Fear not your Christmas calendar!
As the festive season kicks off, it can be the time of year that leaves you cowering behind the sofa wishing it was over! As the invites start rolling in for Christmas do’s, are you trying to think of the most authentic excuses to get you out of going to them? Does the thought of a social situation leave you sick to your stomach? Is it your idea of utter hell? Simply put this is Social Anxiety.
If this all sounds too familiar, the good news is its possible to overcome, in fact its possible to learn how to stop creating it in the first place. I speak confidently about overcoming it because I was able to, using some simple and easy techniques from The Thrive Programme.
Social Anxiety/social phobia/social anxiety disorder is quite simply a fear of being judged by others, (Kelly, 2015). This can present in numerous different ways from fear of being rejected by others to shy bladder, and anything in-between where you feel under the imaginary spotlight. No matter what you are doing, you are constantly creating worry about what others will think of you, whether they’ll be judging you, whether they think you’re useless…it goes on! Notice I said you are creating the worry? That’s because it doesn’t really exist apart from inside of your head. Think about it! Someone invites you to a party, and you immediately start thinking up reasons why you don’t want to go. Thoughts will probably be something like “I’ve got nothing to wear!” “What if I make a fool of myself?” Before you know it these thoughts have grown arms and legs and you’ve started imaging several fictional scenarios! The trouble is, at the moment the fictional scenarios and the anxiety you have created are enough to stop you going to the party. This can leave you feeling powerless.
The thing with social anxiety is its purely and simply a projection of what you think of you, its nothing to do with anybody else really! You’re judging yourself very harshly and you think everyone’s opinion of you will reflect your negative view. Let’s look at an example of this. Think of a part of your body you are happiest with? Mine are my eyes. I know they are my best feature! So even if someone criticises my eyes, I know they’re attractive, so the criticism would just go over my head because it doesn’t reflect my view. You would do the same with the body part you like. On the other-hand think of a body part you don’t particularly like about yourself, mine are my thighs. If someone criticises my thighs, (before doing Thrive) I would have started creating anxiety about it because it’s a projection of what I think myself. Again, it would be the same for you with whichever body part you don’t like. This is just a direct result of low self-esteem. If you don’t have much self-belief, you’ll put little weight in your own opinions and more in the opinions of others. This is people pleasing. When you think little of yourself, your priority is based on pleasing others, reinforcing the message that others views are more important than your own, reducing your self-esteem further. So the lower our self-esteem, the higher our social anxiety, (Kelly, 2015).
Even where genuine social judgements do exist, its nowhere near as in-depth as what we think it is. Do you wander around paying this much attention to everybody’s behaviour? Or are you simply too caught up in your own life, thinking of what you need to do today? Most people are the same. Yes, as humans we notice other people but its nowhere near in as much detail as what we think of ourselves. You have approximately 60-70,000 thoughts per day, very few of them will be in relation to judgments of other people, you just don’t pay that much attention! But in all honesty where folks are judging your behaviour, learn to tolerate it and bounce-back as quickly as you can from it. The tips below will start you on the right track.
Tips to start overcoming social anxiety:
- Start listening to your inner-voice and how you speak to yourself. People with social anxiety, judge themselves very harshly internally. Start changing this around by getting your inner voice to speak to you with kindness and compassion. I tell my clients the rule needs to be “if I wouldn’t speak to my family and friends that way, I don’t speak to myself that way either.”
- Focus on remaining calm when you’re at a social gathering, rather than creating anxiety about how you are coming across. If you focus on remaining calm, you’ll come across to others as calm! Tell yourself “I can remain calm and in control.” “I have the skills to deal with this.”
- Social anxiety is purely and simply an unhelpful thinking style passed on from a carer. I’m not talking about via genes-all behaviour is learned, you’ve learned social anxiety, (Cooper and Eke, 1999). So the good news is we can ‘unlearn’ it by building up new habits of thinking. If you’re thinking and processing events through ‘socially phobic eyes,’ you’ll be in the habit of thinking in a powerless way. Start challenging yourself by recognising the anxiety and judgements are coming from you, no one else! You are creating these feelings, so you can change this.
- Start building up your self-esteem. The more you believe in yourself, the less weight you give to other peoples’ views and opinions. See my previous blog Your self-esteem is only ever two weeks old, for tips on this.
