“How can I improve a habit of thinking that feels like social anxiety?”

Submitted Request..

This post is an answer to a submitted question. It aims to provide help and solutions to overcome the issue.

Podcast version: HERE

When you start to see the power of thought and its relationship to your way of observing life, you will better understand yourself and the world in which you live. -Sydney Banks

In addition: Your thoughts are creating the experience of life, don’t like your current experience? Shift your thoughts, you can choose the thoughts you feed.

Submitted Question:

"How can I improve a habit of thinking that feels like social anxiety?

I often notice my thoughts are overrun by the potential perception of others, both in the moment and after the fact. For example, it's uncomfortable for me to speak up in a group or in a zoom meeting where there are many people present. I'm concerned with how people are perceiving what I'm saying or how I'm saying it, or even how I look. And then I'll think about what I said or how it could've been better even hours afterward. I'll hope that I came across likable.. and respected.

Also I find this anxious thinking habit especially limiting when I'm at the gym. Every moment I'm there I'm wondering who might be looking at me and what they're thinking. I really don't logically consciously care that much what any person might be thinking and it could all be very positive for all I know. I just want to stop giving thought to any perceptions and just focus on myself feeling good and what I want and showing up as my full self that I can be comfortable in any given situation.

I'm not sure if this is people pleasing and wanting everyone to like me and how that pertains to safety or what it stems from. I am not one to judge others and I don't often receive a lot of judgment, nor am I sensitive to feedback. It's just hyper-perceiving.

I want to regain and redirect those thoughts to ones that serve me better so I can feel more present and connected with myself, then able to enjoy social situations more.

My Response if we were in a coaching setting. Although without being able to ask questions I may assume or use scenarios to fill in the gaps.

Anxiety is very confusing, frustrating, and can shrink a person's world down in a short amount of time, and create a sense of disconnection. That's no way to live. I am sorry you're experiencing this.

What can we control, as an individual?

The only things we can control is our thoughts, feelings and actions. 

We can’t exactly control our thoughts, completely we can learn, command and choose our thoughts creating new neuropathways and habits of thought.  Why I bring up what we can control is there’s this need, this thought or belief in your submission that you’re wanting to control how others perceive you, if they approve of you, if they like you, if they respect you and come off a certain way.  We have zero control over any of that and believing that we do creates a tremendous burden or overthinking, analyzing and prevents one from really being fully present.  You see in your submission you’re thinking isn’t in the now, it’s about the past, the future, back and forth back and forth. I am curious if people you’re in person with, on zoom, on phone calls, do they feel like you’re genuine, fully there, listening and giving them the sense of feeling heard, important and that you understand what’s being said? Often individuals that are deeply worried about what others think of them are paradoxically getting more of what they don’t want.  When consumed by a lot of thinking in the moment you’re actually not fully listening.  We humans can’t deeply listen and think at the same time. I know some of you reading or listening to this will disagree and that’s ok, you’re not listening. Haha Rather you’re not open, curious and willing to experience life differently just yet, and that’s ok too. 

Our brain is looking for threats two times in every second.

So when we expose ourselves to new environments it’s a lot for our brain and nervous system. That’s why traveling is so exhausting, even though you’re likely sitting a lot it’s a lot of data for your brain to take in. It’s constantly wondering “is this safe? Is there danger?”  So if you’re newer to the gym it’s more about inoculation, going frequently to reassure your brain and nervous system it’s ok, it’s safe. The more you go the faster you’ll calm your mind and body. I have had clients that go twice a day to speed up the process. The other key is to define and articulate how you want to feel before going into the gym. Learning to do this and operate from that energy, taking action from powerful positive statements you think and say prior and during will reassure your brain and nervous system you are ok, it’s safe.  

Is the energy used on worrying about what others think, is it empowering or disempowering?

Our mental, emotional and physical energy isn’t an unlimited resource.

Consider what you’re doing in each day, are there things you’re doing that is consuming this vital resource? Could you use this energy for things that empower you to achieving more? This is certainly logic, and analyzing and logic doesn’t often set people up for success or on fire. However it’s a point that could point you in the right direction.

We humans also like to have allies, it’s wired in us, nothing new really. We like to have people around us that we feel comfortable with, so in the gym situation it’s about giving people there that happen to gaze your way a head nod, a kind smile, or a simple “hey good work out today” as you pass by them. Again feeding your brain and nervous system that you are in a safe place, and there are people around you that are allies as well. This has double benefits, likely that gaze towards you that person is also consumed by worries of what you think of their outfit or their form, by bringing energy to the gym of compassion and empathy you will get that reciprocated. 

