social anxiety

How to Know When it’s Time to Talk About Your Feelings

I’m sure you expect that as a therapist, my advice is always going to be to talk about your feelings. But honestly, there are times when that just becomes exhausting and unhelpful. I’m a huge believer in talking about our feelings! When it’s going to be helpful. And a lot of the time it is. But how do you know if it isn’t?

Unfortunately, most of us don’t talk about our feelings enough.

And that’s definitely not good either. If you are upset about something or your feelings are hurt, it is 100% going to affect the way you interact with that person if you don’t hash it out. And I know, I know, saying 100% is quite the claim, but I feel confident in that assessment. Feel free to let me know if you’ve seen otherwise. . .maybe I’ll say 98% to be safe ;-).

So it makes sense that the majority of the time therapists are screaming from the rooftops to talk about your feelings with your loved ones.

Most of the time that is probably the right answer. It’s just that sometimes it isn’t.

Take this story as an example. Imagine that you had a really long day. Work was so busy that you barely had time to pee, so naturally, eating was out of the question. You drive home through traffic and you can almost feel your blood pressure rising. You breathe through your frustration, but despite your best efforts, you can tell that your nerves are fried.

By the time you get home you just want to shovel food into your face and sit down. But when you walk in, your husband doesn’t move from the computer. What you really want is for him to acknowledge your presence, and make some pretense of giving a shit that you may have had a hard day. But he doesn’t. He grunts from in front of the computer. Doesn’t even really turn his head. You feel a burning pit of resentment get stoked deep in your chest. Silently, you stomp your way into the kitchen without so much as grunting back, and find snacks. Halfway through the bag of pretzels, you realize that actually your husband is kind of cute. And now he is talking to you and asking about your day. Suddenly you realize that you may have been more hungry than genuinely resentful. Would it have been nice for him to be a bit more responsive when you walked in? Probably, but it certainly isn’t something that you feel you need to gripe about. Your day was already long enough, and he’s being pretty solicitous right now.

This is a prime example of a time that it would not have been helpful to talk about your feelings (especially not in the moment). You were able to move through the feelings quickly and easily, and while it might be helpful to say a quick sentence about greeting you when you come home, before you’ve eaten and after a long day probably isn’t the ideal time to do it.

And honestly, this is just one of many examples of times that talking about your feelings isn’t really going to make anything better.

So yes, most of the time talking about your feelings is the right thing to do. But if you’ve ever opened a can of worms that made things worse than when you started by trying to do the “right thing” and talk about your feelings, then you know this isn’t always the best thing to do. If you follow these steps, you will have an ironclad grasp of when it makes sense to say something, and when it might make more sense to just hold your tongue. When we figure this out, you will notice that when you do choose to talk things out, it makes much more of an impact, and then the rest of the time you can enjoy way more of the time with your people.

TALKING ABOUT FEELINGS FEELS LIKE A CHORE

The thing is, if you keep talking about every little emotion that flits across your consciousness, you are eventually going to burn out. For a while you might be able to keep it up, but it won’t be long before you decide that it’s too much work, and although it may be the “right thing to do”, you just don’t have the energy. The upside of this is that things that genuinely need to be talked about end up getting ignored because you used all your energy talking about how the dishes need to be placed in the dishwasher in a more organized fashion. This gives the real issues more time to fester, and no one wants that.

COMMUNICATING WHAT MATTERS

If you can talk about the stuff that really impacts your quality of life and relationship, you get to expend your energy on conversations that really matter. This means that you get to enjoy more of the time with the people in your life, and don’t develop festering resentments. You can feel closer to the people in your life, and feel good about the way you are standing up for yourself, too.

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LEARN HOW TO TELL WHEN TO TALK ABOUT YOUR FEELINGS, AND WHEN TO LET IT GO

You may be feeling bogged down by the pressure of always talking things through. . .always trying to be open and vulnerable, and frustrated that you aren’t getting the results you want in your relationships. The key is to use your energy purposefully. That means learning when it makes sense to talk about your feelings, but also when it might make more sense to work through your issue on your own. Read on to learn easy to follow steps to determine when to talk it out, and when to wait it out.

ASK YOURSELF THESE FOUR QUESTIONS

The main issue here is that we are telling people to talk it out, regardless of the circumstances. Even good advice is bad advice if we aren’t talking about when and how to use it. It makes sense that you’re feeling exhausted by emotional discourse if you have no qualifiers to indicate that it’s the tool you want to use. So let’s talk about how to make sure that the energy you expend on being emotionally communicative actually increases your quality of life and relationships.

Question #1: How upset am I right now? Am I capable of having this conversation productively?

