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  • Writer's picture15-Minute Friendships

3 Social Anxiety TRICKS Our Brains Play and How to TREAT Them!

As many as 1 in 10 adults have some degree of social anxiety disorder, and this often comes with challenging and distressing thinking patterns. One of the main symptoms of social anxiety is negative thoughts and anxiousness when thinking about or leading up to a social situation. These are the tricks our brains play on us by catastrophising and making us feel inadequate.

We wanted to take a little look at some of the common thought patterns that can occur alongside social anxiety and offer up some ways to re-frame them. We've used the word "treat" in the post title to try and shoehorn a Halloween pun in there, but in actual fact, social anxiety is usually treated via a combination of therapies (particularly Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and self-help techniques.

If you're struggling with social anxiety to the point where it is impacting your daily life, we'd strongly advise speaking to your GP, a mental health professional, or someone at the other end of the relevant resources here.

Okay, now that's out of the way, let's look at some of the things a socially anxious brain might say when it's playing tricks on us!

TRICK: "Friendships should come naturally"

You might find it disheartening or even view it as a waste of time when you try to socialise with people and they just don't seem to take a shine to you. Or maybe you're struggling because socialising feels like a huge, unfulfilling effort. Your brain is telling you that making friends should be easy and that, when you meet the right people, you'll click right away.

TREAT: "Plan structured social activity"

Socialising is something that gets better with both time and effort. While it is possible to meet someone and immediately get on, it often takes a few encounters for people to warm up to each other or form a deeper connection. Regular activities like clubs, classes, study groups, and workshops can help take some of the stress out of dedicating the time and effort it takes to get to know people. You'll still have to put in a little energy to actually talk to people, but it's often expected and even encouraged in these situations!

TRICK: "You're not interesting enough"

There are few things more upsetting to hear than the phrase "you're not interesting enough", especially when it's coming from our own brains. There's a lot of pressure to have something fun, relevant, or entreating to say when we're socialising, and that pressure can often leave us lost for words. It's easy to think that we must just not have anything interesting to say or that we don't lead interesting enough lives, but...

TREAT: "Interesting people are interested in others"

When we struggle to think of interesting things to say or to come up with cool stories, the best thing we can do is to ask open ended questions! Not only are these a great way to keep a conversation going, they can take a lot of the pressure off of us as speakers by turning us into active listeners. This also gives us opportunities to chime in with our own thoughts and opinions as they come up naturally.

If someone is telling you about a book they're reading that sounds interesting, you can tell them that! You can even volunteer information about something you've read once they've finished speaking; don't feel like you have to wait for them to ask you a question back. The art of conversation can be challenging at first, but nobody expects you to be a perfect conversationalist and, if you can't think of anything to ask, try one of these ice-breaker questions!

TRICK: "People are judging you"

It's completely natural for us to worry about what other people think. If we have social anxiety, we may worry that others will pick up on our nervousness and find it weird or off-putting. Our minds might tell us that people are zeroing in on our mistakes or the things that make us different. We might feel judged for our appearance, our mannerisms, the way we speak, and even the things we find interesting.

TREAT: "People are worried you're judging them"

Everyone worries about being judged to some degree. Even when we're in the company of our closest friends, there may be times when we speak and immediately think that we've just said something awkward or cringe. The truth is, people do form opinions about others all the time, but they are extremely fleeting. Think about the people you see out and about in your every day life. Maybe you think "that person has a weird haircut" or "that person's talking really fast", but do you really sit there and concentrate on those thoughts or do they float away once you've had them?

When we've had bad experiences with bullies growing up or maybe even as adults, it can make us feel as though everyone is waiting to judge us and use our insecurities against us. While we can't guarantee you'll never run into another bully again, you can often attract the right kind of people by showing others that you are a non-judgemental person that they can feel safe with.

Social anxiety is an extremely nuanced mental health issue and it can often develop as a result of a combination of genetic factors and traumatic childhood experiences. Everyone experiences social anxiety differently, but reframing thoughts is one of the key tenants of things like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and we hope that maybe you can find some comfort in the items on this list.

Your brain might try and hit you with a "yes, but..." in response when you try to reframe your thoughts. It may say something like: "yes, other people are also worried you're judging them, BUT you are extra weird and deserving of judgement!" — in these instances, we would urge you to push back with a "yes, but..." of your own.

You could say: "yes, some people might consider me weird, BUT I don't deserve to be treated negatively because of that, and being different from others might even be the thing that makes the right kind of person want to be my friend."

It is only through repetition and effort that we can truly push back on negative thought patterns and help train our brains not to default to the worst-case-scenario.

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