Remember those times you found yourself blushing, sweating and feeling ill when it was your turn to speak, or when you thought about going to work?
Or maybe the time you tried to step out of your comfort zone and eat in public, which stopped you in your tracks and you found yourself with shaking hands or an increased heart rate? And still hungry.
Perhaps the idea of talking to a doctor, your boss, a colleague or a stranger results in muscle tension, possibly with waves of nausea attached?
I want you to know – it is ok.
If this apprehension you are experiencing is reoccurring and your interpersonal relationships are suffering, you may be experiencing social anxiety, one of the most common of the anxiety disorders faced today, and I want you to know – there are strategies and techniques to help you.
A sense of obligation; the things you’re told ‘you should be enjoying/doing/experiencing’. Being asked to do something you don’t consider yourself particularly skilled at – these can also contribute to social anxiety. Maybe you believe the way you think is irrational and embarrassing or not worth seeking help for, but please know – it is. You are worth it and you have every right to access support, to feel safe enough to say ‘no thank you, not at the moment’ or to feel strong enough to ask ‘can we talk, I don’t feel ok’.
What I’ve found in coaching sessions, and in my personal experience, is that our mind creates a still picture of what we think the outcome could be, which we then attach feelings to. It’s this picture that keeps flashing before our eyes when we think of the situation.
When we see this picture, unconsciously an emotional reaction is triggered: the flushes, the quickening of breath, the teary reaction, the emotional outburst, the frozen state… picture flashing, feelings erupt, picture flashing, feelings erupt…
When I‘m with my clients and this happens, when they see the picture, there is an activity I ask of them; I ask them to make a movie of what they are seeing.
Here’s how it goes:
Recall the picture that your mind provides you – the static one. Look at it for a moment, without judgment, labels, curiously even and slowly, but deliberately, turn it into a moving picture, a movie if you like.
Make the movie attractive to you using your favourite colours, thoughts, feelings, inner dialogue, and add some of the caring people in your world to play a scene – have them encourage and support you.
Quietly sit and watch your movie till you’re ready –you’ll know when.
This movie, a change of perspective, can help us alter our initial response to the still picture in our minds enough to ask ourselves ‘what would happen if I did/could/choose to?’
You can use this activity for almost anything that you want to conquer: the report that has a looming deadline; imagine your peer providing feedback which you can apply, a public speaking event where the crowd claps enthusiastically for you, going out alone and feeling the weather on your face as you smile, taking the children to the shops hearing them sing contentedly, travelling on public transport humming to yourself as you pass trees in spring blossom, attending public engagements where you hear yourself gently laughing at the casual conversation of others…
Once you’ve found this space, next is to consider who can then help you further, or where can you turn to? I’d suggest your GP, a qualified health and wellbeing coach, or a counsellor; they are also in a great position to know who else may be needed to help you.
Social anxiety has no set of thought patterns or reactions; what you experience is what you experience, and when you’re ready, with the right support, these thoughts and actions can be overcome.
Penni Lamprey is an experienced business manager, internationally recognised lifestyle, food and wellness coach and Neuro Linguistic Practitioner (NLP), and through her uniquely designed workplace health and wellbeing programs, works with organisations to fill their teams with Healthy Happy Staff.
She is also the author of ‘How to encourage your staff to engage in their Health & Wellbeing’
Healthy Happy Staff delivers holistic health and wellbeing programs and coaching services direct to workplaces, resulting in reduced sick leave and wage costs, and a more supported, satisfied and productive team of staff.