Here’s the thing, when we are the most upset is when we feel the most urge to talk things out. But there’s a problem. Maybe you can spot it. When you are the most upset is the exact time that you are the least capable of having a productive conversation. If you ask yourself how upset you are, and the answer is very, please, postpone this conversation for a time that you are going to be more emotionally available.

With my clients, we spend time identifying the signs and signals that we are beyond being able to productively communicate, and then we identify skills to initiate these conversations later on.

When you learn to discuss important issues only when you are emotionally available you will notice that your discussions (notice I didn’t say arguments) are shorter, less frequent, and more productive. Seriously. Do this.

Question #2: Who is this person that I’m upset with? Who are they to me and what is the nature of our relationship?

This one is a bit more complex to discuss. But the major point stands; if this person is very important to you and you have a close and important relationship, then they are worth more of your energy investment to keep the relationship healthy. If the person is not as close or important to you, it might be more of an energy drain to try and discuss the your issue. You may choose instead to either cut off the relationship, set boundaries that protect you without discussing the emotional information behind your decisions, or to change the nature of your interactions moving forward. As you can see, there are many different ways to handle a situation where you are upset by the actions of someone else. But here is the most important thing I’m going to say about it: not everyone is worth your openness, and not every relationship is owed your emotional vulnerability. I can’t tell you how often people try to have healthy, purposeful communication with people who just aren’t an important part of their lives. And usually it is not particularly cathartic or productive.

Together with my clients we identify what we want out of the relationship, and we do thought exercises about how useful we feel different types of communicating would be. This often helps my clients to hone their communication to be most appropriate to the circumstances. This helps my clients to feel confident and empowered when they are entering challenging conversations or handling uncomfortable situations.

Question #3: How long am I actually going to be upset about this?

One of my personal rules is to wait a good 24-48 hours before I talk about things I’m upset about so that I can determine if the thing still matters to me or not. If you are going to be upset about something for only a couple days, having a conversation that lasts hours might not be a good use of your time.

On the flip side of this, if you don’t talk through something but you still notice a shitty feeling every time you think about it, this is definitely not helping you or preserving your relationships.

Getting to know your unique “tells” for when something is going to bother you for a while versus when something is really just a minor inconvenience is something we can make some real progress with in therapy.

Question #4: How are you going to feel if the conversation doesn’t go well? What are the consequences?

Guys. . .this is so important. This isn’t even really talking about when it would or would not be advantageous to the relationship for you to discuss an issue or not. It’s more about taking care of yourself and making sure that you are going to be okay no matter what happens.

This is what I tell my clients. Consider your emotional state. Now walk yourself mentally through the experience of having an unsuccessful encounter. How are you? Are you angry and disappointed but you’ll take a bath and drink a glass of wine and get over it? Or are you devastated? Is this the kind of feeling that you will be able to process through in a matter of hours? Or is it going to take you days or even weeks to bounce back?

The thing is that even if it is the right thing to have the conversation, it doesn’t make sense to talk about it unless you know that even if it goes to hell you are going to be okay on the other side. That doesn’t mean that the outcome doesn’t matter to you. It doesn’t mean you’re going to feel good if it goes to shit, it just means that you’re going to be okay even if the conversation doesn’t. You can’t control the other person. That means you can’t control the outcome of the conversation. Having these talks is only the best option if you are in a place of strength inside yourself and you will be able to get through the hard stuff.

Learning when and how to talk about your feelings is honestly quite the task. Talking about things too much can be exhausting and unnecessary, while keeping your feelings inside can be really destructive both to your sense of self and also to your relationships. Learning how to differentiate is as easy as asking yourself four simple questions. Therapy can help you explore your feelings and relationships so that you can feel good about your choices to engage or not.

If you feel lost in how much to share in your relationships, I can help you sort through it. Email me today to schedule your free consultation.

The Top 10 Skills for People with Social Anxiety to Feel More Comfortable in Social Settings

Having social anxiety can keep us feeling isolated and left out. Although you may feel lonely, sometimes it is easier to just stay at home than push through the crushing social anxiety that makes the whole endeavor feel draining and uncomfortable anyway.

Unfortunately, when we allow ourselves to turn down social opportunities for the comforts of our own company, eventually the invitations become fewer and further between.

This can make you feel inadequate, or unwanted.

Now you’re not only spending most of your time alone, but feeling like you have no other choice.

You may have people that you used to enjoy spending time with, or people you used to feel comfortable with. But with every day that you spend away from them it starts feeling more and more uncomfortable to try and be around them. You have memories of really enjoying laughing and talking, but when they text you now, you feel paralyzed. It’s not that you feel that you wouldn’t like them, it’s just that you feel somehow like you couldn’t possibly live up to the expectations that they have of you being funny and entertaining. The pressure you feel to say or do the right thing and respond in just the right way makes your heart race and your palms sweat just thinking about answering them. Not to mention that you feel so rude for having not talked to them sooner that contacting them or responding to them now feels completely out of the question.

