Updated: Sep 30
Do you excessively worry about people staring at you and picking at your flaws?
Does this fear hold you back from offering ideas at work? Or prevent you from pursuing your interests?
Well, this is a common phenomenon among those with social anxiety. And you probably avoid the limelight as a way to control that anxiety. Fortunately, there are strategies to overcome it. But first, let’s deep dive into the mechanics of these fears.
What Causes the Fear of Being at the Centre of Attention?
Social anxiety is characterized by the fear of social situations. This includes the fear of speaking up or even just being around others. People with social anxiety experience a heightened fear of being scrutinized by others. They may also have an extreme fear of being stared at - a condition known as scopophobia.
These fears are often caused by negative experiences or traumatic events. This includes past incidents of bullying, criticism, or being embarrassed in public. That’s because these experiences intensify a cognitive bias known as the Spotlight Effect.
🔦 The Spotlight Effect
Social psychologists coined the Spotlight Effect to refer to the tendency we have to overestimate how much other people notice about us (1).
In other words, we assume there is a spotlight on us at all times, highlighting all of our mistakes and flaws, for everyone to see. The spotlight effect can feel much more intense for people with social anxiety (2). It may worsen to the point that it affects your ability to work or feel comfortable around other people.
Strategies to Overcome The Spotlight Effect and the Fear of Attention
If you fear being the center of attention, it can make it difficult to succeed in situations that might require you to stand out. It may also result in avoidance of any type of social situation. But with a combination of professional and self-help strategies, you can overcome this fear and thrive as you deserve to!
1) Practice relaxation techniques
During fearful moments, you are likely to experience shallow breaths and tense muscles, which further contribute to symptoms of anxiety. While relaxation techniques won’t “cure” your anxiety, they’re still an amazing tool to regulate frayed nerves in any social situation.
Here are three effective techniques to calm you down in times of fear or anxiety:
Diaphragmatic breathing: Breathe slowly and deeply while in a relaxed setting. Observe how your diaphragm expands as you breathe.
Guided Imagery: This technique involves using all of your senses to imagine yourself in a relaxed setting such as enjoying the waves by the beach.
Mindfulness meditation: This technique allows you to become aware of your emotions and thoughts without analyzing or reacting to them. This can be accomplished through guided meditation practice, which is available on our ThoughtFullChat App 🧘🏻♀️
2) Notice the Spotlight Effect
You can reduce nervousness simply by being aware of the Spotlight Effect. Remember that everyone around you has their own concerns to worry about. So, even when you slip up in a presentation or have a bad hair day, keep in mind that far fewer people than you imagine will actually notice.
And even if people did notice, they likely won’t remember for long. If you’re still a little worried, ask yourself how often you notice (or remember) what other people do.
3) Reframe your fears
We have more control over our thoughts than we realize. Instead of seeing situations as anxiety-provoking, we can train ourselves to see them as exciting opportunities.
Rather than concentrate on what might go wrong, focus on what can go right. When you find yourself the center of attention, think about your strengths and focus on how you can use them to help others.
4) Remember your intentions
It also helps to shift your focus to what you’re doing, instead of how you’re feeling. For any situation, reflect on how your current actions align with your intentions.
For example, if you're giving a speech, your intention might be to inform and educate your audience. On top of that, know that every speech, presentation, or interaction gets you closer to becoming a better communicator and teacher.
5) Seek professional support
Professional treatment focuses on addressing the underlying thoughts that contribute to these feelings of anxiety.
A common professional approach is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) which helps clients identify and challenge negative thoughts and fears about being in the spotlight. Another approach would be Exposure Therapy, where the therapist gradually introduces you to situations ranging from the least to the most anxiety-provoking.
Your fears of being scrutinized are real and valid. Sometimes, these fears do get the worst of us and prevent us from living a fulfilling life. But we’re here to assure you that with the right support and techniques, you can overcome them and ultimately live to your potential. Lastly, remember that most people are too preoccupied thinking about themselves or something that they are doing too!
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