People who suffer from Social Anxiety Disorder become very adept at avoidance or safety behaviours. It’s a natural reaction to something that feels bad, and of course, they will do whatever it takes to avoid those situations. But unwittingly, they are reinforcing their anxiety and even making it worse. Have a look at the common avoidance behaviours, and see if in trying to minimize exposure, you’re feeding the beast.
Some experts say that avoidance is one of the biggest obstacles people with social anxiety face. Real avoidance means doing anything not to have to face the feared social situation. That can range from just not turning up to parties and refusing invitations, to changing jobs so as not to have to give presentations or even dropping out of college.
Partial avoidance is a less visible safety behaviour because the sufferer still seems to be participating while still keeping themselves safe. These behaviours include:
- Sitting in the back of the room
- Keeping your eyes lowered and looking like you’re absorbed in taking notes
- Protective body language like crossing arms, or avoiding eye contact
- Drinking or taking drugs.
Not surprisingly, people use escape as a safety valve for anxiety. As in partial avoidance, the sufferer seems to be participating but gets to a point where the stress is unbearable, and they have to leave. This sort of behaviour includes leaving a party or other gathering early, pretending to get an urgent message so they can leave a meeting, or hiding in the bathroom.
What can you do?
While such avoidant behaviours help in the short term, they act to reinforce your vulnerability. They keep you in a hypervigilant state, always on the lookout for danger or fearful situations.
Avoidant behaviours keep you stuck right in the middle of social anxiety. They stop you from trying and failing, but they also prevent you from working and succeeding. You won’t learn how to overcome your fears or learn that you’re pretty good at giving presentations. If you never speak up in meetings, all your good ideas stay in your head. If you hide your light under a bushel, you never get the chance to shine.
An easy gateway technique to start overcoming your social anxiety is to try the five-minute strategy. When you feel the urge to avoid or run away or shrink down, give yourself five minutes. You can put up with pretty much anything for five minutes, right? Just give it a try, be kind to yourself and encourage your real self to take it easy.
How Positive Affirmations Can Tame Your Social Anxiety
Social Anxiety Disorder runs on negative messages. Think about all the things that run through your head when you’re feeling stressed, like:
I’m no good with people.
They’re all laughing at me.
I can’t think of what to say.
Part of the problem is that your brain has developed a negative script response to stressful situations. Over time you have learned to fear social situations and to expect them to go badly. But the good news is you can change the script. All those negative messages can be un-learned and rewritten so that you have positive, supportive thoughts instead. That is the basis for cognitive behaviour therapy, and it’s remarkably effective in enabling you to free yourself from anxiety. Here’s how.
Identify the negative messages
Sit down with a pen and paper and write down all the messages that pop into your head in stressful social situations. Everything from “I’m not wearing the right clothes” to “everyone knows I’m stupid,” whatever your message is, make a list.
Now take a look at them. Even if the messages feel real, you can guarantee that they are not grounded in reality.
Replace them with positive messages
Take a look at your list. For every negative message, think of a positive one. It doesn’t matter if you don’t believe it’s true. Make them aspirational but achievable.
Instead of “I never know what to say,” you might write “I am thoughtful and articulate” or “I am calm and confident.” Keep your positive messages short, clear and believable, so as not to trigger that negative self-talk.
Be kind to yourself
Get rid of that Inner Critic and its bunch of ‘shoulds.’ Replace it with whatever generous support is meaningful for you, whether it’s Jiminy Cricket, a Good Wolf or a Good Angel. Keep kind, supportive messages running through your mind, don’t leave room for the negative self-talk to get a word in edge-wise.
If you find your self-talk is tending to scold or say “you must,” turn it around and be encouraging. Be your coach and cheerleader and talk yourself through stressful situations. Remind yourself to breathe and be calm. You can do this!
Physical affirmations can remind you to check your self-talk. Many people find placing positive affirmations on post-it notes or cards on the fridge, desk or bathroom mirror helpful.
There are also apps which will send positive affirmations to your smartphone or tablet throughout the day.
Use whatever tools you need to keep rewriting that self-talk and turn those negative messages into positive self-talk!