So you don’t. You think about them but you don’t call or text. They contact you and it’s so uncomfortable for you that you avoid the whole situation for days and then feel like an asshole and beat yourself up instead of sleeping.

Unfortunately all this does is reinforce your experience of yourself as unlikable, and when your friends inevitably stop reaching out as often, you see this as validation of what you always knew would eventually happen; they realized they didn’t really like you anyway.

Eventually you wind up in a place where you’ve decided you’re better off just spending your time alone. It’s easier, and there’s much less of a chance of getting rejected and ultimately disappointed. But the truth is that social interaction is really difficult for a lot of people. Many people struggle with wondering if they are good enough or likable enough. It’s okay to not always feel social or up for being around a lot of people. But it’s important to feel like you can spend time with people you like and care about if and when you want to.

It’s true that social anxiety can be debilitating, and it can impact every aspect of our lives. However, there are several things that can help us to feel more comfortable and confident in our interactions with other people, and our ability to maintain relationships with people we care about. When we use these top ten skills it is entirely possible to build up to the level and amount of social interaction that feels good to y

Keep reading for the top ten skills to overcome your social anxiety today.

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SOCIAL ANXIETY IS MAKING YOUR LIFE HARDER

The biggest downside of not dealing with your social anxiety is that it affects every single aspect of your life. While having friendships and relationships that matter to you is incredibly important, you may feel more impacted by how your social anxiety keeps you from reaching your professional goals. At the very least you will find yourself agonizing over things that you feel should really not be that big of a deal. Living this way is exhausting, with every minor interaction feeling draining and overwhelmi

FEEL CONFIDENT AND COMFORTABLE IN SOCIAL SITUATIONS

Although you struggle with social anxiety, it is possible for you to feel comfortable and confident in social situations of all kinds. When we use these top 10 skills to deal with your social anxiety you can learn to reduce the stress and anxiety that comes along with going to the grocery store, asking for a raise, and going out with friends. You have an opportunity to start making changes that will make it possible for you to have a completely different experience in all social settings.

TOP TEN SKILLS TO ACHIEVE FREEDOM FROM SOCIAL ANXIETY

You may be feeling overwhelmed by the constant barrage of social interactions in your day to day life. The key to feeling more comfortable and confident in social interactions is to give yourself small, manageable steps to take towards the changes you want to make and learn to give yourself permission for things to not go perfectly (because if we’re going to be honest, when do things ever go perfectly?). Take a look at these 10 skills to see how you can feel more comfortable in social settings of all kinds.

Check out these 10 skills to see how you can start feeling more comfortable in social settings of all kinds.

#10 Break it Down into Small, Manageable Steps

A lot of the time when we are saying that we want to be more comfortable in social settings, what we mean is that we want to be able to call up a friend and go to lunch without a twinge of discomfort. The thing is, that for a lot of people this might as well be asking yourself to run a marathon. It’s not that it isn’t possible for you in the future, but it isn’t super realistic for right now. Right now a good goal might be to text someone you haven’t spoken to in a while but think about regularly. There doesn’t even have to be a goal in the interaction beyond reaching out, so just sending a text saying something like, “Hey, hope you’re doing okay!” is good enough.

When we hold ourselves to standards that are unrealistic and expect that we are going to be able to do more than is reasonable when we aren’t ready, we are setting ourselves up for failure. We always want to be working just barely outside of our comfort zones, and this is how we expand what is possible for us.

#9 Give Yourself Permission to Bail

This is exactly what it sounds like. Maybe you promised yourself that you were going to send that text but when push came to shove it just didn’t feel possible. Give yourself permission to make the decision to not send the text. If you don’t give yourself permission not to do it, one of two things is going to happen. Either 1, you’re going to spend the next week and a half beating yourself up for being a failure and feeling like there’s no hope for you (which is patently false and unhelpful) or 2, you’re going to send the text, but the experience is going to be so uncomfortable and unpleasant for you that you immediately think something like, “I am never going to put myself through something this horrible ever again.” I think you can see why that doesn’t progress our goals.

It’s important to make the experience as positive as possible so that you can continue to push your boundaries.

#8 Redefine Success

So maybe you decided that you were going to send that text. You sit down, stare at the name of the person you want to talk to in your phone, start typing out the message. . .and then put your phone down and walk away. Many people might determine that this was a failure because the text wasn’t sent, but I don’t agree. Today, you came much closer to reaching out to someone than you have in the recent past. You actually made action steps towards making social contact. This is something to celebrate! Eventually, we want you to be able to send that text and even to do more, but right now, you did something that was uncomfortable for you.

