Tag Archives: Anxiety

Helping Your Child Face Their Fears

I had a patient a long time ago who was extraordinarily emotionally unbalanced. She came from the wackiest family you could ever imagine and she had been on many different drugs. I remember asking her what she took.  “Whatever’s available,” she said.  I was surprised she wasn’t dead.  However, she was a remarkable person, and as time went on, she got better and better. She ended up becoming a professional in the medical industry and was very good at her job.

One day in a session, she became terribly upset and started storming around my office.   She pointed to my diplomas and other things hanging on the walls, shouting about how I’d accomplished so much more than her even though we were the same age.   I simply said, “We can’t compare ourselves.  I had to walk across a field – you had to dig yourself out of a hole.  If I had to crawl out of the hole you did, I don’t know where I’d be.”

Some people have to overcome a lot inside of them to get from point A to point B.  Others slide from point A to point B with very little road rash.  Some of you are scared to death of going to a party whereas others walk in with a bottle of wine and say, “Where’s the food?”

Part of anxiety is genetic and some of it is learned. Many parents are so concerned about their kids never feeling hurt, embarrassed or uncomfortable that when they have to face something on their own in the world, they can’t cope. Kids have to learn that life is sometimes disappointing and that just when three good things happen, one bad thing can come and hit you in the mouth.

So when your child is afraid, how can you help them face their fears?

Believe it or not, the most powerful tool for helping a child overcome their anxiety is simple: talking!  When something is in your head, it’s like a malformed monster.  It doesn’t have dimensions or clarity – it’s just fear with scariness attached to it.  But when you describe the fear out loud, you turn the dimensionless feeling into something tangible.  It’s now a thing you can put in front of you and look at, and it loses power.  When it’s inside, it’s all-powerful, but on the outside, we have power against it.

The more articulate a child is about their fears, the better they will handle being shy and fearful.  That’s why talking is so important.  You can make it a game.  Ask your child, “If what you are afraid of were an animal, what kind of animal would it be?  If it were a thing, what kind of thing would it be? What color would it be?” They will not only have fun trying to describe their fear with colors, textures, sizes, and sounds, but they will feel a sense of power and control over what it is and what it means to them.  They can now see it, hit it, push it, pinch it, and put it in a box.

Let’s say, for example, that your child is afraid of a monster in their closet or under their bed.  Ask them what the monster looks like, how big it is, and how much it weighs.  Have them define it in three dimensions.  Then say, “How do you think we could take care of this? OK, here’s what we’re going to do.  I have this special blanket, and if I capture this creature with the blanket and put it in the trash, it can’t get out.”  Do this and your kid will go right to sleep.

At any age, it’s incredibly impressive when someone is afraid to do something but does it anyway. So parents, if you take away anything from this blog, it should be this: When your child is afraid of doing something but does it anyway, support them out their ears.

*A Not-So-Fun-Factoid: What is the biggest fear for kids? Their parents getting divorced!  On average, kids will tell you that they would rather a parent be dead than divorced.  If their parent is dead, they don’t feel left behind on purpose or see their parents fighting or establishing new families with new kids. With a divorce, the gates of hell are opened permanently and the torture never ends.  The number one thing kids call about on my program is, “My parents are divorced and I don’t see my mom or dad.”

Stop Putting Off Your Procrastination Problem

The definition of procrastination is putting off something that was planned or scheduled.  Statistics indicate that most people procrastinate.  At least 20 percent of the population calls themselves chronic procrastinators, and according to some researchers, procrastination has more than quadrupled in the last 30 years. 

I think that more and more people have become accustomed to procrastination in recent years for the same reasons that fewer men are going to college and fewer young adults are becoming autonomous – very little is expected of them anymore.

When we were in the era of responsibility, obligations were taken seriously.  Very few people procrastinated because there were consequences for doing so.  However, people today are hardly ever held accountable for anything, especially teens and young adults.  It used to be that if you had an 8-to-4 job, you arrived at your desk at 8 ready to work; you weren’t stumbling through the door at 9.  A lot of young people don’t get that, and then wonder why they are having such a tough time getting jobs.  It’s not just because of the economy – there is simply a lack of respect for young adults in the business world today because they lack commitment, work ethic, diligence, focus, and pride in what they do.

In addition, advances in technology have come at the cost of reducing many people’s effectiveness.   Between the TV, Facebook, and the latest Blackberrys and iPads, technology is providing people with constant distractions.  And with more lazy, unmotivated people sitting around drooling into screens, it’s no wonder that the procrastination statistics keep going up. 

