Since I was a child I’ve always compared myself to others and found myself wanting. Now I’m an adult, the feeling hasn’t gone away. In fact it’s gotten worse. I fear meeting people – I get all tongue-tied and make a fool of myself, and I have the constant feeling I’m being judged all the time about how I look and what I wear. Everyone else seems to have it all together. Can you help?

I’m going to let you in on a secret. Those people you are comparing yourself to and who look so put together are probably just as nervous as you are! That’s because the turmoil we feel inside, that social anxiety you describe, never equates favourably with how other people look on the outside.

It’s a normal human trait to compare ourselves to others and perhaps feel inadequate, but that’s because we aren’t usually getting the full picture. Most people feel nervous or anxious some of the time.

The key is to acknowledge those feelings of anxiety and try to refocus.

Instead of letting that internal mantra of ‘I’m not good enough’ run around your head every time your anxiety levels begin to rise, start to build some confidence-strengthening exercises into your daily life.

Try to catch yourself thinking those negative thoughts and reframe them into positive ones. Focus on your strengths and turn down the volume on your inner critic.

To start with, this process can feel a bit strange and false, but that’s because you are so used to telling yourself about everything you’re not good at, that learning to be kind and praise yourself can be unsettling.

And remember, life is not a competition. We all do a lot better if we support and engage with each other, so learning to pick up on the positive messages others send out will help too. You might believe that no one takes notice of you, but your own negativity is probably skewing your view.

Finally, it’s good to hear you talking about change. This doesn’t have to be done in giant leaps. In fact, small steps will build up your confidence, so identify an opportunity that allows you to mix with people and then set yourself a challenge. For example, you could chat with someone new for a short period of time.

A little trick is to ask them questions about themselves to deflect the spotlight from shining too brightly on you. This way you avoid feeling under too much pressure and you can also do some preparation beforehand.

Once you begin to celebrate all of your positive points and take a few brave steps into uncharted social territory, you’ll find this feeds your confidence and raises your self-esteem.