Social Anxiety – Break the Cycle with these 3 Simple Tips
Why is it so hard to simply say hi to someone we don’t know?? Believe it or not, approaching a stranger goes against our instincts, specifically, the preservation instinct. In this context it is pretty much the fancy psychology version of stranger danger. It’s main purpose is to prevent us from being killed by taking a ‘safety first’ approach to potentially dangerous situations. Unfortunately this includes meeting new people. So how does it work and can we overcome it?
It turns out the anxiety we feel is because we have a inbuilt Negativity Bias and a twitchy Fight or Flight mechanism….and yes, we can overcome both of them.
The Negativity Bias
One of the ways we are programmed to be ‘safety first’ is by reading body language. However, we view all body language through a negative filter, which makes us think that most people are dangerous. For example, if a person has their arms folded we automatically assume that it’s because they are closed-off or upset, rather than simply cold. We also have a bias to store negative memories more vividly, making them easier to find. This will be relevant in a moment.
Fight, Flight or Freeze
When we sense imminent danger (such as a cute girl in a small dress) our brains automatically flood our bodies with stress hormones (Adrenaline and Cortisol). These chemicals redirect blood flow, increase our heart rate, increase our blood pressure and quicken our breathing. These all help prepare us for an imaginary battle.
However, they also switch off certain parts of our brain to allow greater resources to be used in other parts of our brain. Essentially, they turn off our creativity mode and ramp up our survival mode. When this happens we become very good at making simple split second decisions, such as whether to run, punch or freeze. This is great if a tiger has just walked around the corner but not so good in social situations.
You put those 2 things together and this is what it feels like:
Approach Anxiety Cascade
1. You’re standing at the bar, you see a cute girl (or boy), they smiles at you and you consider starting up a conversation
2. Your brain automatically checks for signs of danger and, because of your negativity bias, it always finds something (they just checked their phone – he/she must have a boyfriend/girlfriend)
3. Your fight or flight response engages and your body floods with stress hormones (your heart rate rises, your palms get sweaty, your throat dries out)
4. Your brain searches for memories to prepare you for the most likely outcome. You almost always find a negative memory first, since your brain has them stored more vividly and makes them easier to find.
5. If no memory is found, your brain creates a hypothetical ‘worst case scenario’ to help you prepare for battle. This is often even worse than any horrible memory you have, and is even less likely to actually happen.
6. You try to prepare by scripting what you’re going to say. You don’t come up with anything because your brain has already switched from creative mode to survival mode. This stresses you even more and ramps up your fight or flight response. More hormones, more stress, less creativity.
7. You decide it is best not to say anything and regret it immediately. Finally, you store this new negative memory to be used in step 4 in the future (ie remember the time you wimped out and regretted it).
If you read the above steps and they sounded familiar it’s because this process happens to almost everyone at some point.
Some people experience a larger response than others, but in any case, the first few steps happen to pretty much everyone.
However, it doesn’t have to go down like that.
People who don’t suffer from approach anxiety have often unknowingly developed coping mechanisms to overcome the cascade of hormones before they even begin.
One of the best ways to begin this process is by learning how to Master the Art of Small Talk.
The rest of these coping mechanisms are covered in our eBook The 3 Simple Skills of Charisma. For a limited time, to help spread the HSL love, we are giving you the eBook for FREE!!! All you have to do is tell us where to send it (below).