Social anxiety can be crippling for business owners. It prevents you from being able to speak in public, meet new people at networking events, or in some cases even leave your ‘safe’ home office at all.
Social anxiety is one of the most common forms of anxiety there is. In fact, almost all of us will experience it to some degree; just think back to those nervous moments before entering a big networking event where you didn’t know anyone, the first time you ever had to introduce yourself at a business shindig, or having to travel to a new place using busy public transport. This kind of short-term anxiety is normal for many people, but what happens when the anxiety starts to take over and you begin avoiding social contact?
Whilst there’s no ‘quick fix’ for this complex problem, avoidance is not the answer, because the more you avoid….the more you avoid. This repeatedly tells your brain that certain situations are not safe and are to be avoided, reinforcing your negative neural pathways. The good news is you can create new positive neural pathways and there are lots of ways to do this; using mindfulness can certainly make a huge difference to any social anxiety you might be experiencing.
What is Mindfulness and How Can it Help?
When you think about mindfulness, you might think of mindful meditation. In fact though, this is only one facet of a much larger topic. Really, mindfulness just means being more mindful and aware of your own thoughts. It means being self-reflective and curious, paying attention to your everyday thoughts and reactions and taking time to consider them. Mindfulness is not a short-term tool; it’s something that you can practice everyday at home or in your business to help you to live a calmer, more fulfilling life.
In the case of social anxiety or social awkwardness, mindfulness effectively means learning to better recognize the stress-inducing thoughts that are causing your anxiety. Slow down and go back to the thought; the thought is always the catalyst.
An example of thoughts that might be going through your head before a networking event might be as follows:
“I’m going to mess up my elevator pitch and everyone will laugh.”
“These people are all more experienced than me, what I say isn’t important”
“I can’t bear the thought of being late and everyone looking at me when I walk in”
The first step is in identifying precisely what it is that you’re afraid of; go back to the thoughts. Remember the chain reaction ‘TFAR’:
Your Thoughts (people will laugh) lead to your Feelings (that makes me feel sick and my heart is racing), which lead to your Actions (I’m going to say I can’t make it and stay home), which lead to your Results (because I didn’t go last time, I feel even more anxious now. I do feel quite lonely…but I’ll stay home anyway).
From your thoughts, you can go about tackling social anxiety head-on.
Next is where cognitive restructuring comes in. This is the process of understanding your negative thoughts, and so deciding that you’re going to get rid of them. How do you do this? One way is by disproving them.
So for instance, if you’re afraid that if you mess up everyone will laugh, then you should try testing that theory. This is called ‘hypothesis testing’. Build up the courage to allow yourself to share your elevator pitch imperfectly, or just observe the next time it happens naturally, either to you or to someone else, and ask yourself…
Did people laugh?
Did they listen to what was being said?
Did everyone stare at late-comers?
You can also try something called ‘thought challenging’ to just pick apart the statement and see how accurate it’s likely to be. In the context of social anxiety before a networking event, this might look like…
Are these business owners the sort of people to laugh at you?
Do you think what other people say is not important?
What really happens when someone is late?
Using mindfulness takes a lot of time and practice – changing your deep-seated beliefs is hard but by trying these techniques it is possible to overcome your social anxiety.
And one last tip: try adding in new beliefs. For example: what does it matter if people laugh at you anyway? It might lighten the mood and put everyone more at ease.
Have you overcome social anxiety? Feel free to comment or share your story below.