There are many kinds of anxiety that occur around other people. Some of the more common fears are about others getting angry, public speaking, being vulnerable, talking with authority figures, what others might think about your body, or being around people who aren’t like you just to name a few.
Sometimes these fears are valid. But often our fears around other people are not justified. Typically, others could care less about what we do—we are usually just a bit player in their own personal drama anyway—or if they do care, it’s a passing feeling. But even if the other person does react, most likely you could handle it fine.
Anxiety is something added to our response to situations; in small doses it is sometimes helpful, but when excessive, it usually clouds our thinking, adds needless suffering, and fuels conflicts with others.
So, there are two kinds of mistakes we can make: having too little or too much anxiety around others. We should do our best not to make either of these mistakes. But which mistake is more common? It’s the second one: needless anxiety stirred into the sauce of life making it bitter.
So what can we do to combat our anxiety around others? Be mindful of anxiety around others, especially subtle unease, concern, tension, nervousness or worry. Tune into your body, the little jump in heart rate or the funny feeling in the pit of your stomach. Watch the thoughts passing through, the quiet murmuring in the back of the mind that overestimates threats and underestimates resources that predicts problems which are actually unlikely.
Be aware of the costs to you of unnecessary –not useful, not valuable—anxiety. Besides feeling bad, it makes a person play smaller with others and hunker down—or going to war in ways small and large. Then really decide in your heart if you want to be free of this worthless fear.
With someone you know who cares about you, try saying to yourself: I can take care of myself around you. Let this, too, sink in. And: If you hurt me, I’ll still be OK in my core. And: I wish you well. Try this with more than one person you love. The idea here is to get you to recognize others and situations as they truly are.
Then try this practice with one or more friends—and then with strangers that you just happen to meet. Finally, you will use this with someone who is being difficult. If there is truly something to be anxious about, so be it. Otherwise, keep opening to the experience of being realistic about others without feeling any pointless fear.
As you deepen your sense of being appropriately fearless with others, keep letting this experience sink in so you become increasingly grounded. This practice will bring more relief and comfort to your life and give you a sense of freedom.