Many people who struggle with social anxiety, habitually entertain stories in their heads, stories which trigger their struggles with anxiety and stories which keep them stuck in a place of indecisiveness. This leads to issues with control, and a compulsive and unhealthy desire to control external variables.
People who struggle with social anxiety are often obsessed with controlling how people see them, what places they would feel comfortable being at, and what times and under what conditions they are seen at these places. As if these unhealthy thoughts are not enough, there is the obsession of worse case scenarios, of what would happen if they happened to experience manifestations of these thoughts in real life.
The socially anxious person has developed unhealthy coping strategies on how best to deal with this bad thoughts, and all these coping strategies boil down to avoidance. They avoid people whom they perceive will reject or challenge them. They avoid places and situations, which they perceive as high in conflict or challenges. The sad thing is that they have been doing this for so long that the habit of avoidance has become second nature or rather, a non conscious directive.
When calm, and not in a state of high anxiety, people who struggle with social anxiety can and will tell you common sense procedures of how to go about addressing challenges in their lives that involve other people. This can be as simple as approaching someone for help with a project or for directions., or it can involve the process of setting boundaries with someone with whom you are experiencing conflicts with.
A habit of engaging in bad thinking and being reactive to bad thinking can be broken and a new circle of positive and realistic thoughts can be established. However such a process is difficult, you will have to permit yourself to experience the difficult feelings you often avoid, in order for you to break the mold and try something new. One powerful exercise I often prescribe to clients to help them break the mold of negative thinking is to visualize things going their way.
The exercise works as follows, write down all your concerns. To avoid getting overwhelmed, I usually will recommend three concerns, starting with the most pressing one. Once you have written down your concerns, you then focus on the most pressing concern. You do this by writing down the opposite of that concern. For example, if you are concerned about dealing with an unwanted confrontation, you will write down the opposite, which would be you dealing with a pleasant exchange. Even if the reason for the exchange is negative.
For example, a person who has the distinction of delivering bad news to a client at his work place, and is anxious about the client becoming irate and hostile towards him, will benefit from this visualization exercise. Not only will he be able to visualize a smooth interaction with his client, he will also be able to deliver the negative news to his client and be at peace with his client becoming upset with the news.
The purpose of engaging in more positive thinking is to become more resilient and measured in our approach to life’s challenges.