Please bear in mind that I am not a professional in any way. The STARE method I came up with is simply something that worked, and still works, to act as a buffer between me and the outside world. It handles all the bad stuff in a very mechanical, though effective, way. Even though I have enjoyed success with this particular coping mechanism, you should not assume that you will derive any benefit from it. The thing to remember is that everyone is different. In fact, my first step in fighting social anxiety was to get professional help. That is the smartest thing I have ever done.
What I want to do in the upcoming posts is to talk about the five steps. Ill also be writing about personal experiences and success stories with this technique.
The first step in my stare method involves stopping the runaway social anxiety thought process. As mentioned in the previous post, at this point, I dont intend to solve the problem. I dont try to analyze things or replace negative thoughts with positive affirmation. I keep it really, really simple.
Why the emphasis on simple? Well, to be quite frank, I needed something simple so I could remember it while I was in full panic mode. Trying to concentrate on a complicated technique, or trying to solve the whole self-esteem, confidence, social phobia problem all at once, was not going to happen.
Not all situations were like that, mind you – there were different degrees of severity. However, the worst social encounters sent my anxiety through the roof. At a time like that, 99% of my concentration was being used to process the surge of negative thoughts flooding my brain by the social anxiety machine. Thoughts like, Im useless. Everyone is smarter, better looking, and more deserving then I am. Why are they all staring at me? It was exhausting – plain and simple.
Throwing a wrench in the social anxiety cycle and thinking of something entirely different, took a little practice because I still had to contend with the reality of the situation, while effectively zoning out. Lets just say I got good at keeping a neutral look, even though I was miles away.
What thoughts did I use to replace my obsessive thinking? Well, generally something that I was passionate about – something powerful enough to truly take me away. Its important not to think of the exact opposite to the thoughts that are flooding your mind. For example, dont replace ugly with good-looking, or dumb with smart. Dont tell yourself youre the exact opposite of what your mind is telling you because, deep down, you wont really believe it. Besides, it takes a lot of energy to force-feed positive self-talk like that.
Instead, just think of something entirely unrelated. For me, remembering a funny sit-com, a joke someone told me, the big game last night, my two cats, places Ive visited, or girls I fancied, was usually sufficient. Again, it must be fairly powerful and something you are passionate about. Mediocre just wont cut it. Also, it should be something upbeat.
Before I implement the stop step, I always remind myself of the negative auto-thoughts being generated within my own mind. I acknowledge these thoughts and the fact that it is just my warped programming creating this poison. I acknowledge that they have only one purpose, and that is to degrade and humiliate me – to suck every last once of self-esteem and confidence I might have – to confirm the low opinion I have of myself – to psyche me out before any social encounter – to distort reality – to always keep me down where I belong.
Oh, and one more thing: Just before switching to my alternate thought, I would imagine myself physically stopping the negative auto-thoughts. I would imagine holding up an impenetrable shield or physically applying the brakes on the flood of negativity. For me, this is an important step, and one that I always include.
These auto-thoughts just love to get their own way – and they just hate interruptions.