Social anxiety can make you feel like you're living in an episode of Gossip Girl, where every action is scrutinized with a critical eye. Though experts still are not entirely sure of the cause, it's thought to have something to do with a hyper vigilant fear system in the brain. You could think of that part of the brain - the amygdale - as a neutral watchdog; it perks up when we come across something unfamiliar. In people with social anxiety though, it acts more like an overzealous Doberman, sensing danger even in safe situations.
People with social anxiety disorder create elaborate excuses to get out of the situations that make them nervous. Problem is, the more you steer clear of something, the more frightening it becomes. The trick is to step outside your comfort zone again and again. The more you confront your fears, the easier they are to handle. Your game plan for navigating interactions:
Play mind games. Research shows that people with social anxiety tend to pay more attention to threatening information, such as a hostile glance from a coworker, than to positive information, like a friend's smile. To retrain your brain to home in on positive info, go someplace crowded that feels safe and pick out friendly faces. Practice until it becomes second nature.
Try a new tactic. Don't sit back and wait for others to make the first move. You can learn to approach anyone while walking down the street or shopping. It's learning how to go over to someone without hesitating. Do it twice a day and soon you'll have no problem.
Work the room. Don't show up fashionably late to a party. Walking into a crowded room can be overwhelming and it's harder to strike up conversations when people are already engaged. Know what's going on in the world and prepare a few topics of conversation in advance.