You might have a bad day at work or get into an argument with your significant other. You’re frustrated, and you can’t stop thinking about it. But what can one person do to control their thoughts?
Approach the situation from a different perspective.
Social anxiety is not a genetic predisposition but rather stems from life experiences- namely, internalizing negative events and repeating self-defeating thoughts such as “I’m such an idiot” when trying to interact with others.
By changing the way you think about these instances, it is possible to lessen social anxiety symptoms considerably. This article will go over three specific methods for changing your mindset in order to improve feelings of social anxiety and state of mind overall.
1. Social Anxiety and Negative Self-Talk
In order to make sense of your own thoughts, and come up with more adaptive ways of thinking, understanding the underpinnings of negative self talk is critical.
Social anxiety stems from the fear of being negatively evaluated by others. It is fueled by persistent negative self-talk in which sufferers assume the worst about themselves and think that this will be reflected in others’ perceptions of them. Keeping negative self-talk in mind, it becomes easier to see how being overly critical of oneself would exacerbate social anxiety. By telling yourself that you’re clumsy or awkward, you will feel even more uncomfortable when interacting with others. The more often you have these thoughts about yourself, the more likely it is that they will manifest themselves into a reality.
Social anxiety, therefore, is a vicious cycle. The highly self-critical person will become more self-conscious and aware of how they’re being perceived by others, which heightens their appearance of anxiety in the eyes of observers. Increased self-consciousness leads to more negative thoughts, leading to increased awkwardness and nervousness around others; this further fuels the cycle of self doubt and negative thoughts which give rise to social anxiety symptoms.
This is where it’s important to realize that you are not your thoughts. You are not your feelings either. What we call the ‘self’ is actually an amalgam or a myriad of mental states that you are constantly shifting between throughout the day. For example, you are probably right now feeling a sense of anxiety about an upcoming event. You may also be wondering if your boss will think you’re doing a good job, or if they notice all the mistakes you make. As soon as these thoughts come to mind, you shift your perspective and wonder what you’ll do once the day is over- maybe go for a jog or read a book to unwind.
2. Mainstream Versus Maladaptive Thinking
This is a common misconception for those with social anxiety- that everyone feels the same way. The truth is, people are as different from each other as they are from animals or objects, therefore what one person finds comfortable and easy to do another finds to be very difficult. As human beings, we have evolved to vary dramatically in how we think. One of these differences is the level of self-monitoring in which we operate on a daily basis.
The socially anxious individual operates in an over-analytical way of thinking. They overthink basic social interactions and what others may think of them. This constant bombardment of self-critical thoughts and fear of external evaluation causes the socially anxious person to constantly feel anxious around others.
In contrast, those who are more socially adept operate on a lower level of self-monitoring. They can engage in basic tasks without much effort or thought because they have a sufficiently developed sense of ‘self’ to be able to focus on other tasks at hand.
Social anxiety sufferers are stuck in a feedback loop of maladaptive thinking, which leads to bad habits to cope with it such as substance abuse, avoidance, or dysfunctional coping mechanisms such as worrying or overeating.
The solution, therefore, is the mindset and ability to shift between ‘mainstream’ and ‘maladaptive’ thinking. The ability to do this successfully is the difference between success and failure in life.
3. Micro Attention
It is not a matter of being able to change how others perceive you; it is a matter of changing how you perceive yourself. Changing your thoughts is a process that takes time and practice. Even if you have been trying to control your thoughts for a long period of time, it will take more effort than those who have no problems with social anxiety. Therefore, try to be patient with yourself as you learn how to rewire your thoughts.
The first step is grouping your thoughts into categories and identifying what is ‘mainstream’ and ‘maladaptive’. This will lead to realizing that most of your thoughts are maladaptive and based on assumptions about yourself rather than the reality of the situation. Therefore, this will allow you to learn how to redirect these maladaptive thoughts back to a more realistic perspective.
This redirection process is called ‘micro attention’, or being able to focus on small details in order to see the larger picture. For example, if you are feeling anxious before giving a presentation at work, you can try thinking of another subject such as what food you want for dinner or how beautiful the trees have been looking lately. In this way, you are able to shift your attention away from your anxiety and onto a more dominant pleasure. This can then be used as a coping mechanism and a reward for the time that you have spent practicing this skill.
How To Decide What Works For You
The above three steps are very simple, but what does it mean to act on them? Everyone’s thoughts will be different, therefore it is important to try to identify what works best for you. It is best to start small. It helps if you start out with something that you already know you may be able to do in public, even if this is just using the bathroom or eating lunch at your desk at work.
On a daily basis, it is important to try to switch your ‘mainstream’ thoughts with ones that work better for you. You can do this by counting backwards from 100 in the morning when you wake up, and increasing your self-monitoring throughout the day by small steps such as doing things in a different way once every few days.
If you’re interested in changing your negative thoughts about yourself, there are effective ways that you can go about it. My coaching program, ‘Slay Social Anxiety’ can help you transform your thoughts and beat this once and for all. You can also download my free guide 11 Self Defeating Thoughts and How To Overcome Them to start your journey today.