Whether you are an actor, a musician, a comedian or simply need to give a talk or a presentation at work, sometimes you may feel so nervous about performing or speaking in front of an audience that even the thought produces fear in you and you'd do anything to avoid it. Even the most seasoned performers can experience this, and it is due to the emergency part of our brains (the "amygdala") interpreting your circumstance as a threat and switching on the fight or flight response.
One of the things that I have been noticing in my practice is how often people come to see me for social anxiety problems. I also have been aware of how reports seem to indicate this malady to be on the rise in recent times in the western world. So what can we make of this? I have started to question how much of this excessive amount of anxiety is societal and how much is learned behavior coupled with a genetic predisposition.
Even without delving into how our societal values vastly influence the importance of social status and its representation through social and traditional media, and even putting aside personal history I am starting to think that a fundamental part of the problem comes from being stuck in the teenage developmental error of assuming and believing that while everyone else is worth knowing and/or has a wonderful life we are not. This makes us feel insecure (and deepens our preexisting insecurities) and puts us in a position of being at -1 in social situations.
Let me explain: if we all realized that we are in the same boat and that everyone is as ‘messed up’ and as fundamentally OK as everyone else the way we relate would change. We would stop trying to impress others or being impressed by their seeming social success and we would relate to them as equals; as a result, when talking/meeting a new person we would both start at level 0, not level +1 or -1 (better or worse than them).
The first step to beat social anxiety
Step number one then would be to question the fundamental assumption that others are better than us and decide to take a position of fundamental equality. Every time you realize you are putting yourself down when comparing yourself to someone else ask yourself the question: how do I know this is true? Can I prove it? What is the evidence against it? And actively look beyond the surface.
Question your own values. What makes you worth knowing is not how much money you have or how thin you are (among other common concerns) but the unique flavor of the way you experience the world. There is no right or wrong way to experience it. There is only genuine communication of your experience and genuine interest in other people’s experience. When we genuinely tell others how we feel about anything we connect as equals, it is easier for others to accept us and as a result, our anxiety assuages.
A practical exercise to overcome your fear
Finally: think about someone who seems at genuine ease with others. What are they doing? Model yourself after their positive qualities you wish to acquire. And when in a difficult situation ask yourself: what would this person do? Now take a leap of faith and do it. Notice what’s different. Persist. Change takes time and effort. You will get out of it as much as you put into it.
Mindfulness is the art of being aware of your environment, your thoughts, your feelings and your sensations as they happen and becoming their observer.
It is about training your attention to focus on the present moment, on concentrating on a task rather than thinking, and on external rather than internal factors.
So what does all of this got to do with relieving anxiety?
Well, first of all, let’s understand the role of thoughts in anxiety. I find it helpful to think of anxiety not as something we have but something we do, or even better, something we think and imagine and therefore feel. The assumption behind this is that feelings follow thought. So change the way you think and you will change the way you feel. Change the way you feel and your behavior will change. Change your behavior and your life will change.
When we have fearful (anxious ) thoughts, the problem is not necessarily to do with the thoughts themselves but with the importance and meaning we give them. Often we identify our thoughts as facts rather simply thoughts, and that is the problem. When you think ‘something terrible will happen if I get out of the house’ for example, it is the fact that you are viewing this as a fact rather than simply a thought that causes trouble.
In fact, if you distanced yourself from it and treated it as simply another thought among others and refused to assign it more importance than that, you would lessen its impact.
Also, I find it useful to remember that for every negative thought there is always an opposite positive thought.Both are just thoughts, not facts. And their importance depends on how much attention you decide to give them.
You decide what to pay attention to and what to accept or reject. This you can do by challenging negative thoughts as not helpful and asking yourself what would be more helpful for you to think in order to feel better about whatever situation is causing you concern.
You Are Not Your Thoughts
First, though, you need to believe that you are not your thoughts. You need to believe that you are more than your thoughts, that you are an awareness aware of itself and that although you have a mind you are not your mind. Another way of understanding this is to imagine that your thoughts are like unruly teenagers in a house where although you have always been the master you have never exercised your authority.