- Start taking back your power by accepting every invite as soon as you receive it. With any type of anxiety, the more we avoid it the bigger it becomes. So rather than anticipating how bad its going to be, imagine it going well. What will that look like? You will probably feel uncomfortable at first, but the more you tackle it, the easier it will become and the more powerful you’ll feel. This is what I did, it does take some practice but it can be done.
Or better still if you like the sound of this, why not come and do The Thrive Programme. I guarantee it’ll change your life for the better. Its based on positive psychology so there’s lots of fun exercises to arm you with a whole bunch of tools for a thriving life. You learn how to build strong psychological foundations so you can weather whatever life throws at you. When you feel powerful, in control and have ultimate self-belief, others views and judgements are no longer important or relevant. In-fact you just don’t create social anxiety, there’s no reason to, you believe in yourself, that you have the skills to deal with whatever life hits you with. And that’s a very powerful place to be!
Kelly, R. (2015) Thrive. Rob Kelly Publishing. Cambridge.
Cooper, P.J. and Eke, M. (1999) Childhood shyness and maternal social phobia: a community study. British Journal of Psychiatry. 174. 439-443.
Bipolar and me!
I’m tired today! I’m tired of chasing the tail of this bipolar monster. I never seem to be able to take it by the scruff of the neck and start controlling it! It always controls me! Its always ten steps ahead, telling me how my moods are going to be! I’m worn out by it. I feel so alone!
These were a few lines my client had written in her diary during a low period. She’s keen for you to hear her story as part of Bipolar Awareness day. Because of the stigma in society and her job, she wishes to remain anonymous. For the purposes of this we’ll call her Louise. The story is incredibly personal and I take my hat off to her bravery in sharing it.
“I was first diagnosed with Bipolar in my mid-20s. It was a shock to be honest. I knew I had a problem with mood swings and impaired judgement at times, but I never expected the label of severe mental illness. I’d crossed the fence you see! I’d gone from being the mental health nurse, being the strong one, supporting people with compassion, to needing these very things myself! All of a sudden I felt so vulnerable. Scared folks would see me as weak, unable to stand the pace of life and flaking out by the way-side. Initially I ignored the whole thing and ploughed on with my plan to save the psychiatric population one person at a time. But when I look back, deep down I must have known something wasn’t quite right because I started taking the medication the doctor had prescribed. The meds were like taking a shower; the water was so powerful over my face and body, I was drowning. As I tried to hold my own under the hydro-torrent, I watched my personality roll down the plug-hole. I became a diluted version of myself. I ballooned in weight to double my size. As the weight went up, my self confidence went down. Work was the only thing that kept me going, but because of the drowsiness of the pills, getting up on a morning was such a chore. Even when I was up, I was fighting to remain awake. I stopped seeing my friends. I no longer felt like the life and soul of the party, I wanted to hide from life and spent the majority of my spare time asleep! I wasn’t thinking then you see! I wasn’t picking at the bones of the carcass that had become my life. My home became my prison cell.
At my worst, I spent days in bed. I couldn’t even be bothered to use a tampon when my period came, soiling the bed and lying in a pool of my own blood! My Mother had to drag me from the bed and deposit me into the bath, whilst I just stared into space thinking of 100 different ways to kill myself and which method appealed most that day. The crisis team visited me at my parents. I was now staying there as my Mother didn’t trust me to be alone. She’d found a pile of medication I’d started collecting! The crisis team were some of my colleagues and I felt awkward and self-conscious that they were seeing me this way. When I tried to object, they couldn’t see what the problem was. Clearly my dignity was not the top of their list! They took one look at me and said I needed to be in hospital, however my Mother said there was no way and I’d be staying with her and getting better surrounded with love. I will always be so grateful to my Mother for taking that decision. When I wasn’t thinking about my suicide method, I was thinking about who would be at my funeral, the coffin I wanted and the music I wanted to be played. The ironic thing was, looking back, I wanted folks to be in bright colours after topping myself, that’s how off the scale my thinking had become. The only thing keeping me alive was how utterly devastated my family would be.
