Social anxiety is the fear of interaction with other people that brings on self-consciousness, feelings of being negatively judged and evaluated and as a result leads to avoidance.
What does this mean?
It means that our brains are really stupid and you will see later how.
If you are ever walking down a busy street and feel like people are going to stare or look at you and then you swallow a lot of saliva in your throat, that means you are anxious.
You feel people look and judge you.
Look at what you are wearing
You have hideous ears.
Your pants are dirty.
Your zipper is down.
The glasses have a horrible color.
These are just a couple of examples of what is happening in our heads whenever we feel we are being looked upon in public.
Don’t get me even started on public presentations. This is where shit gets real. This is the true panic attack.
Your palms are sweaty, voice trembles, you want to drink water, you jump up and down trying to relax, you look at your attire but it all falls to water when you enter the stage.
You feel lost, scared to death and can’t seem to get a word out of your mouth.
This is why more people are afraid of public speaking than dying. It is not that we are afraid of public speaking, we are afraid of what public speaking brings and that is attention which causes us to get anxious.
To change something, we first need to understand it so let’s dive straight into the phenomenon called social anxiety.
Social anxiety from tribal days
When we were in tribes, it was really important to fit in. You needed to be a part of the group, part of the tribe because otherwise, you would be kicked out of the tribe soon.
Tribe meant security in those times. Tribe meant food, water, and reproduction. Those +-130 people were your ticket to, what was back then, a good life.
If you behaved or spoke differently, wore different clothes or had different habits than the rest of the tribe, you were in trouble.
There was a high chance of you being kicked out of the tribe, or even worse, your own tribesman could have replaced you for someone from another tribe and instakill you.
If you were “lucky”, you would have just been kicked out of the tribe.
Lucky here means you don’t have shelter now from wild animals (remember those saber-tooth animals, cute kittens indeed), you don’t have protection from other tribes (more things that want to kill you), you don’t have food, water or ways to reproduce yourself.
With all these fears in mind, the last thing you wanted to do is the get a spotlight attention. This meant that you are in the position where other tribes-people can check you out in full detail and there is a higher possibility of them discovering something which makes you differentiate yourself from them.
Differentiation meant that you could get kicked out of tribe which meant death.
It was a true hipster paradise.
Sorry for the sarcasm, I am moving on.
You wanted to fit in badly and didn’t want to grab any unnecessary attention on yourself because it meant death.
Fast forward 60 000 years in the future.
We still have the same brain that was programmed to deal with those situations but times have changed.
Being different today doesn’t mean death because we have evolved as a species. We no longer live in caves or tribes and you won’t die if you wear blue shoes when everyone else is wearing red shoes.
There is just one tiny problem and that is that our brains haven’t really caught up with today’s reality. Our brains still think that if we get on stage and hold a presentation, that we are grabbing unnecessary attention on us.
And what does that mean?
You guess that right, death.
What to do about social anxiety today
Now that we understand where the anxiety is coming from, we can figure out a solution for it.
First thing is to understand that it is perfectly normal to feel anxious. We all have that feeling and there are certain situations where you can’t avoid it like:
- Going to public places with your parents who just adore to show everyone how ugly of a creature you were as a child or to use any embarrassing moments from their vast arsenal
- Weddings and funerals, especially if they are from a close relative because those always have a high emotional charge
Everyone has these feelings, some are just better at dealing with them.
Here is what you can do today to feel less anxious:
1. “It’s not a big deal”
This means that you convince yourself that what will happen is not even a big deal.
My presentation might suck- it’s not a big deal.
A t-shirt that I am wearing is dirty on the sleeve- it’s not a big deal.
I tripped and fell down in public – it’s not a big deal
What is the worst thing that can happen? Getting kicked out of the tribe and dying?
Not an option anymore.
The worst thing that can happen is that people can fall asleep at your presentation or check their phones, they might say that your shirt is dirty or they could laugh a bit when you fall down.
And guess what. This all passes in 5 minutes. And then nothing happens. You don’t die. Amazing yeah?
2. “Familiar is the father of all conformity”
You know that feeling when someone gives you a compliment and you go like “Ah come on, it wasn’t that big of a deal” or you blush a bit trying to shake it off.
It just means that you are not familiar with praises so you don’t know how to behave when you get them.
This means that you need to get yourself as familiar with the situation that brings anxiety as much as possible.
Getting anxious when talking to cute girls? Go do that for the next 30 days non-stop. On the way, it will be so easy and familiar.
Getting anxious with public speaking? Great, go do that a 100 times and it will be like a walk in the park for the 101st time.
Your comfort zone expands and those things no longer bring fear of rejection and shame onto you. You loosen up and become natural at those things.
3. “What is most personal is most general”
You feel like you are alone in this. Like everyone else is pulling it off with ease and that it is only you with this problem.
Stop yourself right here. You are not! Every single person in the world feels social anxiety on a bigger or smaller scale and it depends on the activity which is done. Somebody is comfortable with X while someone else is with Y.
When you figure out that everyone is handling this problem, it no longer stands in your head as “I am alone in this”, it stands in your head like this “I am fighting a battle that the entire humanity is battling”.
It is no longer me and the world. It is now us and just us. Us is the world because everyone has it.
Go to a popular waiting place in your city and just look at people waiting for the other person there.
I bet you that everyone is on their phones, looking concerned, tapping their foot and fidgeting non-stop.
It is a sign of social anxiety, they are afraid that they will be stood up and that people will make fun of them.
This helps you relate with other people and makes you feel like a part of the group, the group that handles the same problems.
So what are you waiting for, go at a popular meeting place. Oh and while you are there, hold a presentation for people in a dirty T-shirt while trying to talk with cute girls.
Trust me, magic will happen.
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