Social Anxiety - The Unqualified Common Sense Approach
Up front I have to say I am not a psychologist, psychiatrist, anthropologist, or licensed social worker, so if you want clinical advice, I am not your source. However, I started off very socially anxious in life and now I am very socially secure. Following is what I discovered on my personal journey from socially anxious to socially calm.
Sources of Social Anxiety
Social anxiety comes from within, primarily from a lack of self esteem. Suffice it to say that socially anxious people tend to lie awake at night, critiquing themselves: "Oh, that was such a dumb thing I said," or, "How could I have done that?" They do this because:
- They had false expectations, or
- They were unprepared for the reactions of others, or
- They place too much weight on what one other person says, or
- All of the above.
Social anxiety stems from the feeling that one does not know how to act and does not know how to learn.
My best weapon in defeating social anxiety is self acceptance. Accept yourself for who you are. For example, I am easily overwhelmed by a group of people who can think and talk faster than I can. I accept this about myself. Therefore when I am in such a group, I realize I am a sloop among battleships. I can tack and I can glide, but when the big guns do their thing I'd best not get in the way. Because I accept this about myself, I do not berate myself for not interacting on their level. If you bring a knife to a gunfight, you'd best put it away before somebody notices. And that's okay. The point is to recognize and accept your weaknesses so that you can coexist with them and capitalize upon your strengths.
Instead of lying awake nights, beating yourself up about your failings, lie awake nights planning how the next time you'll know what to do, and you'll do it better. You will begin to learn, and as you learn you will feel the power of your knowledge and your anxiety will fade away.
Sleep then soundly, knowing that a better day will follow.
Acceptance of Reality
You are never going to know for a dead sure, absolute fact what anyone is ever thinking, even if they tell you what they are thinking. You will never be one hundred percent able to predict how people will react to you. Some people will like you and some won't. You might think some people like you when they actually don't, and you may think some people don't like you when in reality they actually do.
The point is, don't sweat what you can't control.. You can't control what people think, so forget about it!
You will not always do the right thing. You are human, and you will occasionally make a mistake. True friends will forgive a mistake; shallow acquaintances will not, and they do you a favor by showing you their true colors before you make the mistake of relying on them.
A lot of social comfortability is the feeling that no matter what happens, you're going to be okay. You're going to be okay because you are not going to obsess about stuff that is completely out of your control. Accept the fact that you cannot change that which is out of your control and you will go a long way toward defeating your social anxiety.
Look Forward, Not Backward
The past is the past and cannot be changed. Accept it and move on, and remember the lessons you learned. It's the only way.
Look instead toward the future. Plan, run scenarios, and strategize. Figure out how you want to interact with others. Implement your plan. Try out your strategy. Put yourself in a new scenario. Make notes. Review and try again. You will see improvement, and as you see improvement, you will feel less anxious.