Wednesday, December 16, 2015

3 Steps to Push Through Social Anxiety

      Before I begin, I would like to thank all of you, my friends. Your readership and the time that so many of you have taken to connect with me on social media is humbling. I truly appreciate your kind words and support. Thank you. I would also like to let you know in advance that, because of everyone’s busy schedules this time of year, I will resume posting on the normal Thursday schedule on January 8th. I will continue to be on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. I wish you all a happy holiday season.

       With the holidays in mind, I thought this would be the perfect time to cover how I quickly push through social anxiety. This is a time of year when many of us will be traveling and put into more social settings than we are accustomed to. Both of those can lead to social anxiety. Learning how to better deal with anxiety in social settings was crucial for my overall well-being and my ability to enjoy social gatherings. These three steps to overcome anxiety in those settings are fast, simple and they work.

       There was a time in my life when I was terrified to leave my apartment. Being around other people was simply overwhelming. I was over-stimulated by the sights and sounds of the outside world. Naturally, I felt that there was something horribly wrong with me. I felt like I was a failure and that I would never be able to be in the world, much less socialize. I am happy to report that I was wrong. I simply had to learn what social anxiety was and the steps needed to work through it.

       Learning that anxiety was a natural part of the human condition and that it was not something to be avoided was key. Anxiety is nothing more than our mind perceiving a danger and preparing us for it. It all comes back to the fight or flight response. Anxiety is key to our survival. For example, when we perceive danger our hearts beat faster to pump blood to our muscles, so that that we can fight or run away. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to dash from a burning building.

       Thousands of years ago, when we were staying one step ahead of wild animals, my heightened sense of danger would have been extraordinarily useful. However, we are living in a time when sights, sounds, glowing screens and hoards of people are constantly bombarding our senses. It is no wonder that anxiety can become overwhelming.

       There is good news! In most cases, using the following three steps makes it possible to push through those feelings of anxiety and go on about our affairs. There is nothing complicated to learn or fancy techniques to master. The best thing is they can be done in social settings in under a minute.

       Step 1

       The first step is to accept the feelings as completely natural. Realizing that there is nothing wrong with me, I am not a failure, I haven’t done anything wrong and that my body is only trying to protect me from a perceived danger is a huge step. I used to be convinced I was defective and that I was surely going to have a heart attack. Nothing could be further from the truth. When I get into crowds, often my body simply responds to what my mind perceives is a danger. By realizing and accepting that, I take the teeth out of the tiger.

       Step 2

       The second step is to take slower, deeper breaths while tensing and relaxing muscle groups that others can’t see or won’t notice. As soon as I realize that I am becoming anxious, I immediately begin slowing down my breathing while tensing and relaxing my leg muscles. While I am accepting my situation and realizing that I am simply over-stimulated, I start these techniques. They can, and should, be done simultaneously. Acceptance reminds me that these feelings are natural and nothing to be scared of, deeper breathing slows my heart rate and tensing and relaxing the muscles in my legs refocuses my attention on myself, instead of my surroundings. They work beautifully together.

       Step 3

       The third step is to realize that I won’t feel this way forever. It is easy to fall into the habit of thinking, when I am anxious, that I am going to feel that way forever. Quickly remembering a few of the times when I was anxious in the past will remind me that feelings come and go. I have survived 100% of the times that I’ve felt that way before, so the odds are in my favor that I will survive this situation too. Nothing is permanent. Knowing that, no matter what, my heartbeat will slow, my breathing will relax and the adrenaline will leave my blood stream is incredibly helpful. Realizing that there is an end in sight brings me the much-needed strength to push through.

       Simply accepting my feelings as evolutionarily needed for survival while breathing, tensing and relaxing muscles and realizing that these feelings will pass is all it takes to summon the courage to push through them and keep going. Courage is never the absence of fear; it is always the mastery of it.
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       As always, I wish you wonderful mental health and great successes eating healthy meals. If you, or someone you love, is severely depressed or anxious, please click the link to the right and you will be directed to the International Association for Suicide Prevention. It is an excellent resource and is staffed by wonderful people.
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