Not caring what other people think is easier said than done.
Many of us are people pleasers by nature, so yearn for validation in some form.
But throw 24/7 social media into the equation and it’s even harder to escape the ‘likes’ and judgment from other people.
So why do we care so much about other people’s opinions?
It turns out it’s just part of our evolutionary make-up.
‘As human beings, we all want to feel accepted and like we belong. We are social beings by nature and back in the day being part of a tribe is what helped us survive. So this is hard-wired into us,’ explains Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic.
Because of this innate feeling, there is a general desire to be well-liked and respected. So, seeking validation from our friends, relatives and even strangers often comes naturally.
And while it’s normal to be conscious of other people’s thoughts in certain situations, it’s when this feeling becomes all-consuming (and social approval becomes the focus) that it can be a huge problem.
Naomi Humber, a clinical psychologist and head of mental wellbeing at Bupa, says: ‘If you have a fear of people’s thoughts you may experience constant anxiety and worry.
‘These negative feelings can lead to a low mood, depression, and social anxiety. Also, you may withdraw and place social restrictions on yourself, and this can lead to a low self-esteem and insecurities.’
What’s more, being swept up in what other people think can take us away from our own needs and desires – and, ultimately, can hold us back from creating the life we want to lead.
‘Personal insecurities, self-doubt and low self-esteem play a huge role in someone obsessively caring about other people’s thoughts,’ adds Naomi.
‘If you find yourself experiencing FOPO (fear of people’s opinions), there are ways to overcome these negative feelings.‘
This is what you can do about it…
Practical tips on how to care less about what other people think
Recognise your fears
You can try to understand more about your FOPO if you write down when you experience it, the exact symptoms and what is going through your mind.
Naomi Humber adds: ‘It can be helpful to start a diary, so you can identify any patterns, or any situations that trigger your symptoms.
‘It might not always be possible to work out what’s triggering it but try and write down as much as possible, as it can help you observe trends later on.
‘It is a lot easier to manage your worries when you have a better understanding of it.’
It could also be that you’re being a bit too hard on yourself – whether this is down to low self esteem or self-doubt. So practicing self-care and compassion might help you feel better.
Naomi says: ‘Try tuning in to your inner voice and how it speaks to you – it’s important to be kind to yourself and talk to yourself as you would your best friend – being forgiving, kind and supportive.
‘Writing down three things everyday you’re proud of can be a great way to practice self-care.
‘The idea is to build up a picture of yourself that’s positive and based on truth and evidence, which you can turn to for reassurance.’
Try to relax
A great way to keep fears at bay and stay grounded is to practice regular relaxation and breathing techniques.
Naomi adds: ‘When you feel yourself becoming anxious, try some gentle breathing exercises. These should help to bring you back to the present moment.
‘Breathe slowly and deeply from your stomach and focus on having a steady breath. Not only will this slow your heart rate down and calm any palpitations you’re experiencing, but it should relax any negative thoughts you’re experiencing, too.’
Over time, regular mindfulness, meditation or any other relaxation techniques will help you face social situations that lead might lead to to FOPO.
Take a moment for yourself
It’s easy to get lost in other people’s opinions and approval – so be sure to ground yourself and think about what you really want.
‘Identify your own values and what’s important to you – getting clear on our values can help guide us towards making decisions that are right for us rather than getting swayed by other people’s opinions,’ stresses Dr Elena.
‘Remind yourself that other people’s opinions usually have much more to say about them than they do about what’s right for you.’
Remember that we are all in our own spotlight
Recently, we’ve come across this idea of ‘main character syndrome’ – when a person believes they are destined to be the centre of a scenario – or they already are in their own life.
Dr Elena explains that this cognitive bias is referred to as the ‘spotlight effect’ in psychology.
She adds: ‘This is the idea that we have a tendency to overestimate how much others think about us or notice our behaviour when, in reality, most of us are much more focused on ourselves and our own behaviour.’
So in reality, we might actually think people care more than they do. It’s likely they are more focused on themselves instead.
Seek additional support
If you’re still experiencing physical and emotional symptoms – such as anxiety, nausea, or nervousness – and it’s impacting your daily life, Naomi says it’s time to seek support.
She adds: ‘The fear of people’s thoughts can lead to social anxiety and depression but remember there is support available.
‘Asking for help can be difficult, but it’s important to speak to your GP or a mental health professional, as they’ll be able to help.’
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