Your current thought patterns are likely what keep you trapped in the prison of social anxiety.
To unlock yourself from this prison, you will likely need to have to rewire your brain with new thoughts that take time to cement in the brain, but if you try this as a start, it will lead you up the correct path.
1. The change cannot happen overnight. People often try out strategies and when they do not work, they give up. Remember that rewiring the brain can take months, but trying to change your thoughts over months could save you years of unnecessary anxiety. So remember, that when you try out any thought change, the brain will initially resist this. The one way to overcome brain resistance is with dedicated and repeated practice.
2. You are not the only person with personal secrets. Every person in a room in which you are standing has at least one secret, and it usually has to do with something that they would not be able to tell anyone. We often make assumptions that we are the only people with secrets, when in fact, it is impossible to meet all social standards for how a life is supposed to be. Take in this reality, because you will realize that you are not the only one in the room with a secret.
4. Insecurity and security are two sides of the same coin. Those people who claim to be “secure” have not abolished their insecurity. They have simply learned to redirect their attention to their strengths rather than their weaknesses. Brain circuits of opposite emotions are on most of the time. Where you place your attention is what you will feel. It is similar to courage and fear. Ambrose Redmoon once said that courage is not the absence of fear but the judgment that something else is more important than it.
5. You have more to say than you think. People often feel socially anxious because they are afraid that they would have nothing to say. But this happens because they are constantly thinking of what they “should” say rather than what they want to say. Collect some ice-breakers that you can use when at a cocktail party to start with, and soon, you will grant yourself the permission to speak spontaneously. In fact, many other people at these parties feel the same kind of nervousness. Some suggestions of ice-breakers: “Hi! How are you? I have no approach question. Just thought it would be better to connect than stand alone and drink my wine” (Honesty often gets a giggle and can start a great conversation) “How are you? I love your….(shoes, pocketbook, dress, tie)” (compliments set the tone for a positive start).
6. You don’t have to feel like you really like people. Anxiety biases attention. It makes us focus on the negative more. So often, if you are socially anxious, you may think that you hate people, but when you have that sensation, recognize that your thoughts are being formed by your anxiety. To feel more positive, do something positive before you go out. Get a massage if you can, and ten go out. Or play an invigorating sport, or work-out. This will place you in the right frame of mind to start interacting in the social event.
7. Social anxiety is really personal discomfort. Social anxiety is not really social at all. In fact, people just bring out a personal dissatisfaction. So ask yourself: how can I be more self-accepting? To be self-accepting requires that you see that perfection does not exist, and that your humanity is worth interacting with, and this includes your strengths and weaknesses. Shyness can sometimes be appealing. Being an “interior” person can be seductive. Outgoing people create comfort. Introverted people often invite intimacy.
Srini Pillay is a psychiatrist and author of Life Unlocked: 7 Revolutionary Lessons to Overcome Fear. He blogs at Debunking Myths of the Mind.
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