Nearly 15 million American adults have Social Anxiety. If you’re one of them, you know what a challenge it can be. It’s hard to enjoy life when you feel nervous, anxious, or panicked in social situations.
If you’ve suffered from Social Anxiety for some time, you’ve probably tried lots of different things. You may have had therapy, taken medication, or used alcohol or illicit drugs. You might have tried yoga or some kind of meditation. Maybe you’ve even come across the word, mindfulness.
What is Mindfulness and how can it help Social Anxiety?
Many people think that mindfulness is just another kind of meditation. Simply put, it’s not. While mindfulness is a type of meditation, it goes beyond that. According to Jon Kabat-Zin, the American mindfulness teacher:
You can learn to be mindful by practicing specific styles of meditation, but you can also become more mindful just by cultivating curiosity in your daily life. It’s this kind of mindfulness that can really help you feel better.
The trouble with most styles of meditation is that they promote internal awareness. This is true of many mindfulness practices too. While that can be great for some things, it’s not the best solution for someone with Social Anxiety. People with Social Anxiety struggle with negative thoughts and beliefs that contribute to their fears, and cultivating internal focus can actually increase the volume of those thoughts, making them more distressing. Learning to become fully present and engaged in the outside world, on the other hand, can really help. Larry Cohen calls this kind of mindfulness practice, curiosity training. Essentially, you learn to turn your attention from your inner dialogue to the world going on around you.
Here’s how to practice. The next time you are in a social situation:
- Take a deep breath;
- Tune in to what’s going on around you;
- When you slip back into inner dialogue, take a deep breath, and refocus outwardly.
This simple form of brain training takes commitment and repetition. It gets easier with time and practice. If you practice regularly, you’ll find your negative thoughts sliding to the background becoming less sharp and immediate. This kind of mindfulness can take the edge off of your Social Anxiety and help you enjoy your life in the present moment.