Social anxiety can be paralyzing for some people. Even those who are seemingly extroverts. Since we are talking about Social Anxiety, I have a confession to make. I am a total introvert who loves to stay home, hang with my kids, read, cook, and sing in my kitchen. There, I said it. I feel better already.
You are an Introvert? Seriously?
If you have met me or seen me out and about, you would never know it. I am good at being social but… it is hard for me. Here is a true story to illustrate.
Last night, the hubs, Dr. Cosmas Leigh, and I went out to a fancy dinner. It was lovely and it was packed with a lot of people we did not know. In fact, we only knew each other and then one couple of our friends arrived. I made my way around the room introducing myself to everyone. I turned to my friends and asked them what they were doing. They exclaimed that they were chatting about how bad they are at making small talk because of social anxiety. As I confided in them that I was working hard at the social aspect of the night, they almost fell on the floor. They could relate.
It was a formal dinner with reserved seating. We were sat at a different table than our friends. Goodbye comfort zone. Anyway, I had to turn up the volume on my social skills. I did it, with seeming ease. But when I returned home, I was exhausted and went right to sleep. It felt like I had operated the customer service booth at Disney World all night long. The night was a success though.
Are Social Anxiety and Introversion the Same Thing?
First of all, introversion and social anxiety are not the same thing, but they can be related. What I experienced is very low key to what a person with true social anxiety would experience. These situations make me a bit nervous. If you struggle from social anxiety in a bigger form, you will experience a full-blown paralyzing “fight, flight, or freeze” response. This can be debilitating.
Social Anxiety Is Not About the People
Being anxious in social situations is not at all about the people with whom you are interacting. Let me be really clear. All the people I met were super nice. Their company was immensely enjoyable. None of my feelings were about them. Social anxiety has absolutely nothing to do with the people you are interacting with, it has everything to do with you. Perhaps, I have always had an element of getting a bit anxious before parties with strangers, but as I get older, I just want to become a hermit. Is it a good or bad thing, I’m not sure. But, for now, I am forcing myself into social situations so that I don’t get crusty on social skills in this environment. You don’t want to give up and then not be able to engage at all someday. This is based upon neuroscience. With continual practice, the skill becomes easier. Let’s put it this way, it is good for my brain. Plus, Cos loves parties like that. I do it for him too. Hence the event last night.
Cosmas thinks I am nuts, but honestly, he struggles with it to. He just doesn’t verbalize it. Classic. At the beginning of dinner each person had to introduce themselves and the men of each couple did the introducing for each pair. Until it came to our turn. Cosmas leaned over and said to me, you can “do us”. This was 10 seconds before I had to stand up and make a charming introduction. I did it. Thankfully, he didn’t give me enough time to get nervous and I did a great intro.
What is Social Anxiety?
According to the Social Anxiety Association more than 15 million struggle with creating relationships out of thin air in new social situations. So, you and I are not alone. It is important that you realize this is hard for most people. When you are approaching a new social event, your brain will make excessive High Beta, extra fast, brain speed. This will make you feel anxious and nervous. Feeling more anxious will produce even more extra fast brain speed which will make your brain reel and cause more anxiety. It is your quintessential negative feedback loop.
If you struggle with social anxiety you can use these tips to pull your high heels or your suit coat on and get out there and socialize.
Over Dress for the Occasion.
This is designed to make you feel confident on the inside because you are looking sharp and confident on the outside. I have been doing this for years. Not that many people would notice because I am not exactly a fashionista (I can’t be bothered because I would rather be working 😊). But, here is a secret about me. One I probably shouldn’t reveal. If I can’t find an outfit that makes me feel good, I compensate by wearing fantastic under garments. I am not kidding. I don’t need people to see my confident clothing, I just need to feel confident myself. For you this might not be clothes, but, gear yourself up with something that makes you feel confident. Confidence makes your brain perform more calmly, in Alpha mode.
Do NOT over drink to compensate for nerves.
The first intuition for most adults is to have a drink or two (or three) to chill their nerves out. This is natural because alcohol increase Alpha medium brain speed that gives you a sense of calm in the moment. Unfortunately, it increases Theta and Delta slow brain speeds the next day, which give you a hangover. Let’s put it this way. It is not a strong strategy for social anxiety. So, last night I made sure to go slow on the drinks. At the end of the night Cos asked me how much I drank. Thankfully, not a lot. I think he asked because I was being incredibly social and contributed it to the booze and not my efforts. I will have to ask him.
Have a Strategy.
My strategy was a brief introduction with each person and then to be a great listener. I tend to talk too much because I am filling the silence, so I use a mantra to help me be a better listener. “What about you?” When I find myself nervously rambling, I stop myself and say, “so, what about you?”. Then, I listen. People love a good listener. Listen and then find safe times to introduce some information about yourself. You can do it. It will help you create the perfect, errr almost perfect, balance of talking and listening. A strategy will decrease the use of High Beta extra fast speed in your brain and help it stay down too. Success.
Celebrate the Small Wins.
I have been wanting to hang a “Small Win” board in our office at Leigh Brain & Spine for some time. We always encourage people to celebrate their successes, no matter how big they are. If you have a successful interaction, high five your friend (if you are with one) and if not high five yourself, even if it is in your mind. I am the queen of “mental high-fiving”. Sometimes, I am pretty sure it is visible on my face, that I am congratulating myself, but that is OK with me.
If you want more tips on how to beat social anxiety, check out this Huffington Post article that reaffirms my sentiments and gives you even more tips based upon Neuroscience.
What Do I Do If I Can’t Use Strategies to Beat Social Anxiety?
If you can’t use these strategies or have resorted to avoiding social situations altogether then your brain is most likely significantly jammed in anxiety mode. What this means is that instead of being at rest during times of no stress, it is stuck in the anxious state. Then, when something stressful happens, your brain’s starting point is not at rest, it is at stress. Thus, your social anxiety goes through roof, instead of just up a little. When your brain is severely stuck in High Beta it can cause perpetual feelings of hypervigilance. This means everything is perceived as a threat. If you can’t control your anxiety with tips and techniques, then you might need professional help using Neurofeedback for neurological regulation. Neurofeedback can bring your brain back down from the hyper-vigilant state it is stuck in.
FOR NEUROFEEDBACK EXPERTS
The qEEG Brain Map pattern that is associated with social anxiety is one of excessive High Beta use. This means that the person’s brain is stuck in anxiety mode. Even at rest, when their brain should be chill and using Alpha calm speed, it is using lots of High Beta stress speed. Sometimes, this can be a co-morbid pattern due to ADHD or concussion. If so, those brain patterns must be addressed simultaneously.
To use Neurofeedback training for improving social anxiety, your baseline evaluation will tell you which areas of the brain are “running the hottest” with High Beta. It may a global pattern of excessive high beta use across the board, or it might be focal areas throughout different brain regions. Your qEEG Brain Map will show you where to start. Excessive High Beta use can be successfully reduced in most people with relative ease. This will produce less anxious feelings and will help the person stay out of “Fight or Flight” or hypervigilant mode.
When Alpha up training is included Neurofeedback Therapy can teach the person’s brain to make more of the medium brain processing speed that can create more and greater feelings of calm. Thus, reduction in feelings of anxiousness with increased feelings of calm, your patient will feel and perform better in no time. Now go change brains and improve lives and enjoy every minute of it. I know I do.
Follow Dr. Trish Leigh on social media at @drtrishleigh
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