‘Taking Yourself On’: How I’ve Mastered Social Anxiety
Reprogramming your thoughts to be more positive and soothing can help you take on social anxiety, so you can strengthen old bonds and form new ones.
For many years, I lived with and perpetuated social anxiety. For most of my life, I never really felt confident with my social skills. I struggled with communication and interpersonal skills, which led to insecurity, nervousness and negative feelings about myself.
The worst belief I had was that people wouldn’t like me because of my social inadequacies. The problems that caused my social anxiety were some underlying beliefs I had about myself. I didn’t believe in my abilities to operate, as myself, in social settings. I was constantly aware of my shortcomings, not my social graces. My social anxiety got in the way of being my true self. I had friends, I had social abilities, but I also had anxiety to get through before I felt comfortable being me and socializing.
When I found myself thrust into a new environment, I knew I had to take on my social anxiety if I wanted to find new friends, love and happiness. This happened when I moved out of my comfort zone to a new state, just me and my dog.
I had reservations and hesitations about going out and socializing. I dreaded showing up everywhere by myself—happy hours, meet-ups—and I was not making friends or having fun.
I became acutely aware that my thoughts were feeding insecurity, anxiety, dread and fear. To take on my anxiety, I began to take on these thoughts. My goal was to redirect my thinking from thoughts that didn’t serve me and created anxiety to thoughts that supported me, soothed me, reassured me and kept me out of the anxiety that was driving away comfortable social interactions.
I started taking on my thinking at home. My social anxiety would start at home, with dread, as I’d get ready. It was the anticipation of feeling awkward, insecure and uncomfortable in whatever social interaction I was preparing for that would fill my mind as I got ready to go out. Taking on my social anxiety took a lot of self-awareness, specifically awareness of my thoughts.
I formed a “fly swatter” in my mind, and I would swat down thoughts that didn’t serve me. I started to turn my thinking away from the anxiety to thoughts that created comfort, relaxation, calmness, and security. During this time, I was working with a Louise Hay life coach. Louise Hay wrote the book on positive thinking, positive affirmations and self-love. She coined the phrase “change your thoughts, change your life.”
I started applying this coaching to my anxiety, replacing negative thinking with positive thinking. This helped me to reprogram my thought processes. I started to recognize that the thinking and worrying I was doing before going out was not setting my mindset or myself up for fun and a good time.
Instead of thinking about all I didn’t like and dreading everything that could go wrong, I started coaching my thoughts, reframing them, literally picking the thoughts I preferred my mind to think rather than the thoughts my mind was feeding me on autopilot, from my negative conditioning.
I continued to focus on the spots where my anxiety would rear its ugly head most. In addition to the at-home dread, it would also be at its worst when I first got to my social gathering. Instead of being nervous, anxious, and insecure, I used my coaching and reframing to help me feel at ease and relaxed.
It also helped to stop focusing on what others were thinking. I found comfort in the fact that no one was even focusing on me. People are focusing on themselves and not looking around to point fingers or gawk at anyone, including me. I changed a lot of my thinking just from this realization. It was freeing to be comfortable in a crowded establishment.
Taking on your anxiety means learning new, effective ways of being to replace the ineffective ways that don’t serve us. We learn these new ways of being by starting to learn new, effective thinking. We have to be acutely aware of what our thoughts are feeding us because when we are aware, we have an opportunity to make positive change.
When we learn new ways of thinking, we want to program them in our mind and train our brain to think differently. This will lead to new ways of being. Taking yourself on is the process of taking on what doesn’t serve you, so you can learn new ways of thinking to accomplish new ways of being that serve your highest good—your freedom and happiness. Doing so is an option for us all, including those living with social anxiety.