Gurgling stomach. Fluttery heart. Wet palms.
Anyone who’s experienced social anxiety knows these symptoms.
I used to force myself to walk into a room full of new people. The nervous chatter in my own head often blocked me from relaxing enough to enjoy the experience. Making myself socialize when I felt uncomfortable increased my inner pride and yet, also increased my self-loathing. If I didn’t “do it right” and flutter my social butterfly wings, I felt like a failure. I’d agonize at home before going out: Was it worth it? Would I always feel like this?
Over time, I’ve combined various techniques to develop a simple exercise that works well for me. It may seem too simple at first glance, but it’s been the most effective way for me to stop fixating on destructive thoughts and allow myself to relax. Social anxiety is often constrictive, defensive, and exhausting. This exercise promotes relaxation, love, expansion, and relief.
I often practice this in low-stress situations where I know I’ll encounter many people, such as during a walk outside. The more you practice this in casual situations, the more intuitive this will become in higher stress, social situations.
1. Soften Your Intention
The intention with this exercise is to provide relief from anxiety. In yoga practice, an instructor may suggest you “play to your edge”. This means breathing into the poses, continuing to breathe as you explore the sensations there. You gently examine your relationship to that aspect of yourself and respect what is comfortable and what challenges you. The intention here is not to force yourself into anything. It is not to push yourself into what you think you must do. It’s about exploring your tendencies, loving them and allowing room for growth.
Root your intention in compassion towards yourself. If you have trouble feeling compassion towards yourself, try this visualization:
Imagine yourself at a young age. Allow him/her to express the emotions you are feeling, whether it’s anger, sadness or fear. Allow your current, adult self to be a witness, and regardless of whatever is expressed, send love to that child. Wrap your arms around them and give them a hug. Allow them to be heard, seen, respected and loved. Stand up for them. Realize they need love and compassion, not punishment and abuse.
2. Take Deep Breaths
Holding one’s breath and short, shallow breathing furthers anxiety. Take deep, slow breaths. Fill up your abdomen like an expanding balloon and gently release. Maintain and return to this slow, steady breathing throughout the exercise. If your mind starts to obsess or become frantic, return to and focus on your breathing.
3. Send Out Love
There is nothing tricky to memorize, no way to fail. In whatever way resonates with you, practice sending out love to others. Each time someone walks by you, send them love. If you prefer visuals, imagine sending a pink fluffy cloud to their heart center, or a glowing green energy to their heart chakra. You may prefer to repeat the phrase “I send you love” in your mind and heart.
If you find it difficult to send love to people, start with trees, birds, blades of grass, sunsets.
Remember: The intention is not to control others’ action, but to provide relief to yourself. The goal is not to make others more loveable, but to practice loving.
Start Where You Are
If you’d rather work up to this exercise, practice it first as a visualization.
Instead of going out in public to do this, imagine yourself doing this exercise in public. Close your eyes, and paint the setting. Imagine walking around, softening your intention, breathing deeply, and sending out love. This paves the path in your brain for new habits and mindsets, and creates a safe space to explore your feelings.
I hope this helps! Please feel free to share any feedback you have in the comments below.
Be sure to check out the accompanying video to this article on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zRI7smOgnJs