Another contributing factor is that there isn’t a whole lot of parenting going on anymore.  Fewer and fewer kids are spending time with Mommy and Daddy at the dinner table discussing their day.  Chalk it up to divorce or no parent staying at home, but the outcome is the same: kids get away with murder and there’s no hell to pay.  Parents are failing to teach their kids about obligations and responsibilities.  A hundred years ago, kids got up at 5 a.m. and did a whole heck of a lot of stuff before they went to school.  Nowadays, I have parents calling me up complaining about how they can’t get their kids to get dressed in the morning.  It’s ridiculous. 

As you can see, people are not born procrastinators; they are formed to be that way.  And sadly, when they become chronic procrastinators, the results can be dire.  They often experience financial failure or end up dying younger than they should because they don’t bother to go get tests.

If you have a problem with procrastination, here’s what to do:

People procrastinate for all kinds of reasons, but more often than not, I think procrastination is a kind of passive aggressive behavior: “Screw you!” “I don’t have to!” “I don’t want to!”  “I don’t feel like it!”  So, if you really want to change, stop being hostile and start acting like a responsible person.

Don’t overthink what you have to do or make things too complicated – just get started.  It’s funny how something you were initially dreading can all of sudden become easier once you start it.  If you want an example of this, just listen to some of the people who call in to my program.  They may start off extremely nervous, but once they start talking, all their hesitation goes away.   

If you feel overwhelmed by a big project, break it up into smaller chunks.  Start with the hardest part first and then take a step back.  You’ll likely find that once you’ve finished each smaller task, the bigger project isn’t as difficult as you feared.

If you don’t have the right skills to complete a project, do some research or call someone to help you.  YouTube, for example, has a million useful little videos of people explaining how to do all kinds of stuff.  I learned how to drill certain jewelry pieces I’ve worked on from watching YouTube videos.

If you don’t have the right tools, find out where you can buy or borrow them.

Set realistic goals.  What can you realistically do given your abilities?  Ask someone to help pace you.

If you’re easily distracted by clutter, your phone, or your friends, then block out time dedicated to working on what you need to get done.  I rarely have my cell phone on me.  It certainly frustrates a lot of people who want to get a hold of me at that precise moment, but when I want to sit and deal with something, I cut out the distractions.  One of the things you must do in life is prioritize.  Do what needs to be done first, not what you wish to do.  Always remind yourself of what the highest priority is.
 
If you are a perfectionist (as I tend to be), you need to learn to control your impulse to be perfect.  I remember reading about one culture which purposefully put one tiny mistake in everything they made.  I thought that was so clever – what you do doesn’t always have to be perfect to be an expression of you.

Lastly, if you are afraid of failing or taking responsibility, you need to remember that the greatest failure is sitting there like a lump of protoplasm and not trying.  Failing is an inevitable part of trying, but failing is not an endpoint – not trying is.  Failure is at least a step forward toward success.

Getting yourself organized and putting a stop to your procrastination is pretty simple.  Set a reasonable goal, give yourself a time frame, dump the excuses, and figure out a way to hold yourself accountable. In short, just make it happen.

Getting the Most Out of Therapy

Once I started becoming more “known” from my radio program and books, I had to give up my private practice.  Folks would come in for sessions and expect me to work magic in three and a half minutes.  It became clear to me that I couldn’t be as effective one-on-one anymore.  So instead, I wrote books and did my show because I thought that those were the best ways I could help people.  

However, there are times on my program when I tell callers that they need to do a little more extensive work.  I can give them a jump-start, but they need to pick up where we left off in therapy.

Therapy can be a very complicated process, and there aren’t many therapists who do it well.  When looking for a therapist, there are a few things you need to do.  First, and most importantly, you have to form a relationship with your therapist.  When people call in to my program, they generally have listened to me for a while.  This means that they have already developed a kind of relationship with me in their minds.  When you go into somebody’s office for therapy, it usually takes a while to form that relationship. Without it, there isn’t going to be trust.  Although it seems like I receive instant trust from the people who call in to my show, that’s not really the case.  Most callers have been listening to me for a long time (sometimes 20 years or more), and therefore, the trust part is pretty much all squared away. 

