I’m a typical extrovert, which means I get energized by being around people. If I’m feeling tired, unhappy, or stressed out, spending time talking to others is a great way for me to improve my mood. Yet, even as an extrovert there are times when I get nervous about talking to others.
A few years ago, I did an interview for GlobalTV on the psychological benefits of gardening. During the interview, I could just feel the sweat dripping off my face. I could blame the hot weather, but the truth is the sweating was due to just being interviewed. You can see the interview here. Looking at this interview now on my computer, I don’t think I looked nearly as nervous as I felt, and it doesn’t look like I was sweating profusely. But, on my television screen, you could really see the sweat.
In spite of my Sweatgate moment, I still enjoy doing interviews… and I still get nervous every time I do one. In fact, there are things I tell myself to get through some of those anxiety-provoking interactions.
In the list below, I identify reasons for why someone feels socially anxious. I also mention examples of what I tell myself to have a more balanced perspective on anxiety-provoking interactions.
How learning influences social anxiety
- Childhood memories of speeches gone awry. Can you remember getting nervous about doing a speech or presentation to your classmates? How did it go? When I’m working with an adult who’s anxious about speaking with others, I often ask about those childhood memories of speech contests or presentation assignments. Inevitably, they can always recall an experience of some kind where they thought they said something “dumb” and how some of their classmates laughed at them. It can be a traumatic experience for many children. Such memories from our past influence our behaviours and thoughts in the present. But, you need to remind yourself that you are no longer that child in the classroom, and no one is going to give you a pass/fail grade when you speak to them.
Socialization and expectations. Ever hear the message, You never get a second chance to make a good first impression? We all have. But, while there is some truth to this (there is always a ‘first time’ for meeting someone, after all), there is also some fallacy, and lots of unnecessary self-imposed pressure. Today, I rarely judge someone based on just one encounter. In fact, I make a point of telling my clients that it might take a couple of sessions before they realize whether or not I’m a good fit for them. You see, no one can ever be “perfect” when you meet them for the first time. There are always legitimate reasons for why someone might not behave in their normal way. Remind yourself of this the next time you are feeling anxious over an encounter.
Filtering out positive experiences and only remembering negative ones. In cognitive therapy, this thinking trap is referred to as mental filter or filtering. It means that you focus on the negative outcomes of something while ignoring all the positive outcomes. When you’re feeling socially anxious, you’re probably thinking of all the times you felt embarrassed or anxious when speaking with someone while ignoring all the interactions that turned out well. To challenge this thought, just think of the number of interactions you have with someone on a given day. Now, multiply that by 365 (the number of days in a year). How many of those interactions actually turn out badly for you? I’m sure it’s much, much lower than all the positive ones.
Magnifying the significance of the social interaction. The reality is that most of the social interactions you have with people probably aren’t that significant. Yet, sometimes we magnify these interactions and make them bigger than what they really are. This is another thinking trap. What you have to do is ask yourself, Was that conversation really that significant? Since I wasn’t at my best, will that interaction affect the course of my entire future? Answering these questions can give you a more accurate assessment of what just happened, while making you feel less anxious about the conversation.
Hoping these tips help in managing your social anxiety…