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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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