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Canceling plans due to anxiety

How can I stop overthinking? It’s ruining my social life!

Our elder has some tips on how this letter writer can overcome their social anxiety and build new skills.

Dear EWC

Bear with me because my grammar is lacking lol, so I am having troubles with my social skills. I have been diagnosed previously with generalized anxiety and I wonder if it contributes, but I literally overthink how I’m going to socialize with people before even meeting up with them. It gets bad to where I’ll avoid seeing them, cancel a plethora of plans, etc. I use to be great at socializing when I was younger and I think it really stems from my insecurity of thinking they will judge or maybe it stems from my family when I was growing up. With my family it’s weird to even really talk about emotions and I feel like me not being able to express my emotions to my close ones that I should be finding supportive is hard on me. I would try talking to my friends about my issues and situations, but I’m not so sure if they would understand because I overthink my overthinking. Heck, I use to be able to call anybody without care, meet up with big groups of people, go to new events, make new friends etc. Now it’s very different. I try to steer away from being in public too long, making friends is now hard, the thought of calling people scares me. There is good news about the calling part though. I did end up starting to get back into the hang of it by talking to a guy that I’m very intrigued with and honestly it isn’t as bad as I thought. I really just want to hear others’ perspectives on what I could potentially try doing.

Sage replies

I am sorry that you are experiencing so much pain and consternation due to your problems with social interactions.

Mental health professionals use the term social anxiety (SA) to describe the condition that exists when an individual exhibits overwhelming worry and self-consciousness about everyday social situations. The worry and self-consciousness are based on a fear of being judged by others or concern that one’s behavior might cause embarrassment or ridicule.

Learning to become your own therapist is one of the primary goals of many of the SA treatment programs. Although it is often most helpful to work through these strategies with the help of a psychotherapist, many people are able to achieve significant gains using self-guided therapy manuals that you can find online or get from a recommendation of a therapist.

As someone who has struggled with this all my life, I think that these tips and strategies will help you:

  1. Learn as much as you can about social anxiety. Here is one of many resources that you can find online: http://www.helpguide.org/articles/anxiety/social-anxiety-disorder-and-social-phobia.htm#common
  2. Acquire and use a self-help manual such as the one listed below. https://www.amazon.com/
  3. Learn to recognize the triggers (people, and situations) that make you anxious. Pay attention to the moments in which you feel anxiety. What causes it? When do you feel it? Also pay attention to situations you tend to avoid.
  4. Practice deep breathing and relaxation techniques every day. It’s helpful to engage in deep breathing and relaxation techniques before an anxiety provoking social situation. You will be ready when the situation arises if you practice these techniques every day. This way it becomes second nature, and you don’t hyper focus on trying to calm yourself when anxiety strikes.
  5. Learn and use exposure therapy to help you face your fears. Exposure is the most important behavioral technique that you can use to help overcome anxiety-provoking situations and your fears.
  6. Prepare to relax. Worrying is self-programming. Intense worry about upcoming social situations repeatedly links anxiety to the events. You’ve programmed yourself to feel this way. Begin to reverse this trend by thinking about future social encounters while you are relaxed. Do this over and over so that your body and mind forge a new and better automatic association to these social situations.
  7. Confront your negative thoughts. Social anxiety disorder can cause you to think negative thoughts about yourself when faced with a social situation. You may think “I’ll look like a fool” or “I’m going to humiliate myself.” The first step to overcoming them is to identify the thoughts when they pop into your head. Knowing what is causing social phobia can help you overcome it.
  8. Stop unrealistic predictions. One unhelpful thing you probably do when dealing with social fears is make false, unrealistic predictions about the social situation. You can’t predict what will happen. If you try, you will only come up with the worst-case scenario, which will not be close to a realistic reflection of the actual event. This only causes unnecessary anxiety. Remember that you have the power to change your exaggerated thoughts. For example, if you’re going to an event, focus on the fact that you won’t be the center of attention. Visualize being at the event and speaking confidently to others and enjoying yourself.
  9. Realize that not everyone is judging you. Many social fears can be a result of thinking that everyone around you is passing judgment on you. Take a step back and realize that most people aren’t focused on you. If they are focused on you, they are not thinking the same negative thoughts as you are. Don’t try to read people’s minds. You can’t know what people are thinking. Use social situations to practice changing negative thoughts about yourself, and practice stopping and altering your thoughts about judgment from others.
  10. Accept that you are not the only person that feels anxiety in social situations. Over 12% of the population has SA and that number is increasing. Understanding this can help put you on the same level as everyone around you. You are not alone in your fears. Also, since everyone feels anxiety from time to time, remembering this can help you realize people will not criticize or judge you if they realize you are anxious.
  11. If your self-help techniques alone are not giving you the results that are seeking, see a therapist for some collaboration in combining your plan and professional techniques. You may also consider other forms of support such as family, friends, online forums, and/or support groups.

Overcoming your social anxiety will not happen overnight. Give these techniques some time. It takes commitment and lots of practice. You are learning new behaviors, new patterns of thinking, and new social skills. This all takes practice. However, little by little, you will learn these new skills and start being able to overcome or manage your anxiety. There are many other tips and strategies in self-help workbooks and online.

Article #: 485935

Category: Self-Improvement

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