Social Anxiety, Some Tips

Social anxiety is so very common, and natural. People are social animals, and so if you get nervous, it may just mean that connecting with others matters to you. When you reach out, it feels risky. We’re hard wired to feel anxiety when we confront risk. So part of your task, if you’re wanting to do something different here, is to accept social anxiety as OK. Don’t let it change your behavior, don’t let it stop you from diving in to social situations.  Let it be background noise.

Here’s another tip. Notice where you put the priority of your attention.

Folks who struggle a lot with social anxiety often shift their attention during interpersonal interactions from the social task to the self. Self-focused attention includes focus on arousal, sensations, perceived appearance, emotion (e.g., “Do I feel anxious?”), private self  (e.g., “How am I doing?”), public self (e.g., “How do others see me?”). There are other options. Attention on the task is attention towards the behavior that’s required for the specific situation, e.g., the words being spoken. Attention on the environment is focus on the aspects of the environment not necessary for the task, e.g., the curtains in a effort to distract.

The most useful place to gently shift your attention to is the task itself. Here’s why self focused attention is so problematic. First, attention is a limited resource. Second, we all assume what we see in our minds is reality (oops), and therefore exactly what others see. So you are not only diverting attention away from the place that would serve you, but you are bringing it to a place that can exacerbate your perception of your poor performance. In your mind, you look foolish or boring, so you assume that’s what others see too. Or you notice physiological sensations and therefore assume that’s the main focus of what others see too.   Trouble. Shift to the task. Gently.


Practice now. Play with different scenarios… give a mini speech –it’s OK that you’re by yourself—and play it 3 different ways: attention on self (How do I appear??), then attention on environment (curtains!), then attention on task. What effects do you notice?