8 Reasons Social Anxiety Changes the Way You Think About Everything

Social anxiety changes the way you think about a lot of things.
Don't let social anxiety hold you back from pursuing your dreams. Thomas Barwick / Getty Images

Social anxiety disorder (SAD) has a way of coloring every aspect of your existence. This tendency to fill in your life with shades of gray, can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you perceive yourself, others and the world in a negative light—eventually what you perceive to be true becomes your reality. 

It doesn't have to be that way, though. Below are eight ways that social anxiety changes the way you think about everything, and then some ways you can get back control and stop letting your anxiety take the reins.

1. How You Think About Yourself

Research has shown that SAD is associated with high self-criticism and lower self-esteem. People with SAD have a tendency to view themselves in a negative light. This type of thinking probably permeates every aspect of your life. 

You probably have thoughts like,

"I look stupid"

"I am making a fool of myself"

"Everyone is looking at me"

"I can't control my anxiety"

And on, and on. 

These types of negative thoughts influence how you feel about yourself and ultimately, the choices that you make for yourself.

2. How You Think About Others

When you view others in a fearful light, how does this color your perceptions of them? Rather than viewing new people that you meet as potential friends, you probably respond to them with fear and detachment.

As the lyrics to the Doors song go (more songs about social anxiety),

"People are strange, when you're a stranger

Faces look ugly, when you're alone

Women seem wicken, when you're unwanted

Streets are uneven, when you're down."

It can be hard if you have SAD to see the world as non-anxious people do. How do they see it?

  • They see strangers as potential new friends.
  • They see friends as confidants, companionship, and comfort.
  • And they see people in general as welcoming, non-judgmental, and just-darn friendly.

    Unfortunately, how you view others can influence how they treat you. If you are fearful of strangers, they will turn away. If you remain guarded with friends, they may eventually distance themselves. And if you view every person you meet as judgmental, disinterested, and unfriendly—your body language will reflect how you feel. Soon, the people you encounter become what you thought them to be, but only to you.

    3. How You See the World

    Stop for a moment. How do you view the world?

    Do you see it as filled with opportunity or a place to be avoided?

    Those with SAD have a tendency to narrow their worlds. This narrowing might occur in the context of your home (you might leave home less often), your friends (choosing to have little or no friends), your work (choosing work that allows you to avoid social or performance situations), etc.

    You narrow your world because that feels safer to you. But what is the cost of this narrowing? Again, it is a loss of opportunity. One day you might wake up with few days left, and wonder why you didn't take more chances.

     

    A chalkboard was set up in New York City for passers-by to write down their biggest regret in life. The common theme that emerged was of the things that were not done, not said, not tried.

    What's Your Biggest Regret?

    You still have time, and you can still try.

    4. How You View the Future

    Social anxiety disorder is associated with a risk for depression. Those who have both SAD and depression may feel clouded about their future.

    Depression makes you feel as though things will never change and never improve. This means that if you have both social anxiety disorder and depression, you might feel like things will never get better for you. You probably assume that social anxiety is your "lot in life," and that there is nothing you can do about it.

    This narrowing of your future will leave you feeling bleak and without hope. 

    5. How You View the Past

    In a study of negative autobiographical memories in 107 participants with SAD compared to those with panic disorder and healthy controls, it was found that memories related to social anxiety were viewed as central to one's identity among those with SAD. This suggests that past negative social events have played a role in the development of your social anxiety.

    Think for a moment. Do you remember defining moments from your past that formed the line between yourself with and without extreme social anxiety?

    For example, performer Barbra Streisand had a moment on stage where she forgot the lyrics to the song she was singing. She didn't sing onstage for decades afterward, as that one incident had colored her vision of herself. In essence, a past event defined her social anxiety.

    People with SAD tend to dwell on past mistakes—so not only will a major bad past experience haunt you, but every minor mistake you make will also eat away at your self-esteem and confidence.

    But, it doesn't have to be that way. You don't have to live your life today based on what has happened in the past.

    6. How You View the Present

    When you are caught in a panic attack, it can be hard to think of anything else. Imagine you are sitting in class waiting for your turn to give a presentation.

    Are your able to smile and chat with your classmates?

    Do you feel relaxed and open to others?

    Is your mind clear and sharp?

    Chances are that none of these are true. You see, social anxiety uses up your cognitive (thinking) resources. Every panic attack that you have is zapping you of your mental strength. Wouldn't you rather have that mental energy to devote to other areas of your life?

    You don't have to live with panic attacks in social and performance situations no matter how devastating they might feel.

    7. How You View Spirituality

    Beyond simple religion, spirituality refers to your ability to think beyond your immediate world in a transcendent way.

    What is this meaning of your life?

    Why are we all here? 

    What is your life's greater purpose?

    Do you believe in forces outside of the world that you can see?

    If you are constantly bombarded with social anxiety, it will be difficult to move away from dealing with basic survival needs toward more existential thoughts. While not everyone will desire to search for a greater purpose to life, most would like to at least have the option to do so.

    8. How You View Opportunity

    What has been the common theme surrounding how social anxiety changes the way that you think? 

    It seems to be lost opportunities.

    When you suffer with SAD, you view opportunity as fraught with potential disaster. Or, you might not even see opportunities at all when you look out into the world.

    Your goal should be to seek out opportunity, to recognize the opportunities that are all around you, and to feel grateful that you have the opportunities that you do.

    Steps to Stop Social Anxiety From Coloring Your Thoughts

    Now that you know how social anxiety is influencing your thoughts, what can be done about it? 

    Below are some ideas to help you take back control of your perceptions and ways of relating to yourself, others, and the world around you.

    • Take a social skills training program to boost your confidence and self-esteem.
    • Imagine strangers as potential friends. Visualize yourself having that person as a friend in your life many years later.
    • Write down all your biggest regrets. Now cross those out or erase them and write the words "Clean Slate." Then get out and do something about your regrets.
    • If you are also suffering with depression, seek help. Depression is a treatable illness; you don't have to feel the way that you do.
    • Identify major past events that may have triggered your social anxiety. Schedule time with a therapist to work through how those events have affected you and how you can move past them.
    • If panic attacks are making daily life miserable, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss medication options. You could even receive a referral for cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).
    • Don't wait for your social anxiety to be under control to follow spiritual pursuits. Practices like meditation and yoga are good both for your search for meaning and your social anxiety.
    • Identify one opportunity in your life that you have avoided, or look for a new opportunity that could prove to have significant benefits for you if only you had the courage to try. Then go out and take advantage of it

    Sources:

    Douglas S. Comorbid Major Depression and Social Phobia. Primary Care Companion Journal of Clinical Psychiatry: Psychotherapy Casebook. 2001; 3(4): 179-180.

    Iancu I, Bodner E, Ben-Zion IZ. Self esteem, dependency, self-efficacy and self-criticism in social anxiety disorder. Compr Psychiatry. 2015;58:165-171. doi:10.1016/j.comppsych.2014.11.018.

    O’Toole MS, Watson LA, Rosenberg NK, Berntsen D. Negative autobiographical memories in social anxiety disorder: A comparison with panic disorder and healthy controls. J Behav Ther Exp Psychiatry. 2016;50:223-230. doi:10.1016/j.jbtep.2015.09.008.

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