Social Anxiety Disorder thrives on negative thoughts. Think about all the things that run through your head when you’re feeling stressed:
- Everyone’s judging me.
- I have nothing worthwhile to say.
- No one cares what I have to say.
Part of the problem is that your brain has developed an automatic negative response to stressful situations. Over time you have learned to fear social situations and to expect them to go badly.
Thankfully, you can take steps to change that response. All those negative messages can be unlearned and rewritten so that you have positive, supportive thoughts instead. That is the basis for Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), and it’s remarkably effective in enabling you to free yourself from anxiety.
Follow the steps below to get started:
Identify the negative messages
Sit down with a pen and paper and write down all the thoughts that pop into your head in stressful social situations. Everything from “I’m not wearing the right clothes” to “everyone knows I’m stupid,” whatever your message is, make a list.
It’s ok if it’s a long list–your brain’s been feeding you this stuff for a long time. My list was long, but there are several thoughts that are always there.
Now take a look at them. Even if the thoughts feel real, you can rest assured they are not based on reality.
Replace the negative thoughts with positive messages
Take another look at your list. This is important: for every negative thought, think of a positive one. It doesn’t matter if you don’t think it’s true. Make them aspirational but achievable.
Instead of “I never know what to say,” you might write “I am thoughtful and articulate” or “I am calm and confident.” Keep your positive affirmations short, clear and believable, so as not to trigger that negative self-talk.
Be kind to yourself
Get rid of that Inner Critic (I like to call mine my Inner Bitch). Replace it with whatever generous support is meaningful for you, whether it’s Jiminy Cricket, a Good Angel, or a Unicorn. Keep kind, supportive messages running through your mind. Don’t leave room for the negative self-talk to get a word in edge-wise.
If you find your self-talk is tending to scold or say “you must,” turn it around and be encouraging. Be your own coach and cheerleader to talk yourself through stressful situations. Remind yourself to breathe and be calm. You can do this!
Physical affirmations can remind you to check your self-talk. Many people find placing positive affirmations on post-it notes or cards on the fridge, desk or bathroom mirror helpful.
There are also apps which will send positive affirmations to your smartphone or tablet throughout the day.
Use whatever tools you need to keep rewriting your negative thoughts and turning them in to positive, encouraging self-talk! Keep in mind that affirmations–like any other self-improvement effort–is not an overnight fix. Consistency is key. With a little persistence, you’ll see a big difference!
I’d love to hear one of your affirmations. If you’re willing to share, tell me in the comments below.