How to Overcome Social Anxiety & Talk to People

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Some days, it's only by the grace of God that I can manage to change out of my pajamas, run a comb through my hair, and leave the house looking somewhat like a human being. Not to paint myself entirely as a recluse with hermit-like tendencies, but rather, to suggest that I understand how challenging it can be to face the world. Even after over a decade of being on a spiritual path, working on myself, and becoming more mindful, I still face bouts of anxiety and sadness, and I can understand how one could feel an overwhelming amount of pressure at the sheer thought of approaching a stranger or getting caught in an unwanted conversation while browsing in Barnes and Noble.

The problem, however, is that if you suffer from social anxiety, you're probably putting your energy into coping strategies, reading books on how to start conversations, or how to improve your body language, and don't get me wrong, these strategies can be helpful, but they're not the solution, at least not long-term. The real way to overcome social anxiety is to understand the root of the problem, as it's likely that you have wrongly perceived just what's making you so anxious around others.

Here's the key: You think you're anxious because of shyness, timidity, or an overall quiet and introverted disposition that you've had your entire life, but the the truth is that you don't have the self-esteem and self-love necessary to receive friendship, connection, and acceptance from others. Somewhere in your life story, you got the wrong idea (probably in childhood) that you weren't good enough, and that belief has been unconsciously driving your life for years.

You can't imagine putting yourself in a position where you have to engage with others, such as making casual conversation at a party, not because your greatest fear is that people won't like you; on the contrary, your greatest fear is that people will like and accept you, and that can be a problem when you don't like and accept yourself. Human beings will reject from others what they don't feel or believe about themselves. Here's a simple example, if a person feels unattractive, the minute someone compliments her, she's going to refute it, arguing that her dress is old and her hair is a mess. She will never receive what she does not first believe herself.

So, while it may serve you to work on conversation skills and to take a pragmatic approach to socializing, you want to put most of your energy into developing higher self-esteem and learning to love yourself more. That's the real ticket to becoming a more social person who's willing to open up, trust, and be willing to do things that feel uncomfortable or awkward.

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Self-love takes time, and there are many ways to cultivate a greater feeling of self-love. Here are just some practices. Try incorporating at least one of the following into your day-to-day routine, and then slowly, add a second and then a third practice into your schedule:

  • Do something that cultivates mindfulness, such as meditation, so that you become aware of your inner-world and detach from your stream of thoughts. This will allow you to dis-identify with your ego and connect to your spirit, which will increase your sense of peace, joy, and love for yourself.
  • Study empowering spiritual texts, such as A Course in Miracles, or books written by Marianne Williamson, Gabrielle Bernstein, Gary Zukav, or Gay Hendricks, just to name a few. Fill your mind with positive, self-affirming ideas about the nature of the world, rather than watching television and immersing yourself in media that gives you subconscious messages about what beauty, success, and life looks like. Take a step back from the media and read and watch material that will foster your personal growth
  • Repeat loving affirmations, such as I am worthy of all good things while you run, walk, or find yourself in the middle of a mundane task, such as doing the dishes or riding in the elevator. It's taken you years to develop negative thoughts about yourself; take time to reprogram negative thinking and behaviors.
  • Catch yourself every time you think a negative thought about yourself and follow it up with a positive thought. When you squeeze at your thighs and call yourself fat, follow that thought up with: I'm beautiful just the way I am. Even if you don't believe it, say it. When you repeat affirmations enough, you will begin to believe them.
  • List all of the things you love about yourself every morning in your journal. They could be simple items, such as appreciating that you take care of your family, you offer people lots of compliments, or your selfless in the way you spend your weekend helping friends and extending love. Recognize and celebrate all of the ways that you are wonderful and valued. Be your biggest cheerleader. 

As you grow confident and start to believe that you are valuable and worthy of love, friendship, and affection, your life experiences will reflect those things. You'll find that with very little effort, you are smiling more, opening up, and wanting to connect with people, even when you feel nervous. The key is to be willing to receive love, friendship, and connection, because when you're willing, you don't have to try to meet people, it will happen organically and easily. When you take the time and invest energy in loving yourself, you will transform, and you'll find that your life will change as a result of all of the inner-work you're doing.