Of course, the first step to do so is to believe that you are the master and that you can exercise your authority successfully because if you don’t the teenagers will act as if they are the masters and they will have power over you. Once you shift your belief it may take some time and practice to learn how to take charge effectively but if you believe you are the one who makes the decisions and train your attention with patience you will succeed.
Train Your Attention
The first step in training your unruly mind is to practice redirecting your attention away from yourself and what you feel/ think/are imagining, and concentrate by choice on something external:something that is happening outside of yourself or a task you are doing.
Starting with situations that you don’t find particularly scary or challenging this active practice will help you counter balance your tendency to over focus on threats and on yourself when you feel anxious.
For example: rather than worrying about yourself and how you are coming across during a conversation with a new acquaintance focus on the other person and ask them questions about themselves, paying attention to their answers and becoming curious about them.
Later practice in situations that are more challenging and progress gradually from the least to the most anxiety provoking situations, getting out of your comfort zone and facing your fears head on. If you cannot attend to a specific task, for example, if you are sitting in a crowded waiting room, direct your attention to your surroundings, noticing people, the features of the room, sounds an smells.
Focus On the Present
Finally, bring your attention back to the present. Anxious thoughts are thoughts about an imagined catastrophic future that exists only in your head. It is a big castle in the sky.
It cannot exist in the now. So get back to now, and remember not to take your fearful thoughts seriously.
They might be trying to help, but they aren’t really helping, are they?
So, say no to the negative fears that have only held you back til now and say yes to the voice in your head that says: no matter what I will survive!
Your anxious thoughts are as real as an imaginary friend. It is up to you to make up what that friend says. Make it say encouraging things. Make it work for you.
And most of all, observe how much easier life is when you relax into existence and trust in your abilities to deal with whatever challenge life throws at you, no matter how hard it may seem at first.
The most truly accomplished and successful people in life have a relaxed attitude. Some might have been predisposed to be like that but most of them have honed their talents through practice and dedication. Practice relaxing into existence and learning to expect the best out of situations. And when life throws you something you cannot change accept it and make the best of it.
Worrying is a mostly a learned habit and we can do away with it by becoming aware that we are simply scaring ourselves to death by believing in our fearful thoughts; Instead, we can take a deep breath, focus on the present and remind ourselves that we have all the resources we need to survive.
After all, if you always do what you always did you will always get what you always got. So do something different!
While anxiety is a common human reaction to stressful situations, when it begins to have an impact on how we live our lives to the point where we avoid people, places, and situations that seem to trigger it, it is time to do something about it.
Anxiety is when we go over things again and again in our mind in a way that does not actually help resolve the perceived problem. This, in turn, affects our emotions. Typically an anxious person will do any or all of the following:
worry about something that happened in the past or something that might happen in the future
avoid situations that trigger the anxiety
become over-dependent on others to look after them or provide answers
put on a brave face for fear of being judged
use caffeine, drugs, cigarettes or alcohol to cope
Common symptoms of anxiety are:
tense muscles causing headaches
a dry mouth
dizziness caused by shallow breathing
indigestion, butterflies in the stomach, constipation, and diarrhea caused by the adrenaline taking blood away from the heart and muscles
panic attacks caused by the flight/fight/freeze adrenalin response
difficulty concentrating and remembering
feeling overly emotional, thinking negatively
Over time these symptoms can feed fears, phobias, hopelessness and lead to depression.
What Causes Anxiety?
Anxiety is caused by the way we react to stressful situations in our lives. Whether it is losing a job, moving house, having trouble with a relationship, experiencing an illness, a bereavement, childbirth or simply having too many commitments, major upheavals are common triggers.
What is important to remember however is that it is not the event that causes the anxiety but the way you perceive and respond to it. Often we become set in a way of looking at the world that confirms our worst fears and feeds our anxieties so if we are to combat anxiety we have to be ready to test our assumptions and have a good look at our ‘map’ of the world to see if it’s making things worse.
Caffeine and energy drinks also contribute to anxiety, as well as cocaine and amphetamines so if you are a user and you suffer form anxiety you would be better off drastically reducing the amount you take.
