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Why social interactions are stressful

By Matthias · Jun 14, 2020 · Updated Jun 17, 2020 ·
Learn three common sources of stress in social interactions, what research shows causes our emotions and how to avoid experiencing unwanted emotions.
    1. Feelings such as frustration due to not knowing how to act, anxiety due to worrying about being judged, or becoming upset in response to criticism.

    2. Unconscious beliefs that cause unconscious emotions.

    3. Negative associations based on past experiences (such as not trusting people who have something in common with people who betrayed you in the past). People may or may not be aware of these associations and how they affect their emotions.


    Contrary to what many people think, other people don’t cause our emotions. Nothing anyone says or does can make you feel a certain way. To show that this is true, consider the following example: Someone you love says, “I hate you.” You feel sad. Did that person hurt your feelings? If you said yes, suppose you got an e-mail from someone you didn’t know that said, “I hate you.” Would it hurt your feelings? If not, that proves it wasn’t the words of someone you loved that made you feel sad but something else.

    Hundreds of scientific studies have shown our beliefs strongly influence our feelings and unconscious emotions. Many people unknowingly have distorted beliefs that cause them to experience unwanted emotions. Replacing those distorted beliefs with more helpful and accurate beliefs has been shown to reduce unwanted emotions and mediate the effect of negative associations. Although you probably didn’t consciously think about it before feeling sad, you likely believed the opinion of the person you loved was important while the opinion of someone you didn’t know wasn’t important. It was those beliefs that affected how you felt in response to what you heard.

    While feeling sad after a loved one says “I hate you” is normal, healthy, and beneficial (since it motivates you to reflect on what you may have done and talk to the other person about it to work on your relationship), you probably don’t want to feel sad every time a stranger says something negative about you.

    Since you can control how you feel, you don’t have to avoid situations where someone may criticize you nor do you have to work to suppress unwanted emotions. Instead, you can reduce unhelpful emotions by changing your beliefs. For example, someone who gets upset easily may have an unhelpful belief about himself or other people such as “I’m a loser” or “No one likes me because I’m different.” Those beliefs are overgeneralizations. Learning to form more helpful and accurate beliefs would help that person to not get upset in response to criticism.

    Self-esteem is very important since a low self-esteem may cause unwanted emotions and unnecessary stress. Masking symptoms or being afraid to be yourself also creates anxiety. To help with these problems, I created the following guides:

    Part 1 - Knowing Yourself - How to improve your self-esteem
    Part 2 - Being yourself - How to act around other people

    The following guides may also be helpful:
    Sensitive to criticism? Here's how to overcome it
    Alexithymia (trouble identifying and describing emotions)


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