Compassion deflects social anxiety

Getting mindful can help manage your social anxiety.

The holidays are right around the corner and neighbors, co-workers and school parties are happening which mean social networking is required. For people who do not feel comfortable with socializing, have an issue with closeness or have social anxiety, this time of year is more difficult than joyful. In the book “Buddha’s Brain” by Rick Hanson, Ph.D. with Richard Mendius, MD, the authors provide some methods that can help you feel safer while connecting more deeply with people.

Focus on your internal experience

When you feel overwhelmed or flooded by information and feelings when in close proximity. To deal with this feeling, focus more on your own experience than on the other person by tracking your breath in and out, or wiggling your toes and paying attention to the sensations. Notice how you keep going on being, just fine, even though you are emotionally close.

Pay attention to awareness itself

Simply just notice that you are aware and explore what that is like.

Use imagery

An example of using imagery when people are getting too intense is to imagine yourself as a deeply rooted tree, with other person’s attitudes and emotions blowing through your leaves and shaking them. Winds always come to an end, and your tree remains standing and strong. The authors also state that in addition to the benefits that come from particular images themselves, activating the right hemisphere of the brain encourages a sense that is larger than any part, including that part of your experience that might feel uncomfortable with closeness.

Using these methods can help overcome some of the anxieties in the moment but using compassion practices in meditation can help too. Make compassion phrases the object of attention while meditating. In summary, being more mindful of compassionate experiences is the key. However and whenever you experience compassion, be mindful of the experience and really take it in. By remembering what it’s like, you’ll be more likely to recall the feeling and in return be compassionate to another.

Five kinds of people the authors’ suggest showing compassion to:
  1. Someone you are grateful for (a “benefactor”)
  2. A loved one or friend
  3. A neutral person
  4. Someone who is difficult for you
  5. Yourself

Before you leave for a party or social function, think of these methods or just remember the five types of people to practice on and perhaps socializing will become a game of compassion rather than a dreadful requirement. Michigan State University Extension provides social-emotional health programming. 

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