As I started to make the climb back to a more level mood, I knew what was coming; hypomania, and I rubbed my hands together relishing the thought. If you ask any person with Bipolar they’ll tell you they absolutely love being high, there’s no feeling like it and so you do what you can to aid this. I started to get excited at feeling less shit about everything. I was leaving the quagmire that was depression for sunnier climates! I’d gone from wearing a black cloak to a Hawaiian party shirt. As my mood tipped over, I needed less and less sleep. I rarely slept at all, regularly going without any sleep, which fed the mania beast! I was a party girl! I had making up to do! I drank as much alcohol as I could get down my neck, usually until I passed out where I stood. When I got bored of that I switched to drugs, mainly coke and E’s. Anything that made me feel alive, I’d become numb now you see. But mainly so I could feel good about myself, banishing the social anxiety I was plagued with. I ran up about £25k worth of debt, buying loads of random shite I’d never used or needed. Sex became my new best-friend. I couldn’t feed the sexual hunger enough, that was now my constant companion. But no sexual partner managed to satisfy me for more than a minute, so I’d move on to someone else! Looking back, I ended up in some really risky situations, how I never came to harm I’ll never know. Most people I called friends at the time just thought I was a wild-child and a good laugh. They never twigged I was hypomanic they didn’t know to look for it! Even when I was talking double the speed and jumping from one idea to another, folks just thought I was excitable. I remember watching Eastenders with my pal and one of the characters was behaving just the way I’ve described. She said it was a stupid storyline and she didn’t get what it was about! I felt so alone, as I sat there trying to mask my tears! If only she knew my private hell!
Once my saturation point for this pattern was reached, I started to work at stabilising myself. I managed to with the support of my GP and psychiatrist. However, I was left with no self-esteem and huge levels of social anxiety. This is the list of interventions I tried: CBT, CAT, counselling, hypnotherapy, Chinese medicine, acupuncture, reflexology, past-life regression, homeopathy, anxiety management. I’m pretty sure I missed some out, but I’m sure you’re getting the drift!
That’s when I came across The Thrive Programme. On first glance I was sceptical to be honest. How to change your life in 6-8 weeks! Really? But I’d tried everything so what did I have to lose? What I loved about the programme, was its simplicity. The guy who wrote the book, Rob Kelly, sounded down to earth, he even swore, I could hear his voice in my head, sure and certain in what he was talking about. I’d heard of the term Locus of control, but I didn’t realise how fundamentally important to me that term would become. Its about how in control you believe you are in the place of your life. I felt powerless. It was time to start taking back control! By working on shifting some of my limiting beliefs, I did feel different, the results were immediate. I couldn’t believe it! So I started to put my effort into the book. I loved the research articles he mentioned. I loved learning and reading about mega psychological discoveries, their power and how they affected my life, was just awesome! I loved learning how to build up and maintain my own self-esteem! Gone were the days of waiting for crumbs from the compliment table of others, I could make myself feel good! I’d never managed to do that in my life, my perfectionist thinking always won that battle! But I was now winning the war. As I felt better about myself, I cared less about what others thought of me…God how liberating! And the key thing was that by becoming more internally powerful, I became more solid in myself. I was now able to see how a lot of my symptoms were created. But unlike other interventions where I had to wait for them to appear, and then intervene with whatever I’d been taught, I could now act that one step before by building my Locus of control and self-esteem. How empowering! I’m now in control of my life! I control my Bipolar, it no longer controls me! Just saying that statement makes me feel so proud. I cannot recommend this programme enough. I must admit, having a thrive consultant did help me further, as I had to push myself and was challenged more. Michelle specialises in Bipolar and I’ve met a few of the people she’s helped, I’m not a one-off! Give this programme a go, you’ve nothing to lose and it can’t make your symptoms worse. Don’t get me wrong, its not the magic wand you’re possibly thinking it sounds like. It does take lots of effort and I still have days where I feel rubbish at times, but they are rare and the beauty is now I know how to get out of them when I want to.
I wanted to make people aware of my story; I can now hold my head up, acknowledging my wounds from the battlefield, but knowing they’re healing! However mostly in aid of Bipolar awareness day, I wanted to explain to friends and loved ones of folks with Bipolar how it is and what can be done! Or more importantly, if you recognise yourself in this story, know you are not alone. I hope I’ve at least inspired you to buy the book.” https://www.amazon.co.uk/Thrive-overcome-depression-illness-self-esteem/dp/B0096997LE/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1475506180&sr=1-1&keywords=thrive+rob+kelly
Thanks Louise for sharing and being so honest and open. And well done on your journey! Please get in touch should you wish to know more about The Thrive Programme. https://www.thrivewithmichelle.co.uk/the-thrive-programme/ Read a bit more about it on Michelle’s website https://www.thrivewithmichelle.co.uk/bipolar-affective-disorder/
Your Self-Esteem is only ever two weeks old!
