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Mindfulness Tips for Easing Social Anxiety

If the thought of making conversation during a party, work event, or online video chat gives you butterflies in your stomach, you might want to explore mindfulness.

What is mindfulness? It’s the practice of paying attention, noticing, and being present — no matter what you’re doing.

Developing mindfulness can help you observe your thoughts and feelings so you can better understand how you react to situations, especially social ones that may make you feel anxious. It can also help you maintain a good mindset for reaching out and connecting with others.

There are mindful meditation practices, but you don’t need to meditate to be mindful! Read on to learn how to weave mindfulness into your day and prepare yourself for meaningful socializing.

Learn to Observe and Label Your Thoughts

Humans, by our very nature, struggle to stay in the present moment. According to a Harvard study, people spend 47% of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they are doing.

Sometimes called the wandering mind or the “monkey mind” — like a monkey jumping from branch to branch — our brains are always thinking, thinking, thinking.

I need to make dinner. My back hurts. I wonder what Liz really meant when she said that.

Practicing mindfulness doesn’t stop these thoughts from occurring. Instead, it helps you begin to notice them and, over time, let them go. If you’ve ever felt  like your brain was a pinball machine, with thoughts constantly pinging around inside it, you’ll want to keep reading.

The practice consists of two steps. First, you observe or notice your thoughts. Second, you label them, categorizing them under a type of thought all humans have. (More on those in a moment.)

Observing and labeling helps you take a step back from what your mind is doing so you can focus on being present in your surroundings.

For example, if your thoughts turn to a conversation from the past, you might struggle with turning the situation over in your head.

I wonder what Liz really meant when she said that. Did she like what I was wearing or was she making a joke? Should I have said something else? Does Liz like me? I’ll never make any friends.

But if you can observe what your mind is thinking and label the type of thoughts you’re having, then you may be able to detach from them. Labels can include “judgment,” “planning,” “fear,” or “remembering.”

Notice what happens when you label the first thought you had about Liz as “fear.”

I wonder what Liz really meant when she said that. That thought is fear. I want to make a good impression on Liz because I am hoping to become her friend.

The act of labeling your thoughts can be powerful. In the instance above, it can help you see why you may be feeling nervous or worried.

Person reading a book

Some mindfulness teachers recommend observing your thoughts as if they’re happening to a character in a book or TV show. This helps you keep from judging yourself and develop empathy for whatever you may be feeling.

As you try this new way of being with your thoughts, try to remain curious and nonjudgmental with whatever arises. Have compassion for yourself as you would for a friend.

3 Mindfulness Practices to Try

Getting into the habit of observing and labeling your thoughts is easier when you build in opportunities to do so throughout your day. We’ve rounded up three simple mindfulness practices you can consider adding to your routine.

  • Five Senses Practice

    When you brush your teeth, wash the dishes, or eat a meal, tune into all five senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste.

    Name what you notice for each sense as you complete the task: The toothpaste tastes minty on my tongue, the sound of the water is soothing, etc.

  • Three Gratitudes Practice

    Wherever you are — at home or at a social event —  observe your surroundings and name three things you are grateful for. I am grateful for this delicious cornbread, the warm weather we’ve been having, and my neighbor’s friendly cat who visits me.

    There’s also growing evidence that practicing gratitude supports better relationships.

  • Three-Minute Breathing Exercise

    First minute: Check in with yourself. Answer the question, “How am I doing right now?”

    Second minute: Observe how your breath feels in your lungs.

    Last minute: Focus on how your breath feels in the rest of your body. Have compassion for whatever thoughts arise.

You can practice these exercises anytime. You may also find them useful for helping you to relax and stay in the present moment during social situations.

Simply put, mindfulness is about the power of the pause. Slowing down so you can connect more closely with the world around you can bring a sense of ease to your life, whether you’re chatting on the phone or getting to know someone in person.

Last but not least, mindfulness is called a practice because it takes practice. You can practice mindfulness anywhere you happen to be. Why not give it a try?

How to Be An Active Listener

Looking for more ways to strengthen your social skills? Discover how using active listening can help make conversations lead to connections.

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