The way you’d described this problem as “anxious thinking habit” is accurate, it’s simply a habit and like all habits they can be unlearned and new habits can be learned. This does take time, patience, practice, repetition and consistency. The more we do things the more familiar they become this is a big deal because the brain will pull us towards what feels familiar and good. It will conversely push us away from the things that feel scary, dangerous, the might hurt or harm us and don’t feel good. So if your thoughts, language or your relationship to the gym is that it’s scary, intimidating, everyone’s judging you, you feel uncomfortable, uneasy, worried, anxious etc, well in a short amount of time you’ll stop going.

It's important to recognize that our anxious thoughts are often NOT based on reality. We silly humans tend to imagine negative scenarios, create meaning where there is none, take things personally where it never was personal, and assume that others are constantly judging us. However, the truth is that most people are too busy focusing on themselves to pay much attention to others. Remember that what others think of you is their own perception and may not reflect reality.

I have worked with individuals that were on the fast track up the corporate ladder and found themselves in a position where they had to lead meetings and do presentations in front of a lot of people, and didn’t consider that along the way and had a deep fear of public speaking. What’s the solution, all the same that I have suggested here, find ways to expose yourself, lean in, choose thoughts that reassure your brain and nervous system it’s what you want, it’s important to you for what ever intrinsic reasons, it’s safe, it’s ok and do it until your body and brain see it as familiar and good in some way. So some have joined Toastmasters or Improv classes to get more exposure. Certainly fear of public speaking is I think everyone’s fear at some point, the way to over come it is practice, leaning in and over coming the fear. 

If we avoid things what this does is feed our brain that we were successful in avoiding the threat. This creates a good feeling and with just a couple of times it sees it as familiar. So the typical new gym person will go a few times and get defeated by the thoughts that consume them, similar to those you put in your submission. Their brain and saboteurs or in other words the voices in their head have control over their feelings and actions. When we avoid place, people, things or situations due to stress, anxiety, worry or any negative emotion it creates a habit a way of being and you’re brain is there to work for you, to keep you safe and it sees this as success.

Your brain isn’t designed to make you look hot, cute, toned help you hit your goals, or what ever your gym goals is, it’s designed to keep you alive.

So each time you feel a negative emotion and react in a way that the result is you survived it saves that pattern and applies it elsewhere. So my bet sometime in your life, very likely it’s happened many times, your brain has seen some benefits and safety in looking around your surroundings and seeing where there’s threats and by leaving, avoiding, stopping or wherever the scenario is, you found safety.  So the inner talk, chatter in your mind is there to serve you because it has in your past. Being you’re super aware of your thoughts and feelings you’re in a great place to unlearn that habit and create a new one. 

I will also point out that the relationship we have to ourself and life is what we project outward.

If you’re super critical of how people perceive you, there’s a likelihood that you’re incredibly hard on yourself, and have very high expectations and standards. This is an area to also uplevel. 

People that have high confidence, prioritize their self love, have compassion, give themselves grace and patient project these qualities outward to others. 

The Relationship you have with yourself sets the tone for every relationship we have.

Turn up the knob of awareness and become more present and aware of our thoughts, without judgment. What this means is when a negative thought and negative feeling follows, notice it, think.. “Oh there you are, I see you, and thank you for that signal, I am going to choose how I want to feel” This takes the sting and power away from that thought, quickly choose how you want to feel and take some sort of action.  Humans don’t learn by MORE information, the learn by taking action, reflecting on the results, adjusting and then taking action. Think about it, everything that you do on autopilot is from taking repeated action. Reading, studying, memorizing isn’t doing. 

We aren't in relationships with people, places, things or situations we are in relationship to our thinking. You can’t control external things, you can however train your thoughts to empower you to be who you want to be. Check out my mental fitness class it’s offered only a couple times a year and it’s 7 weeks that will completely change your life and your thought habits. It’s free for clients that purchased a coaching package after May 1st 2023.

I hope this helps. I wish you all the best. Please share this with anyone you believe would benefit from the insights. Post a comment, I read and reply to them all. Thank you in advance!

If you want to send a question, please send to hello@katherine-hood.com please include: 

  • A coachable question (something that addresses what's in your control, your thoughts, feelings or actions.)
  • And context, explain a situation in the past, currently going through, or worries/concerns of the future, giving me some details on your thoughts and feelings about it. 

To learn more about mental fitness go HERE

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