Do you have days where you feel that slightly edgy sense that people are staring at you? Watching and judging your every move?
For me it’s worse on days where I’m stressed and out of sorts – on normal days I’d shrug it off, or read it positively as human connection. But on stressed, anxious days where I’m over caffeinated and adrenal, those stares feel less like connection and more like threat – and even a glance can feel edgy.
I know I’m not alone on this one – I hear about it from clients all the time and I’m hearing about it much more post Covid which makes me think social anxiety has dialed up for most of us since we emerged blinking out of our lockdown caves.
Sometimes naming these painful moments can help though, can’t they? It soothed me somehow to discover that the why is everyone staring at me today paranoia has a name. It’s called the “spotlight effect” by social psychologists.
And I think the name of the condition with its Hollywood movie echoes, also contains the germ of a solution. The spotlight effect as a name captures perfectly the feeling that you’ve woken up in a bad thriller where the camera is following your every mis-step.
But when you take a step back, and a breath or two you remember that life isn’t like a movie, is it?
You’re only the main character in your own life. We get to be best supporting actor to those we love, but to most people we are minor roles, and often just walk on parts. And the secret to diffusing the anxiety of the spotlight effect is to enjoy remembering to embrace and be thankful for our walk on status in the lives of others.
When you accept the fact that very few people are giving you much attention, because they are far too busy worrying about themselves, you start to free yourself from the grip of the spotlight and find space and ease in being a walk on part in life. Most of the time if they are looking at you it’s not personal. They are dealing with their own issues, or if they actually are staring – it’s momentary. They might just like your smile, or have noticed something you’re wearing. And when those looks come, the best solution can often be to offer an open smile right back, acting as if the look was meant in goodwill – even if it wasn’t.
It’s also really helpful to remember that not only are most people rarely thinking about you, they also have no idea what you’re thinking. There’s no voice over of your internal monologue to give the game away.
Remembering all of that, when those spotlight moments hit now, I give myself a bit of 1940s tough love. I remember the words of Mother Mitford to her power house daughters. “Don’t put on airs, dear; nobody’s looking at you.” It’s remarkably freeing…
I shared a short video about this earlier in the week which you can watch by clicking on the link below.
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