Tips to Overcome Anxiety
At first, it may be that even tackling anxiety could make you anxious. This will decrease with time so be patient with yourself. While there is no magic cure for anxiety there are ways you can help yourself:
Concentrate on the here and now. Focus on the present. Anxiety cannot exist in the present so stay clear of ‘what ifs” and tell yourself you’ll cross that bridge when you come to it
Avoid becoming too dependent on others and asking them to solve your problems for you.
If there are situations that trigger you work towards overcoming them in time: set easily achievable targets, make a step by step plan and go at your own pace (never rush!)
Learn relaxation techniques such as self-hypnosis and meditation (especially mindfulness practices)
Give yourself time off. Do something you enjoy that you haven’t done in a while.
Take a step back and have a good look at your life: what is more important? shed the rest
If someone is making too many demands on you work out a way to talk to them without laying blame
Exercise! Even if it’s just walking, exercise helps relieve tension
Stop smoking, reduce caffeine and alcohol
Become aware of your negative thinking patterns: identify and challenge exaggerated worries and pessimistic thoughts
Talk to a trusted friend about how you feel or see a professional such as a counselor/psychotherapist/hypnotherapist
Start working on your anxiety now by asking yourself the following questions
Am I looking at the entire picture? Are there any more useful ways I could look at the situation?
Do I apply the same standards to myself as I do to others?
What would I say to a friend / a loved one who said the same things I say?
Would I talk to others the same way I talk to myself?
If I wasn’t feeling like this what would I say about the situation?
Am I interpreting the situation this way because of my feelings about it rather than the bare facts?
What would I say about this looking back six months from now?
Is what I am telling myself helping me feel better? If not, what would?
The above techniques are very effective in learning how to cope with your anxiety. The more you practice them the more results you will get. If you need extra help and support implementing these changes feel free to contact me for a no-obligation consultation now. Call 075 44247800 or email me to book an appointment.
With how busy we keep ourselves on a day to day basis, it ís no wonder that so many of us suffer from stress. Stress is something that is almost impossible to avoid, because of the way that we are wired. Having said that, stress can be easily dealt with in many ways.
Exercise – We all know how important exercise is. Exercise has the ability to relax both your mind and your body. One of the big advantages that exercise has is that it forces you to get out, and to maintain some balance. If your working a lot, and are having a hard time getting other things done in life, you can easily make a deal with yourself to get out for a walk everyday at lunch time. This will allow you to clear your head and be more focused in your work, and also it will allow you time to relax, spend some time with nature, and remember that a physical wellness has a huge impact on mental wellness
Reward – It is important to reward yourself on a regular basis. Too often we get into patterns where we work too much, sleep to little, and run our body into the ground. To avoid this get into the habit of taking breaks daily, weekly and monthly. Get up during the day from your work, and go for a walk. Take a weekend get away to freshen up your mind from your work. Take a yearly trip to experience something different from the 9-5 grind back home.
Balance – Living a balanced life is very important to maintain limited stress. Balance doesn’t mean trying to do too many things at once. Balance means that you work to live, not live to work. Having fun is just as important as paying attention to your family, friends and hobbies.
Values – Take a moment to think about the things that are the most important for you in your life. Often times when we are living according to other people’s standards and not by our values there is an increase of stress in our days.
Planning – There is also an element of stress in unplanned situations. Unknowns cause us to worry, and to get stressed out about situations that we could have taken a little time to plan ahead for. So plan ahead if you can, unless the idea of the unknown is exciting to you of course!
Most of all remember: whatever happens you have the tools to deal with it. Being relaxed is the key. Nothing is worth stressing out about. In fact, the more you believe that there is nothing you can’t deal with the more you will be effective in resolving life’s challenges. It might be helpful to remember that no matter what may happen the sun will always rise tomorrow and you will be still alive.
Sometimes you may need extra help in reshaping negative thinking patterns around stressful situations. With the help of a hypnotherapist you can learn how to shift your thinking so your mind can work for you rather than against you.