Self-esteem is quite simply what you feel about you. Its your perception of you, of how worthy and likeable you are, (Kelly, 2015).
So ask yourself “How do you feel about yourself at the moment?” Rate your answer on a scale of 0-10. 0 being the lowest you could be, 10 being the best you could be. When you thought of this I’d put money on the fact that you didn’t think about the past in any way, shape or form, and that’s why your self-esteem is not about the past! Your self-esteem fluctuates right? Sometimes you feel good about yourself and sometimes you feel less so. Well if our self-esteem was about the past, the past events would always be there, so our self-esteem levels would never change!
So we’ve established self-esteem is quite simply what you feel about yourself, what you think of yourself now. This is known as a belief system, in this case about ourselves. A belief system is just a set of personal viewpoints, which provide us with fundamental principles and rules we store and organise all experiences by. This is to help us make sense of the world. Remember beliefs are not facts, they’re just what we believe, just a bunch of thoughts, and thoughts are very easy to change. Seligman, (1998), said that “habits of thinking need not be forever. One of the most significant findings in psychology in the last 20 years is that individuals can choose the way they think.”
We all process events and reality through spectacles, depending on how we feel at the time and what the experience is, dictates the colour of the lenses. If you’re feeling good the lenses will be rosy, however if you’re feeling rubbish the lenses will be s**t tinted. This processing adds more weight to our already established belief system. You are far more likely to look for evidence that confirms your belief system, this is what’s known as confirmation bias. At the moment if you have low self-esteem you’re walking round with s**t tinted spectacles on, collecting evidence to strengthen the belief and probably disregarding a lot of positive evidence about yourself.
So if self-esteem isn’t about the past, what’s it based on? Its our current thoughts and feelings, the ones in our conscious (that we are aware of) minds. The conscious mind isn’t huge it reaches maximum capacity at two weeks! To be honest personally, I struggle to recall events/experiences after a week, so my self-esteem is only really a week old. Think of it this way, if you swapped your knife and folk over in the hands you eat with (which is the habit of a lifetime), how long do you think it would take? The answer is just a few weeks. That’s’ right, if you constantly practiced changing the habit of a lifetime it would only take a few weeks. Therefore, if we can change the habit of a lifetime in a few weeks, we can change our thinking. Normalisation happens very quickly.
So with that in mind, how do we change our thoughts about our self-esteem I hear you ask! It’s a multiple pronged attack as there are several tasks we can do, here’s a few to get you on the right track. Remember if its only ever two weeks old, changes should only take that long to take shape.
- Start to process experiences differently. Try removing your spectacles, take a step back and gain perspective. Lose the confirmation bias and ask yourself, “Am I looking at this from a balanced perspective? What’s positive about this experience/event? Or what can I learn from this experience?”
- Start paying attention to thoughts you have about yourself. Ask yourself “the thought I’m having right now is it helpful to me?” If it isn’t try changing it to a more helpful one or bin it off.
- Start listening to your inner-voice and how you speak to yourself. People with low self-esteem are very judgmental and critical about themselves, so they have a tendency to bully themselves. The rule needs to be if you wouldn’t speak to your family and friends in that manor, don’t talk to yourself that way either.
- Start developing a new belief system that you 100% accept yourself warts and all. That means knocking perfectionist thinking on the head, because every time we think in a perfectionist way we hammer our self-esteem, undoing any good work we have done to increase it. Once you start to develop this new belief, build up evidence to confirm it. “Without self-acceptance, self-esteem is impossible.” (Branden, 1994)
- Live in the moment. Instead of living inside of your head so much, start looking at your surroundings-what’s happening around you.
Bear in mind that its not people who validate you, its how you validate yourself. Your self-esteem is no-one else’s business but yours. Once you start processing you in a less harsh more positive light, you will start to feel better about yourself. And the good news is you’re not relying on anybody else to do this, you can do it yourself.
If you like these tips why not book a free consultation over skype? The Thrive Programme based on the latest research, is packed with actions and exercises to get you living your life to the full. Self-esteem and belief systems are just two of several areas the programme covers in-depth. Thrive isn’t about going over the past, its about learning a whole bunch of skills to make practical changes. As well as learning these skills, it also teaches you what’s behind your unhelpful thinking and what makes you tick. This is a very empowering place to be.
