How to Practice New Social Skills When You Have Anxiety
One of my therapists used to tell me, often, that life is about participation, a "contact sport," as she liked to put it. She said that people who know how to live skillfully had usually learned good social and emotional skills from their parents, including how to fit in and participate with other people.
My parents must have skipped that particular chapter in their copy of Parenting 101. Most of the constructive skills I've learned, I learned as an adult. The good news is, even anxious people can learn new ways of participating in the world. It only takes two things: the belief that things can change, and the willingness to practice.
Practicing Social Skills With Anxiety Doesn't Need to be Overwhelming
- Set aside practice time -- You may have to carve some time out of your schedule to try new things. Do so. It's important. You are important. Think of it as a loving act of self-care.
- Try a new activity, as long as it's participatory -- It doesn't really matter what you choose. It could be skiing, dinner parties, working out, taking music lessons, etc. The only condition is, whatever new thing you try, it has to involve other people, even if that just means that other people are around. What about doing something you've always wanted to try, but never did?
- Start small in order to build up a tolerance -- Learning new skills is uncomfortable. Sometimes, it can be very uncomfortable. Mitigate the discomfort by limiting your exposure at first. For example, if you're going to the gym, go for only 15 minutes. Do this for one week, then increase it to 30 minutes.
- Reveal yourself to others a little at a time -- Many anxious people, including myself, tend towards black and white thinking. Either we open ourselves up to new people way too fast, or we're suspicious of others' motives and refuse to open up at all. Instead, try sharing small things about yourself, bit by bit. A friend of mine calls this "chunking."
- It will feel awkward, and that's normal -- By definition, practicing new social skills will feel strange because it's unfamiliar. That's normal. It will feel less awkward as it becomes more familiar.
If you're willing to change, you can. If you're an anxious person who wants to learn new social skills, you can. It will take persistence and at least some belief that the outcome will be positive, but it's totally doable. Take the time to practice this important act of self-love. It's so worth it, and so are you.
Weber, G. (2014, August 20). How to Practice New Social Skills When You Have Anxiety, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, April 3 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/treatinganxiety/2014/08/how-to-practice-new-social-skills-with-anxiety