How to Overcome Social Anxiety: tips and advice
We’ve all experienced it at some point. The clammy hands. The accelerated heart rate. The avalanche of negative thoughts that go something like “Are they looking at me?”, “Why are they laughing?”, or the big whopper: “What are they going to think?” Social anxiety can creep up in a number of unsuspecting situations in life, whether that be a first date, a job interview or even being around large groups of people. Although sometimes these one time occurrences can be managed, it can be really difficult to overcome social anxiety if it happens regularly.
There’s no magic cure-all for 100% getting rid of social anxiety (alas, if only!) but you can learn to manage it in a way that doesn’t interfere with your life and your overall happiness.
We’re going to break down exactly why we care so much about other people’s opinions, how to conquer overthinking and our best tips on dealing with social anxiety, so you can hold your head up high and wave goodbye to the nay-saying thoughts holding you back, mkay?
What causes social anxiety?
The best way to overcome social anxiety is to understand why it exists in the first place.
I think we can all agree that social anxiety sucks. But the good news is that it’s not only normal, but it’s also an evolutionary advantage. Say, what? Yep. Social anxiety is just your body, doing exactly what it has evolved for thousands of years to do.
If we rewind way back to prehistoric times before we learned how to farm, humans were living in small groups of 100 to 150 people as hunter-gatherers. If there was a lone hunter, it was because he had been rejected and outcast from his tribe. If you had to go out on your own and find safety, food and shelter by yourself, the chances of you surviving were, well, pretty slim. So, how does this relate to social anxiety? Well, this means that there was a pretty good reason why you had to fit into your group and be accepted by your tribe members. Your survival LITERALLY depended on it. Now, this explains a lot!
Fast-forward to the present day and you’ll notice we’re lucky enough to live in one of the safest times in human history: we have larger societies with governments, law and order and all types of overarching systems that are in place to ensure our safety. And although times have changed quite a bit since our cave-dwelling days, our bodies still contain many of those defence mechanisms that helped keep us alive all those years ago.
Next time you experience social anxiety, just remember that while your mind might be that of a 21st-century person your body is running the hardware of a caveman.
That overthinking function may have worked for us when we only had to worry about 150 people, but now thanks to technology we have the ability to connect with millions of people online that can leave comments, judgments or voice their opinions with the click of a button. That’s a lot of people to worry about!
Nowadays being liked by other people doesn’t determine our survival (thank god!), so it doesn’t have such an important purpose as it once did. Although we can’t rewire thousands of years worth of evolution, we can find ways to reduce our state of fight-or-flight mode and re-train our brains to being in a relaxed and calm state most of the time.
So, the big question. How to conquer social anxiety?
Now that you know exactly WHY we care so much what other people think of us, how can we handle social anxiety so that it doesn’t take control of our lives? It all comes down to self-awareness.
The thoughts that are living inside our mind tell us the story of our life.
Most people are operating on auto-pilot, and it’s very easy to give in to all of these thoughts and stories that are oh-so convincing, even if they’re not true. If you’ve ever been in a negative spiral of overthinking you know exactly how this feels. If you can manage to detach yourself from these thoughts and look at them from a 3rd person perspective, you will automatically gain more freedom.
Here’s an example of how thoughts can change our experience, even if the objective reality is the same. Imagine there is a really crappy mattress. One person sleeps on it and their thoughts say “that was the worst sleep of my life, this mattress sucks”. Another person sleeps on it and their thoughts say something like: “That’s a pretty good mattress, I’ve slept on worse”. It’s not the mattress that’s changed – it’s the thoughts.
So if it’s the thoughts that are causing us to experience social anxiety, it makes sense to start there, right?
Meditation is one of the easiest and simplest ways to handle social anxiety and overpowering negative thoughts. Why? Because if done consistently, it helps you stay present. And that, my friend, is the golden zone. If you are present, you are forced to engage with the real-life physical word, and not play out the millions of stories in your head on a loop (which is exactly what happens when you’re anxious). It helps to continuously catch your mind when it’s living in a story and not in the real world. It’s kind of your secret weapon to grabbing those pesky negative thoughts by the toe and say “ha! I got you! I know what you’re doing and I’m not buying it.”
A great reminder for this is to know that you are not the voice inside your head. You are greater than the stream of consciousness playing on a loop in your mind.
The awesome thing that happens when you meditate daily, is that you will have a CHOICE. You can choose to engage in those thoughts, or you can let those thoughts, stories and feelings pass through you without believing them to be true.
This will allow you to rise above your thoughts, calm your nervous system down and dial your stress levels from panic-stricken to peaceful. And really, isn’t that just a superpower in itself?
Not only does meditation help to keep you present, it also has the power to change the physiology of your brain. If you meditate regularly, over time your amygdala (which is just a fancy word for the fear centre of your brain) starts to get smaller. So the longer you meditate consistently for, the lower your fear and social anxiety will eventually become – which is pretty friggin’ cool in our book.
What can your life look like with these tips on dealing with social anxiety?
I hope you’re pumped because after this truth-bomb sinks in, your life will never be the same.
As you start meditating and growing your mind and your self-awareness you will start to notice things. You’ll notice that you have a LOT of thoughts (up to 60,000 a day to be precise. But who’s counting). You’ll notice that most of the thoughts your mind is slinging around are pretty random. You’ll notice that the mind lurrrves to categorise and label things because doing that helped it survive in the past. You’ll also notice that most people don’t notice things, because meditating, being present and cultivating self-awareness aren’t things that everyone does. So you’ll eventually learn not to value the opinion of an overthinking person – not because they are bad people, but because they haven’t put in the work to calm and control their thoughts. And if that’s the case, their survival-based snap judgments have no business on dampening your vibe.
On the other hand, if you come across someone who is actively putting in the work to bettering themselves, mastering their mind and harnessing their thoughts, something different will happen. If a thought comes up in THEIR heads about your hair, or your clothes or whatever it may be – they will catch themselves, and stop themselves from acting on that thought because they know it’s not a reflection of who they are.
So what the heck does all this mean? It means, congratulations, no matter who you interact with from now on, you will be free from other people’s judgments affecting you! Yippee! You will now be able to get back to focusing on yourself and living your best life.
Although those may have been a lot of mind-bending concepts to take in, this is what overcoming social anxiety boils down to: growing self-awareness of your mind and your thoughts through the practice of meditation, allowing you to take the reins back of life.
Keen to learn more about the ways meditation can completely transform your life and your negative thoughts? Check out our free masterclass on anxiety where you’ll get advice on anxiety and a powerful 10-minute meditation that you can use every day to manage your mental state and your mind, in any kind of social situation.
If you’re interested in developing a deeper and long-lasting meditation habit, you can also take a look at the Mindspo Meditation Method, where you’ll learn all of the tools you need to lessen overthinking, practice being present and positively change your life.
Remember, your inner thoughts create your outer reality, and you have the power to change those thoughts at all times. You’ve got this!