How To Deal With Social Anxiety Effectively (What Really Works For Me)

Like it or not, social anxiety could really get in the way of your life. That’s a very kind way of putting it. The cold brutal truth is, social anxiety could seriously mess up your career, ambition, relationship, and rule your life in general. I’ve struggled with social anxiety for at least 15 years of my life. If I had a choice, I would have dealt with it at an earlier stage in my life.

The problem with social anxiety is that the symptoms are often confused with introversion or sometimes you feel that you’re just being shy. But if you’re gradually getting terrified talking to strangers, and become overwhelmingly self-conscious on what others are thinking about you in a social situation, chances are you’re having social anxiety issues. How you choose to deal with social anxiety could mean very different results to your life.

How To Deal With Social Anxiety Effectively

How To Deal With Social Anxiety Effectively

We all experience social anxiety differently. Some are more severe while some could put a smile on their face and while they’re cracking up inside. Regardless of what you’re going through, it is easy for the society to misunderstand you as being disrespectful, anti-social and rude. Those who never went through social anxiety will never understand how it feels like.

I did mention in one of my posts that I didn’t realize I was suffering from social anxiety for a very long time. But that doesn’t make the fear of meeting and talking to people any less real. I’ve always thought about being ‘normal‘, as I refuse to fall victim to a condition I believe I could overcome.

RECOMMENDED: 21 Brain Foods That Help Depression And Anxiety

Now, this is not a fairy tale of reading a self-help book or reciting a mantra and I’m a changed man tomorrow. Dealing with social anxiety is tough. Overcoming it completely may seem impossible, but it’s not. It’s only a matter of time, effort and the support you have.

I’m just going to share here some of my experience of dealing with tough situations when I was not even aware of my anxiety issues. I’m not saying that it will be perfectly effective for you, but I sincerely hope it does.

1. Face Your Fear Or Run Away?

Forcing someone who is terrified of public speaking to face their fear and step on the stage may not be the wisest thing to do. Facing your fear in a brutal manner could result in traumatic experience, thus further aggravating your social anxiety. (Dr. Barbara Markway got it beautifully right in this article)

I’m speaking from my experience where I force myself to make a cold-call to a stranger and pitch my services when I was about to turn freelance. It lasted less than 60 seconds with the poor guy barely understanding what I’m stammering about.

Avoidance may seem the best thing to do when the thoughts of making a cold call or public speaking terrify you so much. That’s what we would have done intuitively. It’s just like putting a problem into a box and shoving it into the dark corner of our store. But the problem is still there.

Without realizing, you will soon build a habit of compartmentalizing less fearful situation, like gathering, discussion and soon you’ll realize it’s hard to even smile to the person next door without having thoughts like “I must be looking like a fool“.

If you’re suffering from what I’ve gone through and you’re reading this right now, know that I do respect you. But I would not sugarcoat the truth from you. You have to face your fear eventually. The only question is when and how? Take this from a person who once doesn’t even dare to write a post on Facebook, much less creating a blog like this.

2. Small Little Steps

How To Deal With Social Anxiety Effectively

When you imagine your social fear as a huge mountain across your path, it seems almost impossible to pass. But you start with small little steps. You scale it down and take small actions. If going up on the stage for a presentation scares the light out of you, start with presenting to a small group of friends.

If you think that’s too much to handle, then just rehearse the speech on your own. Start at somewhere you feel that you’re comfortable with. When you’re confident with what you’re doing, take small little baby steps to do something more. By more, I mean those that would cause discomfort to you. That’s how you outgrow your social anxiety.

You can turn it into a plan with a clear goal. And most importantly, stick to the plan. Your steps could be small, but it doesn’t stop. If there’s anything, it is with determination that you’ll ultimately overcome your social phobia that will push you through.

3. The Big Leap

You’ve done all the groundworks, put in the countless hours and everything is according to plan. You’ve rehearsed to your group of friends and they think you’re awesome. It doesn’t matter if it’s the dreaded phone call you have to make, or the presentation to a hall full of audience, there is the one big leap in the end.