Your clinician also needs to be a good fit for you.  Not every therapist makes the same choices or has the same personality and expertise. For example, when I was involved in private practice, I would not deal with anyone’s insurance companies.  They paid for their sessions, and I signed the insurance papers for them to submit.  I did this because I didn’t want my fights with an insurance company to interfere with our relationship.   

In addition, I believe that your first session should be free and on the phone.  It’s not really a session – it’s simply you asking a lot of questions.  You can always look up somebody’s license and credentials, but you still need to ask them about their expertise.  A lot of people get psychology licenses of various kinds and then claim that they can do anything.  However, there are specific areas of expertise.  Make sure you ask.  If you’re nervous about asking questions, first write them down on a piece of paper.  You may be less afraid to ask them if you put them in writing. 

This process may be uncomfortable, but if you don’t feel safe and comfortable with the therapist at first, you are not likely going to meet your goals with them later. 

Personally, I think that if you are seeking marital therapy, you should ask if the therapist is divorced.  Statistically speaking, when a therapist is divorced, he or she is more permissive of divorce.  And if they’re more permissive of divorce, it may impact how you perceive your marriage.  It’s the same old thing – if other people have done it, we feel like it’s more acceptable.  So, be sure to ask if they’re divorced and for how long.

Also ask about their ethics and how they’ve continued their education.  Once you’re done asking everything you want to ask, repeat this process with three to five more therapists.  See who gets defensive and who answers your questions openly. 

I know it can be intimidating or feel like you’re being impolite, but you must ask questions.  The truth is, your therapist is your hired help.  And if you do hire them, you’ll want to be able to ask them honest questions later, such as, “I don’t understand how this is helping; can you please explain it to me?” 

Nevertheless, you must also remember that the therapist does not assume the entire burden.  Therapy is hard work, and in order to improve, you have to do the work.  It’s the same principle as playing the piano – if you don’t practice, you’re not going to play very well.  You may notice that I often give assignments to callers on my program.   That’s because change doesn’t happen in one session – it happens outside of the session.  It’s an active process.  You can’t expect to go to therapy once a week and then not give it a moment’s thought until the next session.  The sessions are important but so is your effort to reflect on the content of those sessions and apply it on a daily basis. If you don’t make progress, it could very well be your own fault.  As I’ve said many times on the air, “Hey, I’m not going to work harder on your life than you are.” 

Finally, you need to expect that at some point during therapy, things could become extremely painful, uncomfortable, or unpleasant.  There are often blockages you have to work through.  You may start placing some of your past relationship issues on your therapist or treat them as if they were your mother, father, sister, etc.  Sometimes you’ll want to quit therapy or wonder why you’re bothering to spend money to be in pain.   You might even develop a habit of arriving late to sessions as a mechanism of avoidance.  However, when you start freaking out or getting defensive, you absolutely must go back and talk to your therapist about it.  Say, for example, “After opening up to you last time about ___, I became very vulnerable.”  Really good therapists are trained to understand and deal with your concerns.   

To bring it full circle, this is why establishing an initial relationship with your therapist is important – you need to be able to discuss anything and everything.  If you don’t trust your therapist or don’t feel like they believe in you, there will be no change.  You’ll simply reenact the same patterns with them and everybody else.

How to Say ‘No’

Are you scared of saying “no” to people?  Are you worried that you’ll look bad, not be liked, or come across as rude or selfish if you do? 

Sometimes we don’t want to say “no” because we think we’ll lose a friend or we want to help everybody.  But saying “no” doesn’t mean you’re rude or disagreeable.  It also doesn’t necessarily mean that there are going to be fights or burned bridges.  These are false beliefs we concoct in our minds.  It really all depends on how we say “no”.     

There are good ways and bad ways to say “no”.  The first thing you ought to do, if it’s at all reasonable, is to ask the person to let you think about their request.  You may not have the time or the wherewithal to handle what they’ve asked you to do because of some other responsibility or commitment you have.  Ask them to give you a night to think on it.  That way, it’s a “maybe”, not a “no”, and they at least feel like you have considered it.  If you realize that you really can’t do it, you need to tell them “no” but also say something positive.  The best way to say “no” is to a) say something positive and b) promise something else.  For example, say, “I really wish I could do ___ for you.”  (That’s positive).  Then follow it up with, “Although I can’t do ___, I can do ___.” 

This concept applies to all your relationships from work to your clubs and organizations.  Simply say, “Even though I really wanted to find a way to make ___ happen, I couldn’t.  However, I can do ___. 

