Relieving the Stress of Social Anxiety

Fun for some can prove to be a source of anxiety for others.

In this guest post Dr. Chris Parrish, founder and Director of The Mindful Living Centre, offers some very useful tips to cope with your anxiety.

Work events, parties with friends and family gatherings are meant to be fun events that bring people together, but social situations can also be a source of anxiety or even dread for some people, due to fears of being judged or left out, not fitting in, or having to engage in awkward small talk.

Many of us have experienced at least some of these concerns, so here are a few simple tips for using mindfulness to cope with the anxiety that can accompany these holiday events:

Dare to step out of your comfort zone 
Stepping-off-the-edgeRecognizing our instinctive urge to escape or avoid scary or uncomfortable situations is the first step to facing our fears and challenging the negative thoughts that fuel anxious avoidance.  If you find yourself predicting negative outcomes before a gathering (e.g., “I’ll have nothing interesting to say and people won’t like me”), remind yourself of previous social events where this wasn’t true and you had fun.  Try recalling fun social events and even picturing them in your mind to increase your confidence and shift your mindset to a more optimistic one.

Practice using cognitive rehearsal
Research shows us that practicing skills in our “mind’s eye” using visualization can be very effective in building confidence and increasing the likelihood of positive outcomes.  Before your next social event, spend a few minutes imagining how you would like to interact with others (e.g., with confident posture, good eye contact and a smile on your face), and watch your confidence grow!

Focus your attention on the conversation, not on yourself
When feeling anxious in social situations, it is natural to focus our attention inward, scanning our body for potential signs of anxiety and worrying about the impression we are making on others (e.g., “Am I blushing?”, “Surely they will notice how much I’m sweating”, “Can they hear the tremble in my voice?”, “I knew I shouldn’t have worn this”, etc.).  Next time you are at a party, try to recognize this tendency and re-focus your attention outward in order to engage more fully in the conversation.  When practicing this re-focusing strategy, it can be helpful to periodically pay attention to specific things you hear and see in the present moment, as this will help to keep you focused on the content of the discussion, rather than your worries.  You will also likely feel less anxious, find it easier to contribute to the conversation, and get much more enjoyment out of your interactions with other guests!

Savour the moment
Last but not least, try to remember the good things about your job, family or friends and why you value the people you are with. Make every effort to relax and enjoy your time, it has to be better than working, paying bills or cleaning your house.

By practicing these mindfulness tips, you can enjoy yourself more at any social gathering, build positive connections with others, and make wonderful memories!

Dr. Chris Parrish is the founder and Director of The Mindful Living Centre, a CBT- and mindfulness-focused psychology clinic based in Milton, Ontario.
For more useful tools and resources, please visit their website at: www.mindfullivingcentre.ca

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