Kelly, R. (2015) Thrive. Rob Kelly Publishing. Cambridge.
Seligman, M. (1998) Learned Optimism. How to change your mind and your life. Pocket Books. New York.
Branden, N. (1994) Six pillars of self-esteem. Bantam Books. New York.
Be a ‘good enough Optimalist!’
At one time I wouldn’t have been able to write this blog. I would have procrastinated about it for a few days…okay weeks. I’d have been concerned about making a mistake and what people thought of it-putting more weight in their opinions than my own. Does this sound like something you would do? Put things off and stop yourself setting goals for fear of not getting them correct?
Many people have this kind of thinking. For those of you who don’t know, its called ‘perfectionism.’ It’s pretty common for people to describe themselves as perfectionists, thinking it’s a compliment. It’s no compliment! It is actually someone who is running away from feeling like ‘shit’ about themselves, (Kelly, 2015). They are hyper-critical of everybody and everything, but mainly themselves. Perfectionists are unable to accept reality, trying to fit life into their perfect ‘cookie-cutter’ version of what they think it should be. The perfectionist hates feeling sad emotions because it doesn’t fit with their view that they should be positive and upbeat all the time. Beating themselves up is common, for failing to feel happy and upbeat all of the time!
They tend to set incredibly, often too high, standards for themselves…thinking that if they achieve them they’ll get away from feeling like ‘shit.’ Most of the time these standards just aren’t achievable, putting them right back in the very place they want to get away from. Even when they do reach the standards, they then mitigate the achievement down to nothing, move the goal posts, or just continue straight-on to the next goal! There’s no time to take five minutes and acknowledge the achievement. With all of this going on its not surprising that they’re hammering their self-esteem. Every time we think in a perfectionist style, we are destroying any positive self-esteem we have, by giving ourselves the message we are not good enough.
Okay that’s the picture painted, although a pretty bleak one! Fear not! Perfectionism is just an unhelpful style of thinking and can be easily changed with a bit of effort. Notice I said this is how I would have been at one time? I was a complete perfectionist. It impacted every aspect of my life and I made quite a lot of misery for myself a lot of the time! With the help of The Thrive Programme I worked to change this unhelpful style of thinking to Optimalism - someone happy with life being ‘good enough,’ (Tal Ben-Shahar, 2009). Unhelpful thinking styles are just habits. Habits are just thoughts and thoughts are really easy to change. Developing new habits takes about two weeks.
Here’s a wee bit of science for you! Heard of neural pathways? When our brain thinks a thought, synapse A sends a flash to synapse B. The more we think this thought, the stronger the flash becomes, developing solid patterns. However, should we change this thought to a more helpful one, ie: “Its not perfect” to “Its good enough,” we start to build a new habit and a new neural pathway, leaving the old one to fade away. This change takes about two weeks to achieve. To help cement this habit there are some actions you can start to apply.
Top tips for overcoming perfectionism:
- Start to pay attention to your inner voice, in particular how you speak to yourself about decisions you have to make. Take a step back and gain perspective. Ask yourself when making the decision, is perfectionism rearing its ugly head?
- Rather than focussing on the end result when working towards goals, focus more on enjoying the whole journey. Accept that failure can be beneficial to our learning.
- Accept success. When you achieve something, don’t mitigate it down to nothing, or say its due to luck, fate or chance! Acknowledge its your efforts and take time to smell the roses and enjoy the success.
- Recognise the pressure to be perfect is coming from you and no-one else! So the good thing here is you can change this.
- Accept negative emotions are part of real life and don’t give yourself a hard time for feeling them sometimes.
If you like these tips why not book a free consultation? The Thrive Programme is packed with actions and exercises to get you living your life to the full. Self esteem and thinking styles are just two of several areas the programme covers. Thrive isn’t about going over the past, its about learning a whole bunch of skills to actually make practical changes. As well as learning these skills, it also teaches you what’s behind your unhelpful thinking and what makes you tick. This is a very empowering place to be.
And remember, “Have no fear of perfection, you’ll never reach it!” (Dali, 1939).
Kelly, R (2015) Thrive. Rob Kelly Publishing. Cambridge.
Ben-Shahar, T (2009) The Pursuit of Perfect. McGraw-Hill Publishing Company. Berkshire.
Dali, S (1939) Google.
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