Another tip: Give them a good reason why you can’t do something, not a list of excuses.  “I sprained my ankle, my kid’s off from school at that time, etc.” may all be legitimate reasons why you can’t do something for someone, but you should only give one.  You may think giving more excuses makes you look better, but in fact, it makes you look worse.  If you start giving multiple excuses, it looks like you really don’t want to do it.  If you tell the other person in one sentence, “I’m sorry, I would really like to do ___ for you, but my mother and father are coming to town and I haven’t seen them in quite a while,” it seems more like you give a darn.

Sometimes you may not be the best person for the job.  Tell them that.  Say, “I’d really like to do that, but I don’t think I’m the best person because I’m not good at ‘X’, ‘Y’ or ‘Z’.  But Bill or Mary is.” 

Somebody recently contacted me online at my Dr. Laura Designs store asking me if I could do a particular project for an event.  I told them that I would look into it.  I didn’t want to say “yes” because I didn’t know anything about how to do the particular craft, and I didn’t want to promise anything I couldn’t do.  I did some research and realized that the learning curve for me to figure out how to do it would probably be a month, and the project was due in a week.  So I responded back I would have loved to be able to do it but I couldn’t because I didn’t know how and couldn’t figure it out in time for the event.  I felt bad.  I don’t like to disappoint people and I really do like a challenge, but time constraints and my lack of expertise made it difficult for me to follow through. 

Finally, if you don’t want to help someone because you think they’re using you or they’re just a crummy person, you don’t need to say so.  Even though you may be thinking, “I hate your guts and I’d rather eat frogs than help you,” that’s not the kind of thing you should say to anybody unless you really want to get them out of your life for good.  It’s always nicer to tell a truth that isn’t so ugly.  Simply say, “I regret that I’m not able to do this for you.  I hope you can find somebody else to help you,” as opposed to, “Drop dead!” or, “Go to hell!”   

Learning to say “no” is important because many of you let other people devour your lives out of a false sense of obligation.  You end up having too much on your plate, which means you won’t do any of it very well, and that’s not morally right.  Sometimes you have to disappoint people in order to maintain healthy follow-through on the obligations you already have. 

 

Becoming a Mom – The New Reality

One of the scariest things in the universe is having to transition to being a mom.  At first, it’s a very romantic and cute idea.  You picture the little baby always smiling, and you anticipate getting to hug him or her whenever you want.  You think about how sweet it is that you and your spouse made this baby together as a composite of all your love for each other.  It’s going to be so much fun.  You can’t wait!

But then, the baby is born and reality sets in.

When my son was born, I called up every friend I knew who had ever had a baby and pleaded, “How do you get him to stop crying?! What’s the story?”   Some of them said, “Oh, just put him in the car seat and go driving,” but that didn’t help me much because even though the kid could sleep, I wouldn’t be getting any rest.  I gave it a try, but he only screamed more.   

We had a screamer.  It was a constant thing, and we could never figure out what he was screaming about.  “Does something hurt?”  “Are you wet?”  “Are you hungry?”  “Are you constipated?”  “What is the problem?!”  We just wanted to hold up pictures and hope he’d point at whatever was wrong.  However, babies don’t point or tell you, they just scream.  We even got one of those itty bitty baby swings, figuring that the rocking motion was going to work.   But it didn’t fix anything.  Finally, while I was looking through the mail, I came across an advertisement for a stuffed bear that was supposed to help kids sleep.  It contained a mechanism inside of it, which emulated the heartbeat sound that the baby hears when he or she is floating around in the uterus’s amniotic fluid.  When my husband came home from work that day, I said, “Lew, go out and find this bear, and don’t come home until you have it.” 

Yes, I was that crazed, and he knew I meant it.

While he was gone, I was lying on the bed trying to console the crying baby.  I put him on my stomach, tried petting him, and hummed/sang to him.  Every now and then he’d quiet down, but then he’d start screaming again.  Just when I was about to cry myself, Lew walked in the door holding the heart bear.  He stuck a nine-volt battery in its tush and turned it on. 

My son’s eyes got huge, and within a split second, he was out.  Boom.  Asleep.
 
Mr. Bear was like a miracle drug.  Although my kid is now 26 and doesn’t sleep with him anymore, I have kept Mr. Bear (even though he doesn’t work anymore) because he sure saved everybody’s life.

