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I do a lot of work with clients who identify with difficulty with social skills. Some are on the spectrum and others are more introverted and have overactive brakes when it comes to taking risks socially. I have even had clients describe some awful social situations and bullying which made them averse to interactions outside of connecting to people online. When I see people going through this, it’s extremely rare that they are ever happy being so isolated and it clearly adds to their anxiety and depression symptoms. Studies show that the touch of someone we care about can reduce the brain’s response to pain and that socializing helps the brain.
So, what do you do? You want to connect but past experience has made it feel like trying to surf in a tsunami. Using this analogy, your first step is to go to the beach (or pool) and put a toe in the water. The toe in the water tends to start by switching to a growth mindset. Each person is different but you take small steps towards overcoming the obstacles blocking your path. I had a teenage client who wanted a job and yet he was SUPER anxious about every part of getting this job. He broke it down into steps to overcome his social anxiety. First, he went and drove to the place he wanted to work and stayed in his car but observed what the place was like. The next day he drove back to the potential employer and went inside and checked out the location and what people were like – scanning for friendly elements (people smiling, etc.). A few days later he went online and checked out glassdoor reviews of what the place was like to work at and identified a job that might be comfortable for him. Then he went to the location and ordered some food and ate there. Next, he went and asked if they were hiring. Finally, he talked with a manager and filled out an application online. This process may seem slow, but slow and steady wins the race.
So, step one:
For every month of this year, I want you to pick one thing that you want to do to improve your social skills. And then (this is the hard part) think of it at least once every day (set a reminder in your phone or calendar). Take the challenge and do a small step every day. But don’t worry about all the other things you haven’t worked on in the meantime. One step at a time. I know it might feel like you can’t get there but people accomplish amazing stuff, even with incredible challenges like this blind painter who does portraits, this guy who learns to dance in a year, or this guy who has no limbs and inspires millions around the globe.
- This week, I want to… (Small goals. Examples: start reading social skills books, find a social mentor)
- In the next month, I want to… (Medium goals. Examples: go to a social event, start therapy)
- In the next year, I want to… (Big goals. Examples: Go on a date, make a new friend)
- Social activities I would like to try are…. (what will you do first, by what date)