How to Not Be Self Conscious
Do you ever feel self-conscious? As though you are in the spotlight or that everyone is watching you?
I know this can feel very real when you live with social anxiety. But the truth is that people aren’t noticing you anywhere near as much as you think.
I know you’ve been struggling with feeling self-conscious. So, I’ve put together eight ways to help you stop thinking that those coworkers at work are secretly laughing at you. Or that people on the street are judging you as you walk by.
But first, let’s consider what it means to be self-conscious or what the definition is of self-consciousness.
Self Conscious Definition
Merriam-Webster defines the term self-conscious in a few different ways. The definitions vary from “aware of oneself as an individual” to “uncomfortably conscious of oneself as an object of the observation of others.”
When we talk about how to be less self-conscious with respect to social anxiety, it is that second definition that is of interest.
It’s that feeling of being acutely aware of your arm movements while you walk because there is someone walking towards you.
Or it’s that feeling of being unable to make a phone call when other people are around. Because you are thinking about how they are perceiving you.
In many ways, being self-conscious is at the root of social anxiety. If you weren’t so focused on how you are being perceived by others, you’d be free to be yourself. Or so Ellen Hendriksen writes in her book How to Be Yourself.
What Makes Someone Overly Self Conscious?
Are you curious why you feel so self-conscious in a large group, but other people seem not to be fazed at all?
Most people will tell you that they are just as self-conscious as you. But the fact is that research shows people with social anxiety do have a higher level of self consciousness.
There are multiple theories to explain why this happens. First, being self conscious has some evolutionary benefit. Blushing, which can be thought of as an outward sign of being self conscious, is linked to what is known as an “appeasement display.” This serves to decrease aggression. So, some people might just be wired to be more self conscious.
In a related theory, the neurocircuitry in people with social anxiety may predispose them to feeling self conscious. This means that your brain pathways naturally make it easier for you to feel self conscious. However, these pathways can be altered through medication or therapy.
Finally, neurochemicals such as dopamine and serotonin may play a role in why you feel self conscious. This is why medication such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors can be helpful.
(Watch the video below from clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson for more thoughts on what it means to be self conscious).
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How to Stop Being Self Conscious
Practice Compassion for Others
It’s truly the case that each person you meet is dealing with something you know nothing about.
Today when you go out in the world, please try to practice being more compassionate and having more empathy for the people you cross paths with.
We all tend to be guilty of being judgmental from time-to-time. But the more judgmental you are of others, the more judgmental you are also going to be of yourself.
It’s a fact that people with social anxiety are less self-compassionate, so you need to practice that much harder to show compassion all around.
Start to Not Care
Martha Beck argues that anytime you find yourself becoming self-conscious and wondering what other people think about some aspect of you—it’s time to take a step back and ask yourself, “So what?”
I’ve never seen a better example of this than a comment by someone in a social anxiety Facebook group that I follow. One of the group members posted that he had found the answer to his social anxiety.
Each time he started to find himself feeling self-conscious, he stopped and said to himself “I don’t give a f*ck.” Over the course of a day, each time he used the IDGAF solution, he found his confidence growing.
Today, I want you to pick a phrase that you will say to yourself each time you start to feel self-conscious. It can be whatever you want, just be consistent in using it.
Try New Things When You Are Self-Conscious
Did you know that the list of mistakes that you can’t recover from is actually not that long? Short of jumping out of an airplane without your parachute, pretty much anything you do you can recover from.
When is the last time you tried doing something new? Sometimes we get so stuck in our comfort zone that we forget life is for living and taking chances. Today, go do one thing you would normally be afraid of because of what people think.
An example from my own life? This blog! I could easily decide that it’s too far out of my comfort zone to put myself out there and write about social anxiety. But I choose to do it anyway.
Practice Mindfulness Meditation
Have you ever tried mindfulness meditation? Research shows that mindfulness meditation helps you to take on a third-person perspective which also helps to reduce your self-focus.
When you focus less on yourself, you’re also less likely to feel like you are in the spotlight and like everyone is watching you. One simple way to get started with mindfulness meditation is to sit quietly and become aware of your thoughts without trying to change them.
Watch Your Breathing
When I was in high school, I belonged to the school choir. Each morning at 6:30 am I would schlepp off to choir practice, asking myself time and again “Why am I doing this?”
As part of practice, the choir instructor would count while we inhaled and exhaled—to stretch out the exhale as long as we could. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was actually being taught the proper way to breathe!
When you start focusing on yourself, slow down your breathing to a count of 6 on inhale and 8 on exhale.
Challenge Your Thoughts
Thoughts are just words in your head—they aren’t necessarily the truth or accurate. One way you can get a handle on anxiety is to recognize the patterns of thoughts that you have that aren’t helpful.
In the case of the spotlight effect, the pattern of “mind reading,” or thinking you know what other people are thinking comes into effect.
After a situation that makes you self-conscious, ask yourself what thoughts you had and if you were reading minds. If you need more practice with this, I use the Woebot app to challenge thoughts and identify bad patterns.
Do Difficult Things
I have a rule for myself: It’s never really fun in the beginning. Think of things in your own life that you struggled with at first but then eventually came to enjoy. An example for me is always making new friends at a new job.
You have to put in a bit of work to get to know people before they will become your friends.
Don’t expect things to be easy. Expect them to be difficult and congratulate yourself for doing hard things.
With time, it will get easier and you will feel less self-conscious.
Put Yourself in Their Shoes
Putting yourself in the shoes of someone else forces you to stop being self-conscious. The easiest way to do this is to draw on your own experience and think of a time when you were in the same position.
You’re at a party and someone has introduced you to someone new. You’re left alone and expected to make small talk.
Instead of thinking, “She must think I’m so boring, I have nothing to say” (which is mind-reading by the way), what’s a more realistic perspective?
She’s never met you before. You are a completely blank slate. She knows nothing about you.
If you were in her shoes, what would you be thinking?
The more realistic thought (if you are both being quiet) would be, “It’s really awkward to make small talk. I wonder what I should say.”
If the other person is talkative, the most realistic thought would be, “It’s nice to find someone I can talk to.”
So, the next time you find yourself in a situation where you feel like the spotlight is on you, take these simple steps.
Be compassionate to yourself. Be brave and do things that scare you (and say “so what?” if people stare). Be mindful of your thoughts and your breathing. Recognize that sometimes things will be difficult. And finally, try to truly take the perspective of the other person.
If you can focus on doing these things, with time you’ll notice that you become less self-conscious and worried what others are thinking of you.
Related Articles about Social Anxiety
- What to Say When People Ask “Why Are You So Quiet?”
- 10 Best Self Confidence Books
- Best Self Love Books for Social Anxiety
8 Ways to Stop Feeling Self-Conscious
Here are some of my favorite social anxiety tools
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