Today in the context of tomorrow (social anxiety)


If you are a human (and I assume you are), then you have at some point in your life been put into a new situation with strange and unfamiliar people. Now to be fair, the people you met most likely weren’t strange. They were just strange to you! Indeed they were strangers, and despite what our parents told us, we have to meet strangers all the time. This period of initial adjustment to new social situations such as work, school, relationships, yoga classes, etc. can be met with that old well known foe: ANXIETY. That’s right, new social situations cause anxiety. Some people feel this less than others, but basically everyone feels some level of social anxiety. It may be the fear of the unknown that drives this, or it may be our old caveman brain kicking in and telling us that we need to be cautious when we meet people from other tribes. Whatever the cause of this social anxiety, I want to propose a specific solution to the problem. 


The solution to social anxiety is to see “today in the context of tomorrow”. Imagine what is was like when you have been in situations like this in the past, notice how you became calm and comfortable over time. As you got to know people in the new social situation, all the anxiety faded away. First dates turn into 30th dates, and first days on the job turn into 5th year on the job. When you go into a new social situation run a movie in your mind, in that movie imagine that you have done the event hundreds of times. Imagine how comfortable you would feel if you had done the event that many times. Try to make this “mind movie” experience as real as possible. Imagine all the feelings and sensations you would feel, notice how relaxed you are as you have long relationships with others. As you play this “mind movie”, you will begin to feel more comfortable. After you stop the “mind movie “, attempt to hold that feeling of comfort and relaxation. Try to hold the physical sensation associated with being comfortable and accustomed to the new situation. Imagine that you have been there many times before.


This simple exercise can be highly beneficial as you meet new people or are in new social situations. As a therapist, I meet new people and groups of people all the time. As I meet new people, I try to put myself into the relaxed state I feel after I have known someone for a long time. Being able to do this, not only makes me more comfortable but also makes my clients and students more comfortable. I recommend that you try this exercise for yourself and see the benefits you will experience. If you don’t notice a large benefit the first time you attempt this, don’t worry, try again! Repetition is the key to getting good at a new skill.