How can I get over the anxiety of trying new things?
December 18, 2017 12:18 AM   Subscribe

As of late I have been taking a lot of steps to leave my comfort zone. It hasn't been easy to say the least. However, I have been on a roll lately and I want to keep up the momentum. I have always wanted to expand my social circle through clubs and activities, I did not have the time before and I was sort of afraid.

Every time I try to get into doing something different I have found out that I'm always making excuses to avoid. For instance, I start looking at pictures of the clubs or activities and I look for ways to avoid them. What stops me most of the time are ridiculous things, which in part I think come from my parents.

My parents literally live in fear, sometimes I think they might have subconsciously transferred these ridiculous fears into me. For instance one such idea I have always used to avoid getting into clubs and social activities is the idea that the people there might not be of the same social status as I am. That is the sort of narrow minded ideas my parents have and to be honest it is what has stopped them from leaving the house, they never do anything exciting and they always make excuses like those to not try new things.

The last five years didn't leave a lot of room for that. My career isn't the most social and neither was college to be honest. I have always been extroverted, during those years I always felt a part of me screaming to get out. I don't know if this is common for an extroverted person who did not have a lot of time to socialize.

I don't want to be like my parents , I want to learn new languages, I want to learn how to dance better, I want to go to the beach to plant trees and help the environment but most of all I want to socialize with others. I know where to find these things, but I can't seem to find a way to get past the anxiety. For instance there is a place nearby where they teach dancing lessons, I get nervous at the prospect of going there and asking them about what they teach even if it is the best option for me, but I find a way to make an excuse not to go there.
posted by Braxis to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (8 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I haven't found a way to not be nervous about shit. But I have realized that a lot of time the bad scenarios I'm imagining are really not very bad. A lot of them boil down to "what If it's super awkward" to which the answer is "Okay, fine, that would be stressful at the time, but it won't do any permanent damage, and there's a good chance the activity would give me long term enrichment."

Travel super duper fits into this category for me, BTW.
posted by aubilenon at 12:46 AM on December 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

I find CBT based exercises really very useful for these kinds of practical specific issues I would like to resolve about myself. There are a number of practical workbooks which are easily accessible on Amazon. It's helped me a lot to overcome this kind of social reluctance and anxiety by examining what are my base beliefs which make taking action seem scary.
posted by frumiousb at 1:22 AM on December 18, 2017

Allow yourself to get nervous, but do the thing anyway. Do it as quickly as you can instead of letting the anxiety build up further. Rip the band aid off.
The more often you manage to do this, the easier your new behaviour will become.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:03 AM on December 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

I have this. There's some stuff that's still way too anxiety-inducing for me to do it, but the examples of where I've overcome it have been where I've been able to rationalise the anxiety away.

You mention tree-planting - earlier this year I did a week's volunteer conservation work, planting trees in the Scottish highlands. I talked myself into that on grounds that anyone else who would ever want to do such a thing is likely to be in the same self-selected little group of like-minded people as me, if they & I would both find such a thing attractive as a way to spend a week. Turns out I was right - they were all lovely, and it was lots of fun. Didn't mean that I wasn't anxious about doing it, but I'd stacked the deck in my favour for a good outcome overall.

So, improve your odds. If those other people also want to do that thing which you'd find fun, chances are that they'll be quite a lot like you in some ways.
posted by rd45 at 2:48 AM on December 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

Find a low-commitment way to try whatever it is, and then make yourself a checklist of smaller steps towards signing up for the thing if necessary. If you don't enjoy trying activity, then repeat for some other interesting looking activity.

For a dance school, any self-respecting dance school should let you watch a lesson, or maybe take one lesson, to see what it's like. So your first objective is just to do that low commitment option. If it's the most terrible, you never have to set foot in the place again. If it's not too bad, you can try taking a couple of lessons.

When I was working my nerve up to join the local gym, I had sub-steps like "ask about temporary gym pass" and "use temporary gym pass," then "get paperwork for regular gym membership" and "fill in paperwork" and then "submit paperwork and money" and lo and behold, I had joined the gym!
posted by sacchan at 3:08 AM on December 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

I totally get you. One way I've ended up experiencing things I'd never have sought out on my own is dating. You have someone there that presumably likes and understands whatever your doing. I'm also a lot less likely to chicken out if it involves standing someone up.
posted by Trifling at 5:52 AM on December 18, 2017

Best answer: I found that I couldn't make the anxiety go away, but I could view it differently. Especially at first, when I was so nervous about looking like an idiot, I would reframe those experiences as "I'm going to go look like an idiot now."

So right now, I'd like to join a yoga class. I've done yoga literally three times, all with videos in my own living room, not in front of other people. I don't know what to wear or bring or anything. So my plan is to walk in to the local yoga place and say "look, I know literally nothing but I want to learn. What do I do?" People respond really well to that; they want to help. My ignorance isn't something I'm trying to hide, it's something I'm trying to correct.

Showing up at class will be harder, because I won't get to present myself as ignorant to people. But if I go in knowing "I will look like a drunk chicken for the first class; I will be awkward and ungainly and probably say the wrong thing," I can remind myself that I can walk away after that one class and never see these people again. It will have been one embarrassing but, essentially, unwitnessed event.

I've done this a dozen times (zumba, sewing class, board game night, volunteer opportunities, etc.), and it's never happened that I walked away embarrassed. Sometimes I don't go back because it wasn't the right place for me, but it was never because of the things I was afraid of.

Other mental tricks that work are to remind myself that a bad experience makes a good story, and to work out what the *actual* worst possible consequence of one event going poorly would be.

Anxiety is a bear, especially when it's been modeled to you all your life without amelioration. Consider it training--pick things and do them, just to have done them, just to have showed up. You only have to stay five minutes; showing up is the first step.
posted by gideonfrog at 6:03 AM on December 18, 2017 [9 favorites]

I have this issue too. One thing that has been helpful for me recently, when I'm in the state of teetering between yes and no, is to remind myself of the fact that a lot of my favorite memories have been directly preceded by exactly the type of fear I am currently experiencing. When I think about it that way, the fear almost seems like a good omen, in a strange way. I'm hoping to eventually forge a sturdy mental link between that particular flavor of fear and an expectation of good things.

Relatedly, the "right time" to do something you've been delaying because it scares you... actually will not feel like the right time, in my experience! It will usually feel like the wrong time! Like, I will be tired and frightened and not at my best, and I will want to keep waiting because surely some other day would be better, but then I'll go do it anyway and it will somehow be okay? This was immensely helpful to realize because I was able to release this sort of subconscious feeling of waiting forever for a signal from my mind/body/the universe that I was ready to do the thing.
posted by space snail at 5:49 PM on December 18, 2017

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