Saturday, May 26 , 2018, 11:30 am | Fair 70º


Tracy Shawn: 3 Ways to Reduce Anxiety, Increase Confidence at Holidays and Beyond

’Tis the season when anxiety can skyrocket and self-confidence can plummet. For those 40 million-plus people in the United States who already battle ongoing anxiety, the social stresses of the holidays can often serve to increase negative, out-of-control feelings. To engage happily in social situations creates a pressure that can make anxiety-sufferers feel even worse, especially if that pressure makes people not engage at all.

Fear can make the anxiety-ridden avoid all kinds of social activities. And yet, socializing helps maintain and build self-esteem. We are social animals and spending time with others, enjoying parties, even engaging in work meetings, encourages confidence. When people experience self-doubt, they may sink further into self-isolation, and then it becomes even more difficult to connect with others. Unfortunately, this avoidance behavior only exacerbates the problem, and, thus, creates a vicious cycle. But the good news is that anxiety and self-esteem are not fixed states. The very things that seem scary and stressful to undertake — but in actuality boost self-confidence — can be conquered with the right techniques.

1. Don’t dive in, step in.

Alice Boyes, Ph.D., writes in Psychology Today that one of the methods used in cognitive behavioral therapy (called situation exposure hierarchies), can help people overcome many kinds of social challenges. Clients list the situations or things that they avoid on a scale from highest to lowest. For example, a person who is fearful of asserting herself might put asking her boss for a raise on top of her list, while at the bottom, would be asking the friendly store clerk where the frozen pizzas are.

Clients then take this list and work their way up from the least distressing to the most, taking care not to make huge jumps along the way. What this technique does is help people build a slow, but steady and secure sense of ease through their accomplishments. With time, this method also helps people with long-term confidence because they’ve cemented a strong foundation from which they can continue to work from.

2. Practice self-compassion.

In the book, The Power of Self-Compassion: Using Compassion-Focused Therapy to End Self-Criticism and Build Self-Confidence, author and clinical psychologist Mary Welford notes that one of the most powerful ways to build confidence is to practice self-compassion. Welford asserts that self-compassion increases confidence because it helps remind people to support themselves as much as they would a dear friend or relative. Also, self-compassion helps get people out of the habit of self-criticism. (When we are too self-critical of ourselves, self-confidence will nose-dive.)

But how does one learn to practice self-compassion? One of the easiest ways is simply being mindful of self-talk. When facing a stressful situation, remind yourself that everyone gets nervous and that it’s okay to make mistakes. This lowers distress, and can help you engage in social interactions that you may have avoided if you had listened to that overly judgmental voice.

Another simple, yet effective, way to increase both self-compassion and confidence is to focus on your own well being. Although it’s important to be there for your loved ones, you can still take care of yourself. Remember that the simple acts of exercising, eating right, and engaging in the things you love, as well as allowing yourself time off to relax and recharge, are some of the most basic, yet significant ways to increase overall health. Taking care of yourself fuels confidence because physical health boosts emotional health. And on a psychological level, you’re reminding yourself that you are just as important as anyone else, which nourishes self-esteem even further.

3. Surround yourself with positive people.

Google “surround yourself with positive people,” and scores of professional psychological sites, as well as individual blogs, attest to how people are positively affected by confident, optimistic friends. These are the friends you can count on to genuinely cheer you on during successes, and offer words of encouragement during challenges. When you spend more time with these positive companions, your own self-esteem can climb because they set great examples, while helping you gain a more can-do perspective.

Then, with time and effort on your part, you learn to be more of a positive person yourself, enjoying life with more solid self-confidence. And as your self-esteem increases, your capacity to be an affirming friend expands, and in turn, you’re not only helping yourself, but also those around you.

— Tracy Shawn, M.A., is a local writer whose debut novel, The Grace of Crows (published by Cherokee McGhee Publishing in October) is available on Amazon and other online bookstores. The Grace of Crows is about what happens after an anxiety-ridden woman reconnects with a childhood friend who is now a homeless man living under a pier in Malibu. Click here for more information about Shawn, or click here to visit her author page on Facebook. Follow her on Twitter: @TracyShawn. The opinions expressed are her own.

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