How to Stop Worrying What Other People Think
In order to stop worrying about what others think, it helps to realize that this worry is a story you're telling yourself, repeatedly. Just like any book you read, every time you review those words they become more familiar, predictable, and even comfortable ... even when they hurt.
Often, due to their familiarity, the stories we all tell ourselves feel very true. And when anyone considers something to be true, they will easily notice anything that confirms it. This is called . Thinking of worry as a story you tell yourself will help you.
When you are in charge of what story you tell, you can choose a better story and make that one your favorite, instead.
Maybe you find yourself habitually picking up the book that says, "Today I [action] and everyone laughed. They must think I'm stupid. I'm stupid. Everyone knows I'm stupid. I can't face them again!"
This story leads to instinctive withdrawal from social situations and aggressive expectations of rejection. Those behaviors create situations that will confirm that people do, in fact, allow you to withdraw; and they will avoid you when you shrug them away or ignore them. But there is always another story you can tell, even if you merely start with one that is based on statistics and scientific hypothesis.
You can actively choose to use confirmation bias to support a completely different series of thoughts to create a positive story to repeat so often that it becomes familiar, comfortable, and predictable.
Let's take that earlier story and rewrite it as an example. "Today I [action] and everyone laughed. I think I cheered up a couple people who were having a bad day, even if it was by accident. Nearly everyone seemed to forget what happened pretty quickly. In the long run, I might have done some good with my momentary lapse, and it certainly isn't going to affect my life in the long term. Maybe I can befriend the ones who seemed to be having a hard time. I certainly know what it feels like. We might be able to encourage each other. etc."
At first this story may be a theory. The more real events and observations you include, the stronger that story will be. This is where confirmation bias steps in.
But let's state another proven fact: For every negative perspective you notice, there is a positive you didn't see (and the same in reverse). Your mind sees primarily what you focus on, and ignores the rest. Otherwise, you'd be completely overloaded with too much information.
While it's fine to be clear about the negative things, if you allow the negatives to take over and exclude all positives, then you will break down and become unable to create positive results in your life and for others. This is worry.
So, start to look for the positives. Take a look back. You'll see the new story contains a few basic positives that are very likely to exist in the kinds of situations that create social anxiety. Ill list some of the elements in this specific situation below. Keep in mind that similar variables are there in any situation.
Some of those people laughing were feeling sympathetic. They felt your nervousness themselves. One of the instinctive responses to tension is to laugh. It relieves the stress. (You can apply this by laughing at yourself when you make mistakes, as long as they didn't harm others. It really surprised me how much this helps when I first tried it! Now I instinctively laugh and often even find the situation amusing, myself.)
People quickly forget your mistakes, for the most part. They are also preoccupied with the stories they are telling themselves, and there usually isn't much room for thinking about that mistake or flaw that you think is the most noticeable thing about you.
Things are a big deal to you because they are your big deal. Again. Other people are thinking about their own situations. They aren't thinking about your big deal, but their own. Many are as afraid of you as you are of them. And those people are individuals you can help set at ease, if you notice their worry is similar to your own. What would help you? Test it on them.
Helping others is something positive to think about yourself. These actions will help create additional positive memories to review. They also create situations where you are more likely to be appreciated than ignored. Even when nobody notices, knowing you have done something real that is constructive or helpful (even smiling at a stranger) will reassure you that you have control of your own view of yourself.
Counting positive moments will help you notice them more. Even something as simple as deciding to take a photo of every beautiful thing you see, or taking a moment to write it down every time you see or experience and act of kindness will set you up to see more of them. Test it. From time to time, think about how you used to feel like nothing good ever happens, and compare it to all the good things you've counted that week. Once they start taking up space, there is less room for the negative story.
Real, experienced positive moments are the best kind of story to tell yourself. They will fight back and prevent worry more than any imagined scenario ever could. Keep your eyes open for kind people and interact with them more often. Collect their positive input and kindness. Gather the compliments you receive wherever they are found. Such moments will give you much healthier stories than those created around people who are mean or dislike you. This is why gratitude is so recommended. It's basically collecting positive stories to tell yourself, on purpose.
Choose the stories you tell yourself carefully. Pay attention to that little voice that narrates your life back at you. Would you say that to a friend? You'll have to consciously reprogram it at first. But you can reprogram it. And you can create experiments for yourself that will help you see how unfounded your worries have been.
Working with a therapist might help speed up the process, so don't discard the idea outright. They're trained to teach others how to manage their thoughts.
If you want to try it alone, there are all sorts of useful studies that you can use to begin learning new ways to think. Check out to start. I think her well-researched studies will give you a sturdy framework to begin adjusting your social expectations and reactions.