Being anxious in social situations
Being anxious in social situations
Friday, 03 July 2020
Sometimes, being around people can be nerve-racking. Many of us experience anxiety in social situations.
Having to speak in public, or walking into a room of people you don’t know, or performing in front of a class can make the most confident person feel anxious.
Feeling very self-conscious in social situations is more common than you think. Many young people who come to Jigsaw tell us they can find being around classmates, strangers or even friends quite difficult. If this sounds familiar to you, know that it doesn’t have to be that way.
Here we’ll explore why you might feel that way and what you can do about it.
What does being self-conscious mean?
Some of us are very ‘aware’ of ourselves around people, watching what we say, how we act or what we do.
Being overly self-conscious means we only focus on ourselves, how others see us and what they are thinking about us. This can make it difficult to focus on others or relax enough to enjoy being around other people. We can often end up being overly harsh with ourselves when we’re self-conscious. We talk to ourselves in a way we would never do to someone we cared about.
Below are examples of the unhelpful (and not necessarily accurate) thoughts you have if you’re uncomfortable in social situations:
- People are judging you, especially what you say and what you look like
- You constantly wonder what people think about you
- You think everyone thinks you’re stupid, awkward, or weird
- You assume you’re doing something wrong
- Everyone else is perfectly comfortable around people
- Everyone else is having lots of fun
- Everyone else has lots of friends.
If these thoughts become regular fixtures in our minds, social events will get increasingly difficult. Going to parties, meeting friends, or even joining in a conversation can feel uncomfortable or even overwhelming and cause feelings of anxiety.
This can lead to avoiding going out at all because we worry that we’ll mess up or make a fool of ourselves.
Avoiding people might seem like a solution, but sadly it will make the problem worse. If we don’t show up or make the effort, then we don’t have a chance to break the cycle and challenge some of these thoughts. We will continue to experience anxiety in social situations.
What makes us feel anxiety in social situations?
We can spend a lot of time and energy trying to figure out what others think of us. But the truth is, we never know what people are thinking. If you think you can, you are just making things up. This is an unhelpful way to think.
We pretend we’re fine
While we may not be able to read minds, we can act. Many of us project an image that everything is fine, when in fact underneath we’re really struggling with anxiety in social situations. Unfortunately, this can make us feel even more alone.
When we feel self-conscious and awkward, we tend to look around and think everyone else is grand and we’re the only one that feels this way. That’s not true. Without a doubt, others are experiencing anxiety in social situations too.
We compare our insides to everyone else’s outsides
Social media didn’t create these feelings of pressure or worry, but it can be a magnifying glass for them. Feeds and Stories show friends, family, and even people we don’t know living apparently amazing lives. Photos and videos make their days seem full of non-stop fun, glamour and excitement.
We compare this heavily filtered version of their outside lives to our completely unfiltered internal life of worries and anxious thoughts. This makes us feel inadequate and can cause us to be overly self-critical.
How to manage anxiety in social situations
Remind yourself that everyone experiences self-doubt. In Jigsaw, when we work with young people going through this, we start by reassuring them how common it is. A lot of young people experience anxiety in social situations. Even the super confident guy or girl in your class doubts themselves every now and then.
Challenge your thoughts
When you’re being self-critical, and those thoughts creep in telling you you’re boring or awkward or whatever, challenge them by saying ‘where’s the evidence?’. Chances are there is no evidence base for these thoughts (remember, mind-reading doesn’t count).
Talk to someone about it
We mentioned earlier that many of us feel this way but pretend we’re fine. There are probably people close to you who have no idea that you’re struggling and would love to help you if you gave them a chance. Try opening up to a friend or an adult that you trust about how you’re feeling. Sometimes just saying things out loud can make us feel better.
Figure out when you do feel relaxed and confident
Have a think about when you feel self-conscious and when you don’t and write them down. You can ask your parents for help making the list. Say you dread P.E., for example, but always look forward to choir on Saturday mornings. You leave choir feeling relaxed and happy. Could you spend more time with choir friends, like arranging to meet them during the week as well? Having that to look forward to might make P.E. more bearable. Figure out who are the people and what are the situations where you don’t feel anxious. If you focus on them and spend more time with them, your confidence will grow.
Stop predicting the future
When you have an event or situation coming up you’re nervous about, fight the urge to predict the future and decide it’ll be a disaster. The more we tell ourselves that we’ll mess up, the more likely we are to. Try and be curious about what might happen. You might surprise yourself. It might not be as bad as you think. Remember the future is never set.
Focus on others rather than the anxiety
At a social event or around people, help reduce your self-consciousness by shifting the focus from how you’re feeling to the people around you. Make the conversation about them. Ask questions. Be a good listener. People love talking about themselves (!) and when they relax it can help you relax. By doing this you’ll be less focused on yourself and the way you’re acting.
Be kinder to yourself
Watch the way to talk to yourself. Would you ever say those things to a friend? If the answer is no, then you don’t deserve to be spoken to in that way either. Replace these thoughts with positive statements like; I am doing my best, I have a lot to offer, I am safe in social environments.
If you have a specific question about feeling anxious in social situations you might like to ask it anonymously through ‘Ask Jigsaw‘, where a selection of questions are answered by Jigsaw clinicians on a regular basis.