Criticism has never been easy and people are finding that it’s getting harder to tolerate. From a young age, you quickly learn what is “trending” or “cool” and the pressure to buy into these social expectations becomes increasingly arduous for an individual to keep up with. The continuous pressure to perform at our best makes us more concerned that our chances of failing are more likely. Not living up to the expectations of our family members, friends, co-workers, bosses and most importantly, ourselves, throws us into this cycle of re-occurring doubt, shame and embarrassment, which in the end, may develop into social phobia, or otherwise known as social anxiety.
Social Anxiety is an intense fear of being criticized, viewed in a negative manner or possibly being ridiculed or rejected. Due to the intensity of these overwhelming feelings, we find ourselves being hyperaware of our behaviors in social situations. We become overly focused on our actions in order to reduce any potential embarrassment or we just avoid social situations all together. This goes beyond shyness and has little to do with actually being in social situations, it is being afraid of how people will perceive you. People with social anxiety, crave the interactions with others but their fear gets in the way of these interpersonal experiences. What if I say something stupid? What if I forget what I am saying mid-sentence, or freeze up while talking? What if they can see that I am shaking and know that I am nervous? Realistically, people probably are not paying enough attention to notice that you are sweating or that your hands are shaking. A lot of the times our symptoms are actually beyond the human eye. It’s our increased heart rate or the butterflies in our stomach, all of which, you feel but no one sees.
So then, what do you do to feel better? How do you overcome social anxiety? Avoid all social situations right? WRONG. The key is actually to expose ourselves to the fears head on and train our brain to view these situations as less threatening. These 3 steps can help you move past your social anxiety:
Step 1: Engage in anxiety-provoking situation.
Step 2: Tolerate, sit with and talk back to your anxiety.
Step 3: Repeat steps 1 and 2 until anxiety has dissipated.
Once we get to a point where we can fully-embrace our anxiety, we’ll find that we are brave enough to talk back to our anxious thoughts and live the life we were meant to enjoy.
By: Dominique Apollon, M.Ed