I use this story about my son to illustrate one of the more frustrating and scary moments about becoming a new mom: when you have no idea what the baby wants.  It’s an awful feeling when you’re standing there willing to do anything for your baby, but you don’t know what it is you’re supposed to do.  You figure it’s the standard things – they need warmth, food, contact, or cleaning – but none of those ends up being the problem.  In my case, it was the heart bear that did the trick.  For some reason, when I lay my son on my own chest and he could hear my heart pounding, it wasn’t nearly as impressive to him as his memory of the womb.     

New mothers have a lot of reasonable fears.  Here are just a few of them:

Everybody who says they want a baby pictures a sweet, happy child who is easy to get along with, studies, does well, has friends, and possesses many talents.  However, pregnancy is this big unknown.  You have no idea what kind of little person is going to come out until he or she grows up enough to start expressing him or herself.   Some kids are cuddly, and some cry a lot.  Some seem to bond readily, and others don’t.  Some are born unhealthy, and others are born healthy.  In the meantime, you have a whole lot of uncertainty going on.  It can be exciting, but it can also be uncomfortable.   There are a lot of challenges that you’re not going to know about until the baby is born.
 
Another worry is that you’ll turn into your mother.   Whatever your opinion of your mother’s mothering, it’s your first and strongest model of mothering.   A lot of you say, “I am not going to be like my mother,” but then you start hearing yourself sounding just like her.  That’s because it was your first experience, and it’s what you are familiar with.   Of course you don’t want to blindly stumble along in the footprints of familiarity, but you also don’t want to reflexively react against your mother’s parenting style.  Think about the good stuff you learned from your mom, consider the things you don’t think were the best, and formulate your own method of mothering.   You don’t just want to say, “Well, my mother did ‘x’ so I’m going to do the exact opposite,” because the opposite may not always be a good alternative.   Remember the Dr. Spock era where kids were encouraged to have total freedom to express themselves?  Yeah, that bombed.

You also may worry that your marriage will never be the same again.  Well, that’s true.  Although a baby doesn’t weigh much or speak, the minute you have them there, they rule.  However, the key to holding on to your marriage is to work together as a team.  The experience of having a baby can’t be about one of you being superior, more knowledgeable, or more in charge than the other.  The two of you need to be a team. 

For example, when I was trying to house-train my most recent baby (my Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy, Sweet Pea), my husband and I had a system.  I’d pick her up and carry her to the door, my husband would open the door, the doggie would relieve herself outside, and then my husband would help open the door to bring her back inside the house.  We also had a system years ago when my son was breastfeeding.  At a certain time, my husband would get up and bring me the baby.  I’d breastfeed, and then one of us would change the baby’s diaper.  After that, the other one would put the baby back to bed. 

That is what you have to maintain to keep your relationship strong:  a team effort.  On a side note, women’s brains are wired very differently for hearing baby sounds than men’s brains.  The reason is obvious: Since babies come from our bodies and suckle at our breasts, it’s a part of our biology for us to hear those little high pitched noises.  So, don’t think your husband is just being a drag and a bum if he doesn’t immediately get up when the baby calls – his brain is simply not wired to hear what you hear.

Another worry is that you’re going to be a bad parent.  I hear that far too often.  I know it’s easy to think about that in this extreme age of parenting where people are hovering over their kids and trying to make them be totally happy and successful without having to put in any effort, but you shouldn’t worry.  Being a good parent is really just about being open and willing to listen, putting your needs aside, and parenting even when it’s inconvenient, uncomfortable, or unpleasant.   It takes a lot and there may not be one specific way to do it because you and your spouse’s personalities have to coordinate, but you can do it. 

One of the things new mothers often say early on in the first year is, “I don’t think I like this parenting thing. What have I gotten myself into?!”   However, you have to remember that kids are always changing, and the experience of motherhood changes along with them.  Things won’t always be so difficult and overwhelming, and you are bound to have favorite and less favorite phases.  Just look at their sweet little faces while they’re sleeping, and you’ll remember why you got yourself into this.

A final worry is that you’ll be trapped.  It’s not as carefree of a life when you have a baby.  Unless you’ve got grandma living near you so you can go out to dinner and a movie, everything changes.  My husband and I would have to bring the car seat into restaurants with us.  As soon as our son started fussing, one of us would go outside and rock him while the other ate, and then we switched.  We very rarely got to eat together in a restaurant, but we still tried to do it about once a week so we wouldn’t go completely stir-crazy. 

