If you suffer from social anxiety, chances are you’ve consistently been making at least half of the following mistakes. The good news is that you don’t have to continue them. The first step is to recognize that the following are in fact mistakes, and not just aspects of reality. Here they are, in no particular order.
Like a cow chewing its cud – over and over and over again – ruminating means turning the same thoughts over and over in your mind. Usually it’s thoughts about how badly you messed up during that last social interaction. Ruminating keeps anxiety in place by making you extra nervous for the next time you find yourself in a similar situation.
2. Avoiding uncomfortable situations
Avoidance perpetuates anxiety. The reason for this is that when you avoid a feared event, or when you even decide in your mind to avoid it, you get an immediate sense of relief. This feeling of relief acts as a reinforcement for the avoidance. If you took Psychology 101, you remember that behaviors that are reinforced are likely to be repeated. Meaning that you’ll keep using avoidance to cope with anxiety, and the cycle will remain in place: fear, avoidance, fear, avoidance, etc.
3. Using alcohol or drugs to get through social interactions
Despite the short-term gain of medicating your immediate anxiety, substance use does nothing to fix the underlying problem. Not to mention that you could develop a dependence. When you know for a fact that you’re only comfortable after 2-3 drinks, you’re sure to be doubly anxious when there’s no alcohol available. Anxiety that’s medicated by drugs of any kind, including prescription drugs, is anxiety that will be sure to come back as soon as the drug is removed. That’s why research shows that drugs alone are not an effective treatment for this condition.
4. Believing you have poor social skills
I know, I know: You’re absolutely certain that your social skills are terrible compared to other people’s. Entertain for a moment the possibility that you’re mistaken here. The fact that you’re so aware of other people and what they think of you means you have the raw materials of a very successful socializer. In the group that I run for people with social anxiety, I’m constantly noticing the consideration, punctuality, and overall pleasantness of these people who are convinced they have no social skills.
5. Assuming others always know what to do
“Other people always seem to know when to hug, as opposed to shaking hands,” is an example of this cognitive error. The fact is that many social situations are inherently awkward, and all of us are in the same boat when it comes to figuring out how to navigate them. The difference between someone with social anxiety and someone without it, is that the one with social anxiety assumes immediate and total responsibility for any awkwardness they perceive.
When you have social anxiety, social mistakes carry a very high price tag. Walking down the hall and tripping in front of others. Eating something messy that gets on your chin. Not knowing what to say in the middle of a conversation. These things happen to everybody, but the person with social anxiety believes that when they do, other people will judge them harshly and even decide not to like them anymore. These thoughts are so automatic that you might not even realize you’re having them. But consider this: If you believe that one false step will net you censure and dislike, it’s no wonder you’re so anxious!
7. Focusing on yourself in the presence of others
The more you pay attention to yourself, the harder it is to listen, concentrate and respond to those around you. Social anxiety wants you to constantly monitor yourself so you can rate your performance. Unfortunately, this very monitoring hampers your ability to perform at your best. Being an effective social being is about listening and being present with other people. It’s not about saying interesting things or keeping the conversation up without cease. Frankly, that’s tiring for everyone.
8. Not seeking help
Social anxiety is a very treatable condition. If you think it’s “just the way you are,” then it’s just the way you will always be. Left alone, social anxiety tends to run a chronic course throughout the lifetime. Yes, you’ll find little tricks for coping as you get older, but is it really okay with you if your anxiety is still bothering you several decades from now? What about a year from now? If you suffered from regular stomach aches, you’d go to a doctor to help you figure out what was wrong. You shouldn’t have to suffer with anxiety any more than you should have to live with physical pain. Seek help. There are lots of resources out there. Look for anxiety treatment if you can’t find social anxiety treatment specifically. Good luck.