As you already know, social anxiety is much more than mere shyness. It gets in the way of interacting with people and enjoying their company. Fears about being negatively judged in social situations hold you back from opportunities in your personal and professional life.
The anxieties that you experience are unconscious and can be quite difficult to cope with. One of the keys to coping with your social anxiety is to isolate your thoughts around social events and being with other people. Since thoughts move very quickly, this can be a very challenging task. For this reason, journaling is an effective means of tracking your thoughts over time and examining them closely.
Journaling to Relieve Stress
The act of writing down your thoughts gives you a similar benefit to discussing something that is bothering you with a good friend:
Sharing it breaks the “fight or flight” cycle in your brain and allows you to start looking at the situation from a more rational standpoint.
One type of social anxiety is based on something that “might” happen when you are with a group of people. It works on the part of your mind that starts anticipating and preparing for events that may never happen, but for which you feel that you need to be ready “just in case.” The longer the anxiety goes on unchallenged, the worse it gets and the more likely you are to start avoiding situations where you are likely to be around other people.
Transfer Ideas to Paper
Writing your anxieties down in a journal allows you to transfer them to the paper and look at them at a later time. Say, for example, you are worried that if you say, “Hello” to someone at work they won’t know who you are. Your journal can help you explore that idea and challenge it.
Was there ever a time when you greeted someone and they knew who you were? Do the people in the group that you work closely with know your name and use it? Is it likely that they would use it when greeting you if you did the same for them?
What would be the worst thing that could happen if you tried saying, “Hello” to someone at work and the other person just said, “Hello” back without using your name? Would that be all right? What if you didn’t get a response at all? Could it possibly be for a reason that had nothing to do with you?
List the Good Points in Your Day
When you are using your journal as a tool to deal with social anxiety, don’t forget to write down good things you did during the course of your day. Try to find at least one good thing that you can “report” to your journal each day.
It can be challenging at first, so don’t fall into the trap of saying “I didn’t ...”. Telling yourself, “I didn’t mess up [X] is not going to do anything to raise your self-esteem. You can tell yourself that you handled a situation with a client on the phone well or that chose a new recipe and the meal was excellent. When you are not feeling as confident, remind yourself that you are giving whatever situation you are in your best effort (today) and that is all anyone can ask from you.
Use the Journal as a Reminder of your Progress.
It will take time to look at and challenge the thoughts that are part of your social anxiety. At times, you may think that you have conquered a particular thought, but then you may experience a situation that brings an issue to the forefront.
This is not meant to be a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you are human and that you aren’t finished dealing with a certain issue. Keep in mind that no one feels fully confident all the time and look through your journal entries to remind yourself of all the progress you have made over time.
Being anxious in social situations is perfectly normal. You can develop tools to deal with it and still function effectively. It becomes an issue when you are paralyzed by your anxiety to the extent that you aren’t able to function properly in social situations. Your goal in journaling is to reduce your anxiety so that you are able to function – not eliminate it entirely