I have never been a social butterfly.
In fact as a vata type, social events (particularly those which involve meeting new people) have never been my strong point. Unfortunately in life, these occasions are difficult to avoid – despite my inbuilt reluctance to enjoy them.
Getting to grips with social anxiety
Don’t get me wrong, most people get a little anxious when faced with the prospect of meeting new people. However, for some people this anxiety can turn into a persistent fear of being around others, where ordinary situations such as going shopping or eating out can be nothing short of an exhausting ordeal.
It wasn’t until I began to do a little research into the subject that I began to reflect upon how often I avoided social gatherings out of a fear of putting myself in situations where I would feel uncomfortable and out of sorts. I decided to do something about it.
Learning how to play
As a child, do you remember doing things which would make an adult’s hair stand on end? I would happily turn somersaults on the highest climbing frame in the yard, or whizz down a steep hill on my roller-skates knowing full well that at any moment I could land flat on my face. Doing these things gave me a thrill, a sort of frisson that produced an exciting, tingling feeling in my tummy. As adults, we try our best to avoid that feeling as our brains focus on all the negative things that could happen if we let situations go beyond our control.
A wonderful book called Play It Away by Charlie Hoehn explains this idea in a way that looks at social anxiety in a new light.
In his book, the author describes how he overcame his crippling social anxiety by turning social events into a sort of game. Instead of going for a coffee with friends, he would play baseball with them in the park. Instead of arranging a lunch meeting with colleagues, he would take them to watch a band. In time, his anxiety around socializing turned into an opportunity to grow. In the words of actor Jack Nicholson:
My motto is – more good times.
I decided to try this approach at the next opportunity, which soon presented itself in the form of a “photo shoot” for my new website. Instead of arranging a lunch meeting with a photographer I had only briefly met, I suggested we go for a walk on the beach. (A lovely vata pacifying activity!)
We took a small picnic and ate our lunch on the sand, watching the waves and talking about paddle boarding. We then ventured up to a nearby hotel where a vintage tea party was in full swing. The visitors invited us to join them for cream tea. What could have been a dry meeting turned into a wonderfully uplifting afternoon. Not only did I get some great pictures, I also discovered a new friend.
Since then I have been fishing, attended a yoga retreat, and baked a birthday cake instead of accepting the usual invitations for coffee. Each and every occasion has left both parties brimming with ideas, and with a sense of renewed energy that comes when we connect not just socially, but spiritually with other human beings.
The gift of others
As one of my oldest friends says:
You might live to a ripe old age, but you’ll have no memories if you stay indoors meditating and detoxing.
A little harsh I know but in a way she’s right. We learn many lessons by reflecting and educating ourselves, but life is so much richer when we connect with people on a deeper level than the everyday, refusing to resign ourselves to a hum drum routine. Ayurveda encourages us to develop mind, body and soul if we are to truly realize our full potential.
Socialise right for your type
Although people with severe social anxiety, agoraphobia and panic disorders will undoubtedly need additional help in planning events, it may help to start out by choosing an activity to balance the relevant dosha. Focusing on an enjoyable, harmonising activity can distract attention away from the anxiety caused by being around others.
Here are some gentle suggestions for those of you, who like me, have a tendency towards avoiding social situations, or have difficulty with the idea of meeting new people.
As vata resides in the nervous system, vata types are naturally more prone to anxiety. Gentle activities in familiar, nearby locations are recommended. Volunteering at a local gardening project to create a sense of “grounding”, or perhaps a pampering session at a wet spa may be a good place to start.
Pitta types can find it hard to take a back seat and anxiety can arise in situations where you’re expected to perform in front of others. An intelligent, sharp mind and a love of learning mean you enjoy workshops where you can develop new skills. Choose an activity you already enjoy or have some knowledge of. This may be a sporting activity or something creative.
Kapha types can often lack motivation to get out and about. When this kapha gets out of balance it can lead to isolation. If you are a bit of a home-bird at heart why not arrange to visit a boot sale to hunt out some bargains for your nest, or perhaps arrange a visit to a local farmers market to check out new ideas for healthy, home cooked recipes?
Featured Photo: Dominik Martin, Unsplash.com