learning to face your fears. One client of mine was afraid strangers would physically hit him if he tried to start conversations. He was too scared to even say, “hi.” He understood that this might be a bit irrational, but the fear persisted. With the help of mindfulness meditation and some related techniques, he was able to overcome this fear and take the first step toward healing.
Within a week, he was able to easily start conversations with people he wanted to meet.
By combining mindfulness meditation with exposure to your fears, you have a powerful method of handling social anxiety and building confidence.
Try these five tips for overcoming shyness and social anxiety:
1. Accept your nervous feelings.
Resistance will only make you feel worse and lead to more avoidance. Accept that this is your reaction now, but you have the potential to face fears and build more confidence.
2. Don’t pretend to be confident when you aren’t.
This is another sign of resisting your fear. Some people may be embarrassed by their nervous behavior and try to hide it. This only makes you feel more nervous and people see right through it.
3. Realize the value in the fear.
The fear is there to teach you something. If you are socially anxious, some event in your past may have caused you to fear talking to others. Some part of you may have felt judged and you hid that part away. By accepting that part of yourself again, you have less reason to feel afraid in the future.
4. Feel better with meditation.
Regular meditation has been shown to increase production of the neurotransmitters responsible for positive emotions. When you are in a better mood, you will also be more willing to face and accept your fears.
5. Meditation disengages negative thought patterns.
Most people have the same thoughts every day. If those thoughts are predominantly negative, then you are conditioning yourself for a very uncomfortable life. Meditation interrupts those worries as you observe and reassess them. With practice, the unnecessary worries will begin to melt away.
Author: Adam Rockman
Image: Deviant Art/cOver-ur-eyes
Editor: Travis May
Copy Editor: Lieselle Davidson
Social Editor: Waylon Lewis