On the verge of the actual situation, you’ll feel the rush of self-doubts and negative self-talks slowly sucking all the confidence that you’ve painfully built up. I’ve been there and I know what it’s like. But in the end, you have to push yourself and “just do it”.

Now, you can’t put a stop to those negative thoughts. It’s impossible. Sure, you can mentally compartmentalize to attempt to ignore the thoughts but it’s not effective in the long run. The better way (at least for me), is to train my mind to stop believing your own thoughts. That’s right, stop believing how your mind is trying to sabotage you.

It’s an effective way not only to launch ourselves into the socially awkward situation but also to deal with the aftermath.

Mindfulness practice is a good way to start. I’m just going to be straight to the point, if you want to build up mindfulness, you need to practice mindfulness meditation. And you have to start weeks ahead for any positive results.

Start by getting a copy of mindfulness meditation guide here.

4. Don’t Give Up

I hate to talk about it. But yes, the first time of doing something you’ve never done before could end with mixed results. Sometimes you do well, but sometimes it’s below expectation. It could be pretty demoralizing when you failed. But hey, my first cold call is a disaster. My first 5 minutes of public speaking is barely memorable.

Your mind will whisper thoughts like “I’ll never be good enough” or “I’ll only fail again” and seriously, it’s tempting to give in and retreat to the cocoon we built for our social anxiety. But if you have strengthen your mind along with your skills, there is a chance that you’ll brush those thoughts away.

How To Deal With Social Anxiety Effectively

You can rephrase your thinking with thoughts like “There is no failing but only learning and feedback“, which is pretty true. People don’t really care if you make mistakes. And they would have forgotten about it way before you do. Our mind amplifies all these negative experiences. Stop listening and believing in them.

The fact is, when you look back, you’ve actually done something that you would never in your wildest dream imagine you could. That itself is a major accomplishment. Your mind is like two fighting wolves. Empower the positive one and they will grow. Do not feed the wrong wolf.

5. And Take It Further

I know it sounds terrible when we’re told that our anxiety issues “is all in our head“. While that may seem insulting at worst, I do reluctantly believe that statement in a way. We may have different causes and triggers for our social anxiety, but I believe our brain ultimately changes as it became accustomed to repeated behaviors.

Even when the cause of our social anxiety ceases to exist, we continue to avoid certain situations intuitively because it has become a fixed behavior. Check this article on neuroplasticity and you’ll get what I mean. Overcoming a couple of social anxiety challenges may feel good at the moment, but you’ll need to grow your mind continuously to totally shake of your social phobia.

I can’t stress enough of mindfulness, as it has been critical for me. I know some people have problems starting mindfulness meditation for their anxiety issues, and that may be they are using meditation like an instant pill to suppress their anxiety. It doesn’t work that way. Read this for the right way to meditate when you’re anxious.

Also, check out this video of  Jon Kabat-Zinn explaining how do you deal with anxious feelings in meditation below.

Over To You.

What did you do to deal with social anxiety? Do you have any tips that I may have missed out? Or you have an inspiring story to tell? Share your thoughts below.

12 thoughts on “How To Deal With Social Anxiety Effectively (What Really Works For Me)”

  1. Hi there,
    This is a topic that’s so important in the world today. There is so much stress, anxiety, depression and a whole lot of other emotional illnesses that for some people its very hard to live a normal life.
    I am glad that you highlighted some of these issues and when people search online, at least there is some great advise and information on how to deal with these problems.
    Well done on writing about this concern and best wishes going forward.
    Cheers.Phil Browne

    1. Hi Phil,

      Thanks for checking it out. It’s about time that more people open up and start seeking solution to issues like anxiety and depression.

      Cheers,
      Kenny

  2. I definitely have problems with social anxiety fear. I’m more of the run away type of person. It may make sense to take small steps at first. I know rehearsing a speech might sound weird, but it could just be the answer to a start, at least for me. I do believe I have self doubt and my confidence level isn’t up to par, but your suggestions here seem to be what I’m looking for. Thanks!

