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How To Overcome Social Anxiety: Tips To Becoming Authentically You

I've always had a bit of social anxiety, but I felt it flare up two years ago when I got married and moved to a new city. There was so much change happening at one time. I needed to make new friends, adjust to my husband’s hometown, and get to know his friends and family. My husband is super social, and I’m more of an introvert. I wanted to make friends, but I was noticing anxiety around social settings. I'd catch myself in my head and not fully engaged in conversations. I had a fear of saying the wrong thing, hurting someone’s feelings or maybe even fear of people genuinely knowing me. What if they didn't like me?

I was determined to work through my social anxiety. Fortunately, I came across this fantastic book about social anxiety called How To Be Yourself: Quiet Your Inner Critic And Rise Above Social Anxiety by Ellen Hendriksen Ph.D. I learned that most people with social anxiety are hypersensitive to their surroundings and others. They’re almost too concerned about how others are feeling and reacting. I learned I wasn't alone and it’s an imbalance that, gratefully, can be corrected.

Dr. Hendriksen shares in her book that "up to 40% of people consider themselves shy. You might say you're introverted or awkward, or that you're fine around friends but can't speak up in a meeting or at a party. Maybe you're usually confident but have recently moved or started a new job, only to feel isolated and unsure." I relate to this.

"If you get nervous in social situations--meeting your partner's friends, public speaking, standing awkwardly in the elevator with your boss-- you've probably been told, "Just be yourself," Dr. Hendriksen acknowledges. “But that's easier said than done--especially if you're prone to social anxiety," she explains.

Below are a few of Dr. Hendriksen's techniques to help develop confidence, move through anxiety, feel comfortable in any situation, and most importantly be your true, authentic self.

6 Tips to Overcoming Social Anxiety:

1) Face Down and Challenge Your Inner Critic-

Anxiety is almost always vague, so it's important to challenge it. Get specific with your anxious inner critic. Ask it, “what is the worst thing that could happen?” That way, you can know exactly what to challenge. The worst thing is rarely as bad as you first thought it was or possibly not even realistic. Burst the bubble of the worst-case scenario so you can face down your inner critic.

2) Embrace and Think Different-

Acknowledge the anxious thoughts we have and give them a supportive hug. Practice self-compassion, give yourself what you would offer a friend. Be mindful and watch your anxious thoughts without getting caught up in them. Keep some distance from your feelings. Feelings aren’t facts. We can view these thoughts but don’t have to catch them. Thoughts can be changed or better yet watched.

3) Practice Mindfulness- Mindfulness exercise 5-4-3-2-1 technique can pull you out of worry and immediately ground you. Here’s how to do it, work your way through your five senses. Look around and name five things you can see. Next name four things you can hear. Next name three things you can touch. Then two things you can smell and finally one thing you can taste or say one nice thing about yourself. Grounding you in your senses bring you back to the here and now. If you're anticipating, 5-4-3-2-1 reels you in from the future. If you’re ruminating, it gently shepherds you back from the past. The countdown from 5 to 1 and working your way through your senses forces your brain to keep track which pokes a stick in the spinning spokes of your worry wheel.

4) Get Started, and the Confidence Will Catch Up-

Behavior can help rewire the brain. The idea of approaching someone you don’t know and the possibility of being rejected that inherently makes you nervous. So how do you get over the nerves? You have to do it so many times that there’s nowhere for your imagination to go. The brain can bring you worst-case scenarios, but with experience, you learn that these scenarios are most likely not probable. Experience tethers you to reality. Rejections can teach you more about what you are capable of than being accepted. They teach you to trust yourself. The only way to be comfortable approaching strangers is to approach them when you are uncomfortable. You learn the level of comfort through being uncomfortable many times. Put action before motivation, once we start doing it the feeling will catch up. We're ready when we are uncomfortable, get started, and your confidence will catch up.

5) Make a List of Things That Scare You-

Make a list of things that scare you, not a list of dangerous activities, I'm speaking to the things you would like to do but secretly scare you. Then go out and do them. Dr. Hendriken’s speaks to this in her book, and this has been one of my favorite things to do to help me grow and step outside my comfort zone. I make this list at the beginning of the year and have fun checking it off through the year. For example one year my list included wear a G String bathing suit to the beach, sign up for a triathlon, make 3 new friends, cut my hair short, take a Shakespearian workshop, and travel solo to Greece. This tip has made my life more adventurous, help me face my fears and build confidence.

6) Give Yourself Some Structure-

Structure gives you a purpose. Create a task for yourself at your next social event. Assigning yourself a job or a role can be liberating. Give yourself the position of getting to know a new person as best as you can in 5 minutes. At a wedding create the purpose of asking everyone at the wedding to sign the welcome book or at a work event, assign yourself the role of helping the new people feel more welcome. Structure gives your purpose, which gives you less time to be in your head and feeling anxious.

I learned that social anxiety is widespread and has redeeming qualities of compassion, empathy, and awareness. With a little guidance that I gleaned from " How To Be Yourself "by Ellen Hendricksen PH.D., I'm able to appreciate my unique qualities and enjoy myself in social settings. I hope these tips help you to move through social anxiety and become authentically you. No one does it better!

XO, Britt

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