It’s really easy to decide that since the outcome of the effort wasn’t what you had envisioned it would be the effort was wasted. But since for the most part you have no control over outcomes, only what you do (and don’t do), we need to celebrate your actions instead of outcomes.

#7 Ask for Support From Safe People

This requires that you identify who safe people are to you and what makes them safe. Sometimes just identifying a safe person is the difficult part. But if you do have one person who makes you feel comfortable or at ease, and you know that they support you and understand your social anxiety, that’s a great person to ask for help.

Help can be defined differently for each person, and this is something that can be explored more in therapy. But maybe for you help might look like them sitting with you while you type up the text. Maybe they can be someone you are accountable to when you tell yourself you are going to go through with something. Maybe you just need someone to talk to about how and why these things are so difficult for you. Regardless, having some emotional support can go a long way.

#6 Breathing Exercises

I know it sounds trite, but if you give yourself permission to do some deep breathing before (or during or after) you do something that is difficult for you, you may be surprised how much of a difference it makes. This is especially true if you are prone to panicking (or even panic attacks). Part of what is happening when you are panicking is your breathing becomes fast and shallow and it kicks in the part of your brain that makes you feel incredibly unsafe. As we said above, it is very important that every time you decide to push your boundaries you feel as safe as possible. It will also make you more successful more often, and it will help you think clearly so that if you decide that you want to bail, it can feel like a grounded decision instead of giving up.

#5 Find a Coping Strategy

This is similar to doing breathing exercises. If you are able to find something that you can do that you can get lost in that helps you feel calm and safe, see if you can incorporate it into the task you decided you are trying to do. For instance, if we are staying with texting someone you haven’t seen in a while, you may want to make yourself a mug of tea to smell and sip while you are typing it out. Maybe there is a specific song that usually makes you feel calmer and more like yourself. Maybe you feel better after exercise, so doing push-ups every so often through the endeavor would help you stay calm.

Whatever it is that you decide to do, the idea is that it is something you can do when your anxiety or stress is just BARELY starting to increase. You want to catch it before it gets out of hand if at all possible.

#4 Exit Planning

I’ve noticed a theme in the work I have done with clients who have social anxiety. Oftentimes the client will indicate that they feel like once they’ve made the decision to call someone, or go somewhere, or interact somehow they feel completely trapped and like they have to participate fully and can’t change their minds. In my opinion, this is a really big problem. It makes the stakes too high and makes it so that making the decision to try is tantamount to trapping yourself in a bad situation.

So if you decide you are going to participate, maybe it’s best to take your own car. It’s probably best to set expectations that you may have to leave early. It might be helpful to make sure that you give yourself explicit permission to step outside, even if it is the middle of a movie, or a dinner. It is better to leave at an inconvenient time (and know ahead of time that you get to and you know exactly how you are going to do it) than to not try to go at all because you don’t want to feel trapped.

#3 Bring a Comfort Person

. . .or pet. . .or object. This would obviously depend on where you are going and for what purpose, but if you get really stressed at the grocery store, see if there is someone who can come with you to help keep you grounded. If you get nervous about going to the park or a local restaurant, see if you can find one that is pet friendly. If you are going to a social gathering or a work get together, maybe there is an object that helps you feel grounded. Some people get a lot of use out of worry stones, other people find that bringing something that smells like home (like lotion) might be more helpful. Whatever it is for you, the idea is to prime yourself to feel safe and calm by bringing someone or something that helps you feel safe and calm into the space where you are uncomfortable.

#2 Take Time to Re-Charge

As you start to develop more comfort with social interactions, you may find that you enjoy challenging yourself. I have seen SO MANY PEOPLE burn themselves out because they were starting to feel more comfortable and didn’t allow themselves time to rest and recuperate. Although pushing ourselves is necessary if we are ever going to create real change, it is just as important to give yourself time to rest and re-build your strength so to speak.

#1 Celebrate Small Victories

This is the most important skill in your arsenal. You are going to have lots of small victories and plenty of disappointments on your road to feeling more comfortable in social interactions. It has been in your life for a long time and it is going to take some time for you to be able to work through it. No matter what it is that you have decided you are going to try to do, if you take any steps towards that goal it is closer than you were before. Furthermore, just considering making the changes is literally changing your brain to make these experiences more and more possible for you. Celebrate every victory, because every tiny step you take brings you closer to your goal.

Learning to feel safe and comfortable in social settings can feel freeing and exhilarating. You absolutely can learn what it feels like to accept an invitation without thinking, or to meet new people without second guessing every single thing that comes out of your mouth. I can help you to determine what your goals are, and what a small step towards your ideal outcome might be. Together we can help you get free of your social anxiety.

Click “Get Started” to schedule your free consultation today.