Socially anxious moments are universal: we’ve all felt that self-conscious urge to hide. This week, Savvy Psychologist Dr. Ellen Hendriksen shares her top 3 social anxiety hacks to help you feel comfortable and confident.
Anxiety Tip #2: Turn Your Attention Inside Out
Social anxiety makes us feel like we’re in danger, as if there is social threat everywhere. So in order to make sure we’re safe, we monitor how things are going, both internally and externally.
But we focus on the wrong things. We focus on our bodies to make sure we’re not shaking, sweating, or turning red. We might focus on standing in a way that looks confident or keep thinking about whether there’s something stuck in our teeth. We might work hard to act casual, sound smart, or keep from being boring.
But all this focus on trying to act a certain way, manage others’ impression of us, and covering our fatal flaw takes a tremendous amount of attention and energy. There’s no bandwidth left for basics—even things like walking and talking. This is precisely why we trip, spill our drink, and go blank when it’s our turn to talk.
Appropriately, the phenomenon of monitoring ourselves and our anxiety is called self-focused attention, and the result is that we come away from social encounters with very little information about how things actually went. To make matters worse, in order to fill in the gaps, we ask our anxiety, which is about as credible as asking a used-car salesman which car on the lot we should buy.
Humans learn on the job. And building confidence is no exception.
So how to break out? Actually, that’s the operative word: out. Turn your attention inside out.
Here’s what I mean: You choose where your attention goes. Shift to focusing outward on what’s happening around you. In the moment, this means consciously placing your attention on the people around you, the person you’re talking to, or simply your immediate surroundings. Look at their face. Listen closely to what they’re saying. Shift the focus from you, you, you to them, them, them and feel your anxiety lift.
Anxiety Tip #3: Get Started, and Your Confidence Will Catch Up
We wish (pretty please!) that we could retreat from the world and reemerge with our confidence transformed, like a cocoon transforms a caterpillar into a butterfly. Read a few self-help books, pump ourselves up, and emerge fully formed and ready for anything.
We want to feel less anxious so we can live our life.
But instead, we have to live our life in order to be less anxious.
Humans learn on the job. And building confidence is no exception. It’s really hard to “be confident” without some evidence or experience to back it up. You need some experience first, and then your attitude will follow.
So put action before confidence. Just like mood and motivation, we don’t have to wait until we feel like doing something before we do it—we don’t have to feel like going to the gym before we lace up our shoes. We don’t have to feel inspired before we sit down to write. Instead, we start doing it, and the feeling catches up.
Therefore, choose something small that you habitually avoid. The operative word here is small. We’re not aiming for huge parties, public speaking, or other big stuff yet. But maybe use the regular checkout, not self-checkout. Order over the phone rather than online. Compliment a stranger. Eat lunch in the restaurant or your workplace break room, not at your desk or in your car. Send the email without asking your partner or co-worker to look over it first. Finally introduce yourself to the colleague you see all the time but have never spoken to.
These things are so easy to skip over. We avoid them because we can. And they become habit. We can easily do the workaround.
But start by changing your actions, and then see how you feel. It’ll be subtle. You will get a strong urge to put off or avoid testing out your new action. In the moment, you’ll find a million reasons to avoid. But give it a shot. Fake it 'til you make it. This is why we’re starting small, after all. Do it before you’re 100% confident, and your confidence will catch up.
So give all three of these hacks a shot: And while you stretch and grow, turn your attention inside out and let go of those safety behaviors—the life preserver that holds you underwater. Do things that are a little uncomfortable—you’ll be glad you did, and each experience will add a drop to the bucket of your confidence. Keep at it, and before you know it, you’ll find the world is a lot friendlier than you ever thought, and your fatal flaw isn’t even a flaw at all.
Pre-order Ellen's forthcoming book HOW TO BE YOURSELF: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety. Get even more savvy tips to be happier and healthier by subscribing to the podcast on iTunes or Stitcher, or get each episode delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for the newsletter. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.
For free, helpful downloads to fight social anxiety and be your authentic self, visit EllenHendriksen.com.
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