Suppose you have a bad case of social anxiety. You’re not too outgoing unless among friends and you become a total wallflower when with folks you don’t know. Generally, when you’re in a room full of strangers you look for the exit.

So here you are. Your boss has sent you to represent your company at a social function with reps from other companies, both local and out of town, to hear a presentation on improving employee morale. You walk into the room and fear strikes your heart as you look around and realize you don’t know anyone! And then the critical introspective examinations begin: “I’m going to look and sound like a total idiot.” “They’re all going to wonder, ‘Who’s that poor soul without a friend in the world?’” “I’ll never make it through this thing.” “I’ll just grab a drink, hang out at the food table, and wait for the program to begin. Maybe hanging in the restroom would be better.”

Where is your focus? It’s directly on the negative emotion you’re feeling, and you’re obsessed with how to avoid or escape the emotion. You are also focused on putting yourself down by assuming you will be the laughing stock of the room, so you create a pessimistic self-fulfilling prediction that you will fail. You are defining yourself by your undesirable emotion; you are thinking irrationally and assuming that you are not living up to expectations of others; you are seeking an avoidance strategy so you don’t have to confront and accept your fears.

Are there other, more effective coping strategies you might use to turn the situation into a challenge and not a threat? Of course there are. You can engage in some deep breathing exercises and other mental techniques to relax you a bit. (In a future blog we will take a look at some of these calming methods.) You can challenge your irrational thinking: “Let’s face it, no one is paying the least bit of attention to me and my anxiety, and they might even know someone at my company if I bother to tell them where I work. Just head for the food and ask some folks where they work and let things go from there. Ask if they know the presenter, have ever heard her before, or ever been to an event like this. Simple stuff, small talk. These people are not here to judge me.”

Self-talk like this will help you stop trying to avoid your uncomfortable emotions. If you consider specific actions to take that allow you to behave within the reality of the emotions, you will feel much more in control of your thoughts and behavior. You will feel greatly empowered to confront and challenge situations that bring you fear and anxiety. Remember: The key is to focus on things under your control. In the example given, you have no control over the other people in the room; you do, however, have control over your thoughts and the actions you can perform to make those thoughts work for you, not against you.

The essential core that holds everything together is acceptance. Growing to accept yourself and your emotions is a process, a way of living and interacting with others. It takes preparation, practice, and effort. Acceptance grows out of a type of thinking and acting that focuses on being realistic, not irrational; it emerges from facing your conflicts and anxieties, not avoiding them; it is based on positive, not negative, actions and thoughts, as long as your optimism is realistic and not pie-in-the-sky fantasy.

Perhaps most of all, acceptance is based on a personal system of values and standards that provide you with a social conscience and give your life purpose and meaning. Your values give you the ability to act independently, and result in actions and thoughts that will provide you with a sense of satisfaction and productivity. Cultivate a value system that allows you to venture outside of yourself. Remember, when it comes to effective coping it’s not all about you.





3 thoughts on “”

  1. This article was interesting and described how an individual can feel socially inadequate when amongst strangers. In sum, this article more closely details the reality of social anxiety from the perception of someone entering a room full of strangers during a work-related event. The feelings of wanting to be accepted in a social setting can go beyond our own imagination. As discussed from my Theories of Personalities course, Alfred Adler’s theory plays closely into this story. Alfred Adler was a prominent figure of psychology whose concept of individual psychology still remains relevant today. Adler was a psychologist in the early 1900s who proposed the notion that all individuals are striving for personal success. The individual in this story was considering using one of Adler’s safeguarding tendencies as way to respond to his anxiety. The safeguarding tendency that this person was attempting to use was self-accusation. With self-accusation, an individual uses self-guilt as a response to anxiety. In the post, the main character stated “I’m going to look and sound like a total idiot.” Also, he considers hiding in the bathroom to avoid confrontation with new people.
    I believe that this article takes a deeper understanding of how people struggle with anxiety everyday and how they can use self-talk to get out of sticky situations or feelings of inferiority.


  2. This article gives useful strategies for someone who is struggling with social anxiety, or any other difficulty. The overarching concept illustrated here is that in order for one to tackle their fears, it is helpful to focus on the aspects of the situation that one can control. Focusing on aspects of a situation that is within one’s control is a more proactive way to handle difficult situations. For instance, if someone is struggling in a particular class it would be more effective to hire a tutor, spend extra time studying or ask questions in class than it would be to ask the teacher not to give a test, or hope for there to be a high curve on the test. Jullian Rotter discusses the concept of control and makes a distinction between one’s perception of a situation. The two types of control are “internal locus of control” and “external locus of control”. When one has an internal locus of control then they are more likely to see how their own thoughts or actions can affect a given situation. Conversely, when one has an external locus of control they are more likely to think about how external events can affect a given situation. Those who have an internal locus of control are more likely to respond in a proactive manner, thereby increasing their sense of empowerment. The suggestions made in this article for someone who is struggling with social anxiety are ones that focus on having an internal locus of control, by thinking of ways to take deep breaths and make conversation with others. Taking deep breaths and making conversation is both proactive solutions to being socially uncomfortable. These actions are likely to lead to a sense of empowerment within the socially anxious individual. If the socially anxious individual were to adopt an external locus of control by relying on other people to approach him or her then that is likely to leave this individual feeling less empowered.


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