Whether unenthused about flying solo at the next wedding, or overwhelmed with dread of the next mandatory networking event, all social settings have the potential to create a decent amount of stress for anyone.
But, where, you might ask, does normal worry end and clinical anxiety begin? And what is the cause of all this apprehension toward social interactions?
EVERYONE has SOME fear of social awkwardness.
Whether its the guy who appears to "know no stranger," cracking jokes as he makes his way around the room; or the person sitting back quietly waiting for others to initiate conversation, ALL people desire ease of conversation over social awkwardness.
But why is social interaction SUCH a BIG DEAL?
From the time we are in elementary school, we begin evaluating ourselves and shaping our identities around peer engagement and social feedback. If we are accepted and well-liked, then it is easy to consider ourselves "normal, attractive, likable, funny, etc." However, if we are not accepted, other negative views of ourselves may easily emerge. While this is not the one and ONLY factor used to establish one's identity, self-worth, or overall confidence, it is certainly a big one.
To better gauge your level of social angst, ask yourself these three questions:
1. Am I PERFORMING socially, or am I comfortable BEING ME?
When it comes to alleviating anxiety, mindfulness practices, specifically the acceptance of each moment for what it is rather than seeking to create only positive experiences, can make a BIG difference for a person. When we learn to take the good with the bad and appreciate the overall experience, filled with both positive and negative moments, we can essentially lean into the fact that, while we cannot control our situation, we can control our thoughts, beliefs and actions across any situation, even the most uncomfortable ones.
2. Am I ruminating about everything I said/did after the fact?
While self-reflection can be both positive and meaningful, too much thought, otherwise known as rumination, can lead us to criticize ourselves and ultimately create anxiety for ourselves. Everyone is going to have an awkward moment here and there, sometimes joking about it or making light of the situation after we feel we have done something awkward can help us recover the moment. Other times we may feel so embarrassed that we freeze, embarrassing ourselves further. The best approach is to learn briefly what led to the accidental faux pas (or other embarrassment), and to improve future interactions by better understanding what went wrong. Hyper-focusing, on the other hand can lead to us to develop a lower sense of confidence and self-worth. It's okay to mess up and to feel silly about it, but reminding ourselves that all people sometimes make mistakes (and really embarrassing ones at that) can help us not feel so critical of ourselves.
3. Are these fears, thoughts, or behaviors interrupting my daily life routines?
All people are likely to experience challenging phases of life, or routine struggles that are, perhaps annoying, but, all in all, manageable. If, however, these fear begin to impact a person's overall self-worth, self-confidence, or personal identity, it's time to take action. If you are experiencing challenges with social involvement, personal insecurities, or other ruminating thoughts/fears, the best approach is to look into some form of treatment. Whether you prefer self-help options, accountability with a close family member or friend, or if you feel ready to give counseling a try, any option that encourages you to make a concerted effort toward addressing your symptoms, educating/growing yourself, or improving any aspect of your health is a step in the right direction.
Don't waste time allowing any problem to take hold of YOU. Decide today to take hold of your problem.