We’ve all been there. That feeling of being under the microscope. Of people judging us; our looks, our ways of life, our decisions.
Sometimes we even put ourselves in this position by asking other people for advice or their opinion. We take notice especially if it’s people we’re close to. Their opinions matter to us.
And it’s good to care. From an evolutionary point of view, individuals that fit in with and are included in a group have a better chance of survival. To fit in, one must be aware, on a basic level, of how other people perceive you, whether they see you as one of them.
But what if that awareness takes over your life? What if others’ perception of you becomes all you worry about?
Soxial anxiety and phobias are often rooted in this fear of being judged and found wanting by others. It often doesn’t even matter by whom. It can be friends, colleagues, or the check-out girl at the grocery store around the corner. Venturing “outside” becomes akin to running the gauntlet around anybody you meet in the street.
You shy away from conversing with strangers, or even acquaintances. You take the long way to your destination just to avoid the busy market place. You don’t take on a project at work because you would have to hold a presentation. You stay at home instead of going out with your friends.
Needless to say, such actions – or inactions – can be damaging in many aspects of life: career, social interaction, personal goals. But the more you withdraw from the world, the more difficult it becomes to leave your safe haven and return to it.
I was there, once. Maybe not as far as some, but possibly a little further than others. I suffer from a form of social phobia called erythrophobia, the fear of blushing. A sort of pre-embarrassment to being embarrassed.
I would blush at the mere thought of blushing, of being asked a question, of not being able to answer it, of having to speak to a group, be they strangers or people I knew. The fear of being confronted with a situation in which I would involuntarily blush accompanied me even when I picked up the phone to call someone. And for me, it all hinged on worrying far too much that others were watching, judging and criticizing me.
My theory was that if I worried less about being under other people’s scrutiny, I’d worry less about going red, and subsequently would go red less. A great theory – but how to stop worrying about other people’s opinions? Sadly, there is no switch in the brain we can flip.
But I discovered there are other things we can do. Things that help us shift our focus off our perceived faults and on to our strengths. Things that can alter your perspective on the importance of people’s opinions, of what others think of us.
1. Follow your passion
What is your passion? Painting? Reading? Animals? Quilting? Biking? Hiking? Cars? If you love something, it’s maybe already a hobby of yours. Or maybe you’re too afraid to start? To really get into it, dig deep and develop your talents, because you’d have to go outside and meet people to follow this passion?
Well, here’s where I’m going to tell you to do just that. It’s easier to forget your worries when you’re working with, for or towards something you love. Something that inherently interests you. You’ll dig deeper automatically, because you’re more curious about this. You’ll become good at whatever it is, and being good at something boosts confidence. Which brings me to my next point…
2. Expand your passion
If you suffer from social anxiety, chances are you’ve chosen a solitary, “safe” passion or hobby, like reading, writing, quilting, or painting. Something you can do indoors, at home, by yourself. In your safe space. And, thanks to the internet, you can remain there, even while you expand your passion. If you love to read, write online reviews. Create a Pinterest page for your quilts or art. This helps you dig deeper into your interests, become more knowledgeable – and to connect with other people. Because you should also…
3. Find your tribe
You know what’s the best thing about following your passion? Discussing it with like-minded people. I promise, it’s a lot of fun. It gives you new ideas, creative energy abounds, and if you trust yourself to get involved, to get excited about your hobby along with everybody else, you WILL forget all about what your tribe-mates may criticize you for. Because they’re not going to! They’ll admire you just for loving the same thing they do.
If you don’t believe me, think about what your first thought would be when you meet somebody who is a fan of sock puppets, just like you? Is it ‘I don’t like this lady’s shoes, she must be weird’, or is it more along the lines of ‘cool, she loves sock puppets, too, I like her already’? I’ll bet it’s the latter. And if you’re thinking it, chances are, the other person is thinking it, too. Because…
4. Others aren’t judging you as much as you think.
Very few people actually go around life looking for things to criticize about others. In fact, most people are way too concentrated on their own life, thoughts and problems, to even notice your self-perceived shortcomings. Everybody’s dealing with their own problems and insecurities.
5. Confidence-Boosting Exercises
The more confident you are, the less you worry about what other people think of you. Aside from following your passion and finding your tribe, you can also raise your confidence by following these 10 Daily Exercises that Boost Self-Confidence.
Worrying less about other people’s opinions is difficult when you’ve started down that spiral, but it’s not impossible. Refocus your energies on your passions, find like-minded people, and work on your self-confidence. It’ll probably be a step-by-step achievement and take some time. Just always remember – slow but steady wins the race!
What tips do you have for worrying less about what others think of you? Tell us about them in the comments.