Most people nowadays would describe me as extroverted and sociable and I would agree.
What they don’t know is that I have not always been this extroverted and sociable. I used to be really reserved and quiet.
In fact, I have been struggling with anxiety my whole life even to this day.
For example, I was (and still sometimes am) afraid of small talk.
They made me so anxious that I would even go as far as taking the stairs at work to avoid chatting in the lift. Or use the toilet on another floor because I saw a colleague of mine entering the one on my floor.
Fortunately, over time, with effort, my anxiety has gotten so much better.
I’ve noticed the improvements since I started filling my days with a variety of things that have helped me loosen up and fight off negative thoughts.
From small to big changes, they have all made such a huge impact on my life for the better.
1. Block out anxiety-inducing thoughts
This is one of the biggest changes I’ve made and one that has the biggest effect on reducing my anxiety.
Before this, there used to be this nagging voice at the back of my mind constantly reminding me of literally everything that could go wrong and making me anxious all day.
Sometimes it is good to have such intuition to alert me of potential danger.
But when it gets too much, it consumes my mind with anxiety over trivial things that I have absolutely no control over, like why someone takes a long time to reply to my email, whether I say something wrong or not. It’s not like worrying about it could change anything.
What I do is that I completely ignore anything that’s only in my head with no fact indicating there’s a real problem. Especially when it comes to social interactions, I stop unnecessarily reading between the lines and attributing negative personal reasons to people’s actions that likely have nothing to do with me personally.
E.g. Immediately think someone takes a long time to reply is because I say something wrong while they might just be busy.
I tell myself I’ve done my part and there’s nothing I can do about it. Then unless a real problem or conflict emerges, I shift my focus on enjoyable things and allow myself to not worry anymore.
2. Work out
Exercising is the best decision I have ever made to my lifestyle.
I had never been a fitness person so I set an easy target for myself: committing two to three days a week. It was hard at first but the more frequently I go, the easier it gets. Although it has only been 2 months, the result is superb.
It does not only makes me stronger and fitter but it also helps my mind stay clear of anxiety-inducing thoughts and gives me plenty of energy to do anything I want to do.
When I spend about an hour running and exercising in the early morning, that day I’m definitely more motivated and focused.
Notably, knowing that I’m able to take care of myself and commit to it if I make an effort gives me a sense of control and boosts my self-esteem.
Since I feel better about myself and my body, I’m less anxious and more confident in social situations.
3. Write a journal
Three months ago I started a journal where I jotted down in bullet points all of my thoughts and feelings — especially those that are not socially appropriate or not my usual self.
I don’t care about writing style or any writing rule. I just let my mind run free on the page as truthfully as possible. It is amazingly liberating and relaxing.
Every time I read through that journal, I thought this must have been the best thing that ever happened to me since it has done wonder to my well-being and self-awareness.
It helps me release, reflect and let go of things that I find hard to even share with my most trusted circle of friends and family. Importantly, it offers a lot of valuable insights into my inner self and what triggers my anxiety, hence prevention and improvement.
4. Take people at face value
I used to get very paranoid about how I came across to others and how they might judge me even when they just smiled at me earlier. I would over-analyse every tiny detail of my social interactions and find something to dwell on and worry about.
It was exhausting. Instead, now I take people at face value and stop it at that. I spare no thought over done matters.
5. Dare myself to do one thing out of my comfort zone every now and then
Making eye contact with a stranger, asking questions at the end of a lecture, calling instead of texting, etc. is how I have been challenging my anxiety and become more prepared in social situations.
Not to mention it’s always thrilling to be out of my comfort zone. Whenever I accomplish an item in the list, I feel very proud and full of life.
6. Give myself prep talk
Every day I try to fill my mind with all the positive, encouraging, uplifting thoughts such as I’m brave, I’m smart, I’m worthy of interest, I will do well, my life is going to change for the better, while smiling as frequently as possible. This gets me ready and charges me with positive energy.
I’m also very mindful of my own body language since I know it has a big impact on how I feel and come across to other people.
For example, having the right posture like sitting up straight and pulling the shoulder back increases my confidence and makes me look confident. When I feel and act confident, there’s no room for anxiety anymore.
7. Keep track of things that make me feel at ease
Every time I do something that energises and relaxes me, I make a note of it. By now I’ve had a pretty long list of happy memories to go through whenever I’m stressed or anxious.
By doing this, I focus more on the positive aspect of my life than the negative ones. It makes me feel at ease and grateful for all the good things that have happened to me.
8. Believe like it’s written in stone that I’m interesting and people want to meet me
You must be familiar with the saying “Act as if.” If not, you really should because I have tested this and yes, it works. It’s incredibly powerful.
No matter what happens, I tell myself to act like I’m a confident, sociable person who is good enough and worthy of interest, and believe that it’s indeed always true and never changes. It’s the default thinking even if the sky is falling down.
Acting confident makes me feel confident and it naturally sends out a positive vibe that draws people to me. Since people are more welcoming to me, it’s even easier to relax and guard off worries in social situations.
Gradually, it’s no longer just a matter of “feeling and acting” — it becomes who I’m. Even when something goes wrong, I’m able to stop automatically thinking it’s my fault and scrutinising myself, which is usually how anxiety gets to me. Instead, I calmly assess the situation and stay positive.
Applying these techniques, I’m determined to not let anxiety interfere with me enjoying my life to the fullest and I’m pleased it’s getting better each day. I hope this can inspire and help you make a positive change to your life too.