Much of social anxiety rests on negative thought patterns: Everybody is staring at me. Nobody thinks I’m funny. My boss thinks I’m stupid. These negative thoughts are typically provoked by a trigger of some kind: a sideways glance, distracted friends, a boss having a bad day. One of the most helpful ways to overcome social anxiety is to challenge these inaccurate thoughts, but that requires some active planning and some (more) accurate thinking. Here’s a quick list of ways you can work on overcoming your own negative thought patterns.
1) Aim for some perspective.
When things go wrong, try to avoid the tendency to blame yourself. There’s a lot in life that has little to do with you. Someone’s bad mood, a missing invitation, someone’s averted gaze – they most likely have nothing to do with you. Do the friend test: would you say what you’re thinking to a friend, blaming them? If not, try to find a more realistic description of the situation.
2) Accept that you are less than perfect.
Many of us are perfectionists who like to hold ourselves to impossibly high standards and then beat ourselves up when we fail to meet a single one of them. We’re made up of thousands of thoughts and actions. A single flaw on any one of them does not determine our success or failure as a human being.
3) Fake it ’til you make it.
It’s important to keep a balanced view of yourself. What do other people value about you? What are your strengths? Have you ever noticed how more peaceful people deal with challenges, even minor ones? Think about how you would react in the same situation. It may seem strange, but it’s actually helpful to try to adopt their optimism and persistence in the face of difficulty.
4) Keep a journal of your negative thoughts.
It often helps to write down your negative thoughts (and their triggers) in a journal as they occur and then to revisit them later when you’re in a calmer mood. This allows for some perspective as you consider the merit of the negative thought. Does the thought seem justified? Does the same thought come to mind or do you now see the experience differently? Your boss not looking at you may have nothing to do with you and everything to do with her having a bad day. If there’s a chance that the thought has merit, can you identify some ways that you could cope?
5) Avoid exaggeration.
We often exaggerate in using words like “always” and “never” to describe our perspective of a situation. They rarely describe a situation accurately. Instead, try to use words like often, normally, many, etc. Even that small distinction can cause a huge shift in our thinking. And try not to exaggerate the importance of a single event. How important will your gaffe (if indeed it is one) be in a month, in a year, in five years?