Self-focus

Boom! Mic Drop on Your Social Anxiety

drop the mic on Anxiety.jpg

Self-Awareness

It's confusing. All we hear about these days is self-awareness this and self-awareness that. Everywhere we turn there’s another self-help article on the importance of getting in touch with our thoughts and feelings.

And yet, research shows that heightened self-focused attention plays a huge role in social anxiety.

What’s right?

It turns out both are, but the devil is in the details. Let me explain.

Self-Focused Attention and Social Anxiety

First, the down-low on self-focused attention and social anxiety. Research has found that when a person suffers from social anxiety, they direct too much attention on themselves during (or in anticipation of ) social interactions or performance situations. They pay too much attention to their emotions, their self-thoughts, behaviors, their physical appearance, nervous system arousal, etc. and pay too little attention to what they’re doing, to the other people they might be with, and their environment. With social anxiety, a person becomes acutely and overly aware of themselves.

It’s like a giant spotlight has been turned on and focused right. On. Them.

Can you relate? I know I can. There are many times in the past when I became so self-obsessed, so self-focused that I couldn’t see the forest for the trees! Miserable. And anxiety provoking.

Scientists have also found that when we become so acutely self-focused, we often do worse at the things we‘re anxious about doing in the first place! Add to that, because we aren’t focusing on the other people and things around us, we end up relying solely on our own negative impressions, thereby confirming… we’re a loser.

It is a vicious cycle and it totally reinforces our anxiety.

Breaking the Anxious Cycle

But once you realize it’s a cycle you can break it. The way to get out of this loop is to disrupt it. And the best way to disrupt it is to start turning your attention away from yourself. It’s the opposite of self-focused.

Yep, I know this also flies in the face of what we think of as being self-aware.

So to help with this, let me be a bit more clear about what self-awareness actually means.

Self-awareness is just that, being more aware. That’s it.

Like, “Oh, I’m aware that there’s a lot of traffic today” or “Oh, that felt really crappy” or “Oh, I feel my body starting to feel anxious.” Self-awareness is merely noticing and noting what is happening or what you are feeling. And it can end there. No need to figure it out or dwell on.

Contrary to popular belief, the major benefit to self-awareness isn’t an increased ‘feeling of our feelings’ or ‘thinking of our thoughts’. Actually, that’s often totally counterproductive.

The major wisdom of increased self-awareness is to notice our feelings and thoughts and not get pulled in by them.

A great way of not getting pulled in by them, after we notice them, is to turn our attention onto whatever we’re doing.

Instead of being totally self-focused, we become totally task-focused.

We turn our attention outward onto the specific task we’re doing. By doing this one little strategy, we release our tendency to become overly self-focused thereby releasing our anxiety… all while being self-aware!

Boom! Mic drop.

Is It Anxiety or 'A Shot in the Dark'?

anxiety label it.jpg

A couple years ago I got a coffee ‘to-go’ from the neighborhood coffee shop on my way to work. I usually have my own mug with me but didn't that day. No problem.

Not too long after arriving at work, my body started freaking out. I was sweating, my heart was beating out my chest, I was jittery, my mind was racing and I started feeling panicky like never before.

It came out of nowhere and was totally scary. My day was busy and there was a lot on my mind but this was weird.

I started taking some deep breaths to try to calm myself down. That worked marginally, but I could still feel my heart and my mind was still racing. I didn’t know what was happening. Was this a panic attack? I’d never had one before but definitely knew about them.

At some point, I glanced at my paper coffee cup and noticed the barista’s markings for my order. It read “shot in dark”. “What?” I thought to myself, this was supposed to be just a regular coffee.

I then realized that my reaction was a result of accidentally picking up the wrong coffee order at the coffee shop that morning! Instead of my usual coffee, I had drunk one with two extra shots of espresso! No wonder my body and mind were freaking out! I had just bombarded it with a super high jolt of caffeine and it was reacting as I would’ve expected it to.

I felt better instantly. Well, my body was still a jittery mess due to the caffeine coursing through my veins and my mind was still faster than usual but once I realized this logical reason for my reactions, I was at ease. It was a false alarm brought on my a ‘shot in the dark’.

Upon labeling it a false alarm, all of those symptoms that had captured my full attention and had me so worried soon became a fading-into-the-background noise. My symptoms were still happening but they no longer gripped me with their power.

I got back to work and waited it out.

You can do this too with your anxiety. There are so many similarities.

  • If you start to feel your body anxiously amping up, check in. If something isn’t immediately requiring your “fight or flight” reaction label it a false alarm.

  • Anxiety triggers false alarms. Teach your mind to settle down with the realization that this type of experience can be attributed to ‘anxiety’ just as my type of experience could be attributed to too much caffeine all at once.

  • Just like my accidental coffee with a double shot of espresso, your anxiety is something real and once it has been activated it needs to quietly run its course in the background. Important point: In the background! Label it a false alarm and then turn your attention back on to what you were doing or need to do.

  • Remind yourself periodically if you need to that you’re experiencing a normal reaction to something that just triggered your anxiety (usually a thought) and that you can let it dissolve.

  • Your anxiety is super uncomfortable because it captures your full attention and usually spirals to become even bigger. Check it. Label it. Forget it.

Have you ever had an experience that mimicked anxiety? What happened? How did you deal with it?