    1. Hi Rob,

      I can relate to what you’re feeling. I used to go into denial mode. But I figured that’s not the long term answer. I believe you have what it takes to take small little steps.

      Cheers,
      Kenny

  3. Hi Kenny, thanks for the great article. My social anxiety appeared when I was in high school. I had a couple of bad experiences with bullies and other kids because of how I was. I used to participate in class and was a very outgoing kid. I became very shy and introvert. I thought it was normal. I realized about my anxiety when I was in college. I had a hard time talking with other people. During class, when professors asked a question and I knew the answer and wanted to say it my throat would get stuck. Also, before any event, like a job interview, I would start thinking about the event and agonize over it many days before the event happened. Now, I am much better and starting to change for the best. What has helped me is to recognize that I have anxiety and to be kind to myself. Before, I used to be strict and feel upset because I was feeling anxious. I would say to myself things like “I am a man. I shouldn’t be feeling like this, etc.” Now, I say kind and positive things to myself like “it is OK to feel like this. I am learning something new. I can do this”. This really works for me and when I get to do the things that cause me anxiety I forget about the anxiety because I am able to focus on the tasks that I have to do. You are right, we have to face the problem and take gradual steps towards fixing it. I find it that reading inspirational stories and listening to motivational speeches on a daily basis make a tremendous difference because all the positive messages go to the subconscious mind and change how we think and perceive things.

    1. Hi Daniel,

      I’m sure many of us can relate to your sharing. It’s a common mentality that men are not allowed to be mentally challenged. Many soaked up all the stress and anxiety and some ended with worse tragedy.

      I like the way you rephrase your self-talk. It would be great if you inspire others to do the same.

      Cheers,
      Kenny

  4. Wow I can definitely relate to all of this. Having suffered from major depression for some years, I completely understand how anxiety can make you feel handicapped.

    I struggled particularly in trying to tell anyone about my personal problems. I actually believe that nobody will take me seriously and they will all judge me to be a loser.

    But now that I’ve recovered, I think that it was pretty stupid for me to have felt that way. Anyway, the tips that you have presented here will surely help many who are struggling with anxiety issues.

    Great article!

    1. Hi Farhan,

      Thanks for sharing your experience here. When we’re depressed, our mind will create negative stories where we are tempted to believe in. But in the end they are just thoughts.

      I’m happy that you recovered.

      Cheers,
      Kenny

  5. Overcoming through gradual exposure or desensitization is one good way. One has to practice in order to gain confidence in anything. And socializing is just like a muscle; use it or lose it.

    I’d like to add my 2 cents, especially since I used to be way more socially anxious than I am these days and thus have overcome much.

    However, I actually did NOT put a lot of effort into it. The main thing is I simply quit worrying or anticipating all social situations with dread or seeing negative images in my mind. Instead, I just empty my mind and don’t think about it at all, or else I prepare myself in a constructive way. What I’m saying here, actually, is probably similar to mindfulness which you mention.

    Also, when a social situation doesn’t go well, I don’t ruminate on it anymore. In other words, I don’t repeat the negative or awkward experience in my head like a broken record. If I play it in my head again at all, I edit it to go how I want it to go, so that way I correct the mistakes while emphasizing what went RIGHT.

    1. Hi,

      I agree with what you said. Instead of being tense and over conscious that aggravate our social phobia, it’s sometimes better to just relax and don’t hold on to any expectations or what others think about us.

      I’m glad you found a positive way for your situation. And thanks for sharing it here.

      Cheers,
      Kenny

  6. I can relate when you mentioned that people misunderstand those with social anxiety as “disrespectful, anti-social and rude. I used to retreat into my room whenever my mother’s friends came over for a visit. I did not know what to say to them and I found their conversation highly boring. But then again, I was just a kid at that time. I don’t think I’ll ever be a social butterfly but I’ve improved over the years. It’s good to know that meditation can help with social anxiety issues.

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