Mindfulness and Social Anxiety

If you struggle with social anxiety, you likely know how easy it is to get stuck in your own head. Instead of focusing on the person in front of you, you might agonize about what to say next or worry about blushing. Overthinking and overanalysing social interactions can make it tough to make meaningful connections with others. Fortunately, there are ways to cope with social anxiety and maintain fulfilling relationships – one of the things that can help is mindfulness.

What is mindfulness?
Essentially, mindfulness is a practice that brings you fully into the present moment. You are not getting caught up in your thoughts or judging your experiences. You can simply be. In the context of social anxiety and anxiety in general, mindfulness allows you to engage fully with the world around you, while limiting any judgments about the unknown.

What are the benefits of mindfulness?
There is plenty of research on the benefits of mindfulness, and it is known to help cultivate a general sense of well-being. Some benefits in relation to social anxiety include:
● An increase in self-compassion. Mindfulness can help create space between you and your unhelpful thoughts, which makes it easier to treat yourself with compassion instead of judging yourself for your perceived flaws and mistakes.
● More feelings of calm. It is easier to work on your social anxiety, when your brain and body aren’t in panic mode.
● Lower stress and anxiety levels. Over time, you can train how your brain responds to the daily stresses of life and help you be more curious and optimistic towards life and, by extension, other people.

How do you practice mindfulness when on your own?
You can practice mindfulness at any time. On your own and even in difficult social anxiety situations. Its probably best to practice on your first as its definitely harder to do in real life social situations.

There are several different ways to practice when you first begin. The essence is that is that you pay full and complete attention to what you are doing and how it feels. If you’re eating – pay attention to the taste and texture of your food. If you’re going for a walk – pay attention to the wind on your face, the smells around you, give your entire focus to the good things happening around you.
You can also establish a more formal practice through yoga or meditation. There are many available resources on YouTube and several apps that can support you in a yoga or meditation practice. Try to find one that works for you!
Really, there is no one way to do it. Consistency is the name of the game. Start out with a 5-minute practice every day and build from there. You could even link it with a daily activity you already do – if you have a cup of tea in the morning, try drinking it mindfully.
For more ideas, check out: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/drugs-and-treatments/mindfulness/mindfulness-exercises-tips/

How do you practice mindfulness when in a social situation?
You can also practice mindfulness in social situations where you might feel anxious. Part of getting better is to maintain an outward focus – not on your own anxiety feelings. Strive to be an active listener. Stay open and totally present in the conversation without judging the other person or yourself. This is easier said than done, but through time and practice it will come a lot more naturally.
For more on mindful listening, check out: https://www.mindful.org/tuning-in/

If you maintain a regular mindfulness practice, you will likely see the effects seep into your social life. You might find it easier to navigate social situations because you can feel more grounded when meeting new people.

It’s important to note that mindfulness is not a cure-all. It can be difficult to fully focus on the moment when you are experiencing anxious feelings. However as you practice engaging more positively in conversations, building rapport, and contributing when you can, then mindfulnesss can be a valuable tool in your mental health toolbox. A dedicated mindfulness practice is not necessarily for everyone, but most people can benefit from being more present in their day-to-day lives.

Further resources:
Video from Private Therapy Clinic about Mindfulness and SA

Article written with the kind help of volunteer Maya.