There is a lot of negative thinking and anxiety when you become a new mom, and there are many adjustments you have to make.  Sometimes you think you’re going to mess up and do something terribly wrong, or you have nightmares about something horrible happening to your child.  You may even feel trapped and want to get out of the situation.  However, these are all normal anxieties.  The most important thing you can do is talk about them out loud.   That’s where girlfriends, mothers, or good mother-in-laws come in.  I remember one time when I was getting batty, I called up a girlfriend who was already on her second baby.  I told her, “Oh my gosh, I’m having terrible thoughts,” and she said, “Oh yeah, you’re going to think about setting them on the curb from time to time.  But don’t worry, that’s normal.”   Simply having the support of another mom telling you that what you’re feeling is normal is a huge help.

If you are having a hard time as a new mom, don’t hate or get down on yourself.  When you’re feeling stressed out, it’s time to hand the baby to Dad and go take a walk or a bath.  Do something to refresh yourself for a little bit and then come back.   It’s a difficult transition, but you can handle it.

And just think – when they become teenagers and start driving, you’ll look back and say, “Gosh, that was easy.”

Everyone Can Relate to Feeling Shy

It doesn’t matter if you’re an introverted type or an extroverted type, everyone can relate to feeling shy because nobody wants to feel poorly judged or rejected.  We all want to be accepted.  We tend to think only introverts are shy, but that’s not true.  Shyness has more than just to do with being uncomfortable around other people – it largely comes from being worried about rejection.

Shyness is all about the self: self-consciousness, self-evaluation, self-preoccupation…self, self, self. 

  • You are overly aware of yourself.
  • You tend to see yourself negatively.
  • You tend to pay too much attention to all the things you might be doing wrong when there are other people around.

Everyone can relate to this, and it’s actually kind of normal.  However, the problem is when people take it to the nth degree.  Their hypersensitivity causes a lot of anxiety – e.g. they become preoccupied with someone raising an eyebrow because they assume it must mean something about them.  And if you’ve decided you’re shy, then you will often play that role.  You psychologically feel inclined to live up to those expectations

The first thing you need to consider in getting over your shyness is what situations trigger your feelings:  Are they work situations?  Social situations?  Do they involve all males?  All females?  People you don’t know?  Some people you know but have a hard time getting along with?  It’s really important to sit there and think, “Is this situational in some way?  What is triggering this feeling?“ 

In addition, you basically need to understand that the world is not paying that much attention to you.  Sorry.  Most people are too busy looking at themselves.  If you’ve got a whole room full of shy people, nobody really cares about anybody else because they’re only concerned with how they’re being registered.

Here’s another tip: stop trying to be perfect.  A woman called into my show the other day who was SERIOUS about trying to be perfect.  I just laughed and said, “Well I can’t help you with that because I don’t understand perfect.  I never got to be there.  I don’t think there is such a place.”  If you’re completely arrogant, you can think you’re perfect, but nobody is actually perfect.  And even if you could be perfect, a lot of people would hate you for being perfect, and therefore, you still wouldn’t be liked by everybody.  You have to accept that some people are just not going to judge you positively or want to have anything to do with you. 

At some point, you have to accept rejection and not take it personally.  That’s why in my book, 10 Stupid Things Couples Do to Mess Up Their Relationships, I say that if you get rejected by another person, then it’s “not a match,” not that the “other person is horrible.” 

If you’re shy, there are some simple things you can do when you start feeling uncomfortable: 

First of all, it’s helpful to recognize that you’re good at something and that you have something to offer.  But do you know what’s the number one thing you can offer? 
An interest in somebody else. 

When you’re in a social situation and you’re spending all of your time thinking about how bad you look, how bad you are, how nobody’s going to like you, how you sound stupid, how you have nothing intelligent to say, etc., you’re not paying any attention to anyone else.  That’s why they’re not interested in you.  People are the most interested in people who are interested in them.  It’s as simple as that. 

So, the best technique for breaking the ice and feeling more comfortable in a social situation is showing interest in someone else.  Ask questions about their life, their family, their hobbies, and their work.  Shyness is merely an unbelievably excessive focus on the self, and therefore, it can be overcome by showing interest in somebody else.

The next time the anxiety sets in, just breathe.  Take some slow, deep breaths, close your eyes (unless you’re driving), and concentrate only on breathing and feeling the air going in and out.  Then, look around the room and think, “Wow. Look how fortunate I am to have this opportunity to perhaps meet some people who will be wonderful in my life and me in theirs.”