We aren’t taught how to manage our emotions in life and we live our lives at the tail end of them. In order to be able to manage your state effectively, you will have to practice this. It’s like being in a building burning down and asking “how do I use the fire extinguisher? – the more experience you have with using the fire extinguisher before the fire, the better off you will be at using it if there is a fire.
To get good at this, you will need to practice in your spare time before you’re in the moment. Initially while you are learning this, there will be times where it won’t make any sense, the worst thing you can do is to give up.1. The ‘Do it Anyway’ approach to dealing with fear
Surprisingly this is the most common advice to dealing with social anxiety, it’s also the most controversial in my opinion. For smaller tasks you do that have fear, this advice will work fine. For larger more ‘paralysing’ fear, this approach is pure hell to watch people go through.
As adults we become slightly insensitive to the emotions and experiences that have happened to us in childhood. Most people pass them off as ‘no big deal’, but as adults we forget the complexity of emotions and how they can change the way a child sees the world. If you’ve ever seen a child get lost in the supermarket, it’s pure hell for them because children don’t know that they will get through it, and they don’t know how to see the situation from a larger perspective.
The more I practise hypnosis, the more sensitive I become to how fragile people’s realities really are. When people think about walking over and talking to somebody and they become paralysed, they are dealing with a lifetime of experience that has proved that people are unpleasant to talk to. As adults we know this is not true, but our belief system says otherwise.
I’ll give you an extreme example to show you why this method is ineffective.
Post Traumatic Stress is an anxiety disorder that happens from a traumatic experience like a car crash, rape, or returning home from war. Most people who go through a traumatic event will display the same symptoms as somebody with PTSD, but will fade over time. Somebody with PTSD will constantly re-experience the detail throughout their day and will be plagued by anxiety. The soldier will keep playing the graphic details of bullets flying everywhere and seeing his friends dying.
By telling somebody to ‘deal with it’ they are effectively telling the soldier to rerun through the battle, and watch it over and over again. This is why this method is painful to watch people go through. It’s like being forced to watch an intense horror movie over and over again in a cinema.
I’ve used PTSD as an extreme example because it illustrates the point clearly. Social anxiety may not be as intense as PTSD but because people are replaying a life’s worth of unsuccessful interactions with people over and over again it’s easy to understand why people have so much fear about being social.
This is why people using this method to deal with their fear are constantly struggling with motivational issues and create elaborate excuses about not doing the task.2. Reframe the experience from anxiety to excitement
There’s a lot of truth to this method, the only difference between a sensation and an emotion is that an emotion is a sensation with a thought attached to it, either good or bad. We make a decision and judge whether it’s good or bad, and this is influenced off our past experiences.
In the movie Big Daddy, Adam Sandler has to baby sit his friend’s kid. There’s a scene where the kid is on a school excursion and he goes to the bathroom and he wets his pants. The kid is hiding in the bathroom worried about what will happen when he walks outside dreading the torment that will come from his peers. To help the boy, Adam’s character walks into the bathroom, splashes water on his pants and walks outside with him. They boy is empowered because he isn’t the only person any more.
If we wet ourselves in public, it could be seen as embarrassing, or it could be seen as comedic moment that has brought a smile to a crowd of people.
The emotions fear and excitement are indistinguishable, the only difference between anxiety and excitement is the way we look at it. It’s the same as pessimism vs optimism.
This is a useful way of looking at the physical energy and the experiences in life and it’s a great way to add positive resources into negative events. When people experience an intense rush of physical energy in their body, they still need a way of burning it off. This will be the next article I’ll be writing about.3. Mindfulness
Mindfulness is a type of meditation that has been around for about 3000 years and extends from key Buddhist principles. Mindfulness has been covered in the media quite a bit, Olympians have used it to stay motivated, Steve Job was an active practitioner of mindfulness, Fortune 500 companies in the US have been developing their ownMindfulness programs because of the productivity increase.
Mindful meditation has been described as the ‘sit and observe’ meditation, it involves paying attention to the sensations that are happening around you in a given moment, rather than being on autopilot. When people experience fear, they do an internal search in their body and check what the emotion is and they check each part of their body for the tension and the stiffness and that is what they pay attention to.
There is an interesting phenomenon known as The Law of Attention. Whatever we focus our attention on will grow, and we tend to find things that we look for.
If you’re riding a bike and you see a rock in front of you, you end up hitting it because that’s what your attention has zoned in on, and you forget about all the space around the rock where you can redirect the bike to.
The same thing happens when people have fear, they forget about all the comfort in other areas of their body (like their feet), if you were to focus on that comfort as a guide and realise that the anxiety will end soon.
For people who are not used to pushing through fear or anxiety, they get caught up “oh no, I have it again” and they let it paralyse them. When people are doing a task, they do a quick internal check inside their body and basically ask them self “what emotion do I have” and when they notice the fear, they freak out and that causes more fear. With mindfulness, you can notice the fear, and pay attention to a different sensation inside the body, or just observe the fear in your body.
Mindfulness is also the most scientifically researched type of meditation. This is of interest to us because it has been shown to decrease the size of the amygdala, the part of the brain that switches on fear. As the amygdala shrinks, the GABA fibers that link to the pre frontal cortex become thicker and give you increased control of awareness and concentration and this is what teaches a you to be more focused on the present moment, rather than caught up in thoughts about the past or worries about the future
This is where we start seeing real change, if you do mindfulness for 20 minutes a day, you will see dramatic improvements in your life, you will be happier, you will be able to think clearer and you will be more creative. Mindfulness is extremely useful for dealing with situations where you have fear.4. Hypnosis
Most people are sceptical about hypnosis – that’s not the case, here is the scientific proof that hypnosis works and actually changes the brain.
There are two ways to go about achieving results with hypnosis, self hypnosis or seeing a hypnotherapist. Both will get you the same results, the only difference is that self hypnosis will take longer because you have to learn hypnosis, and you have to learn therapy or understand how to work with emotional issues like failure, guilt and anger and fear.
Hypnosis is basically mindfulness on steroids and you will achieve results much faster than any other method. Hypnosis combines the attentional manoeuvres of mindfulness and the therapeutic aspects allow you to remove the pain and doubts from your past experiences.
This means your perception of events changes from pain to pleasure, as motivation is automatically built into the process. People receive an emotional pay off from being social, studies have shown that people who socialise regularly are happier, studies have also shown that people who buy experiences are happier than people who buy things. The motivational pay off occurs by completing the task. If you go to a party, the reward is the fun times and stories you create, if it’s walking up to a stranger on the street, you might end up having a date with them.
Hypnosis will allow you to cheat and create reference experiences where you don’t have any yet. There is a process called Deep Trance Identification, which is a specific mental rehearsal of a task or event that primes your mind for success as it allows you to create certainty in situations that are unexpected or dealing with ‘the worst situation possible’.
Using Deep Trance Identification you can build the muscle memory that’s required to perform each task. When people talk about high performance states, they normally describe the process as ‘happening automatically’ or ‘happening without thinking’ – this is basically describing the process of trance, which is exactly what you do with hypnosis. When you enter a trance, your behaviour switches to automatic mode and you complete the task. A common example is when you’re out for dinner with friends, you’re able to create an engaging conversation between the two of you and you’re able to eat and manipulate cutlery without getting food all over yourself, and you don’t need to think about things you’re doing, it all just seems to flow naturally and easily.
I’ve written a guide to Getting Rid Of Social Anxiety