I am by no means an expert on this but after officially starting counseling in 2018 and really committing to overcoming certain fears, I’ve come to terms with the fact that we will always be working on something. For some people, that may include anxiety! In some areas of our lives, we may feel little to none and in others, it can be overwhelming – then those areas may switch as we grow and evolve as people. I know they have for me. One of the exercises I’ve been working on has been “exposing” myself more and more to things that scare me so that way I don’t fall victim to avoidance and staying in my comfort zone all the time. Below are things that I’ve done that have REALLY helped – but you have to actually do them to see the benefits!
Eye Contact + Smile
Such a small thing to do but so powerful. I am not the person who usually says “hello” immediately to people when they walk in the room but it is something I want to grow more used to. At Orientation last week, I found myself trying it out and it was so empowering. Next time you’re feeling brave, try this: the next few people who walk into the room, look up when they do, gain eye contact, smile, and say, “hello.” That’s it. You don’t have to start a conversation with them (if it leads to that, go with it!) just a simple, “hi!” Again, it feels small but if you struggle immensely in the social area this could be exactly what you need to start showing yourself that you are social and good at it!
Body Language: Train to Relax
As I type this, I just reminded myself to relax my jaw and shoulders. It’s a constant fight but our body language sends more messages to people than our actual words do half the time. The more I relax myself (which is good anyways for someone who is very often in fight-or-flight) the more I send out signals saying I’m relaxed to those near me. Have you ever been near someone who is super angry or upset? Even if you aren’t talking with them, isn’t their energy (depending on the person) sometimes palpable? That applies to you too. For the rest of the day, take notice of where you feel tense. Try not crossing your arms and turning your body towards the people you are talking with or focusing on. They may not say anything but people notice when you are invested in their presence or trying to run away.
Plan Your Questions
I had an informational interview with a District Attorney about a month ago and the lead up to that interview was the most panicked I’ve been in awhile. It took me about fifteen minutes into the discussion to actually calm down – I really did think I would have to ask to excuse myself BUT I employed the relaxation technique above, grounded myself, and really focused on what the attorney was talking about to get out of my head. I also knew what I wanted to talk about and that helped me, once again, focus on the present reality and not the anxious scenario swirling around in my mind. If you’re meeting someone new or going to a new place, consider who you might be interacting with and plan some questions you can utilize throughout the event (and consider what you might say if someone asked you those questions too). I would also say to try out situations where you are exposed to silence (going to a restaurant by yourself, being in a big group and having organic moments of silence etc.) and just sitting with them. Yes, they’re awkward but the more you get through those you’ll realize they really are not that bad and the less anxious you’ll be as you experience them in the future.
Plan Your Movements
A few weeks ago, a friend of mine got married in Charleston, SC. I wasn’t a part of the bridal party but all my friends, who I was staying with, were. So, when the rehearsal dinner came around I was left to my own devices. Instead of staying in, I forced myself to go ahead and get ready as if I was going out with them then as they headed off to rehearsal, I had them drop me off at a rooftop bar. All. Alone. It was horrifying but it helped to Google beforehand pictures of the restaurant, I asked my friends what it was like in terms of setup, and I even envisioned how I would walk in and where I would go. Yes, it sounds silly but again: the only way to make these situations less awkward or fear-filled is to do them more often. So, plan ahead if that brings you comfort and then maybe one day, challenge yourself to just go on a moment’s notice without planning ahead. You may even WANT to do it!
Know Thyself (Why Are You There, Comfort With Silence)
As I was sitting at that rooftop bar, I am not exaggerating when I say my hand was shaking as I lifted the glass of wine to my lips but I made sure to make eye contact with the bartender, smile, relax myself, and just be. Sometimes I would watch the TV over the bar (even though I have no interest in sports) or look at my phone. I made myself take breaks from looking at my phone so I could be open to conversation even though they didn’t happen. About an hour into sitting there, I started looking around for jazz performances as I had been wanting to attend one lately. Lo and behold, there was a Frank Sinatra song performance going on about 12-minutes away from where I was. I bought a ticket, finished my drink, then went to the next place (still alone).
“Who am I? ” I thought to myself.
That was the first time I had ever done something so spontaneous and by myself. That was also one of the best nights I’ve had in years. It was fun because I did things I enjoyed or had always wanted to try. I also felt pride in challenging myself and succeeding at what I said I was going to do. A part of these exercises is knowing why you’re doing them, why doing them is a good thing, and that it’s okay to take up space.
BONUS: take some time to research from reputable resources what anxiety it is, how it works, why you have certain symptoms (talk to your doctor and/or counselor as well) to get a better physiological understanding of why we react to stress the way we each personally do. I started paying attention to things that affect my hormones and stress (sleep cycles, caffeine intake etc.) to consider foods and activities in my life that could help mitigate or improve my anxiety. Everyone is different so please consult with a trusted provider and your own intuition.