To understand why mindfulness and social anxiety are such a perfect fit, it can help to understand why you have social anxiety.
Social cognition, or our ‘social mind’, involves how we take in, analyse, and use information from our interactions with others. We make decisions, such as on how others perceive us, and ‘store’ these decisions as ‘truths’.
Of course our social mind is useful and even crucial. If we don’t have a sense of how others perceive us, or care about it, then we can be socially difficult, or even with social conduct disorder.
But if we had difficult experiences in the past, especially in childhood, and our brain stored certain ideas about how we are perceived? We can have strong fear and shame the isn’t helpful.
For example, if Alex was teased by his big family for being the ‘baby’ who is ‘shy and never has anything to say’? He can believe he is out of place and a poor addition to social gatherings, even when as an adult he is highly educated and not shy.
Do you have negative thoughts?
Back in our cave man days, it aided our survival to always be searching for signs of a predator in the jungle. Always searching for danger was a good thing.
Enter the ‘negativity bias’. The idea is that evolution has caused negative information, comments or events to be stored and remembered better than positive events.
Where you are right now when it comes to socialising and anxiety is not static. It can definitely be changed and moulded over time. Don’t believe thoughts such as “this is just who I am” which may be running through your head.
2. Tune into your desire for change and connection.
Trying to do big 40-minute mindfulness sits right off the bat will just lead to frustration. Try ten minutes a day, then raise it 15, and then 20.
And this is true for your social exposure, too. Take challenging but manageable steps, bit by bit putting yourself into experiences which feel outside of your current comfort zone.
4. Keep a mindfulness journal.
Track and write down exactly how you felt and what you were thinking before, during and after your meditations. This will help you gain more insight into the process and journey you’re going through.
You can also use your mindfulness journal to record your achievements with your social anxiety. Seeing the small steps keeps us moving forward. Did you have an easier conversation with a colleague? Manage to look your difficult boss in the eye?
5. Find a therapist, mentor or coach to work with.
Working with a skilled therapist or mentor who is experienced in mindfulness-based approaches such as MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) or MBCT (mindfulness-based cognitive therapy) can be a tremendous help. He or she can help you see the blind spots in your perception and help you develop your practice.