In another thread I asked if anyone would like me to share how I overcame Social Anxiety with a long detailed post. There were some that did, and others that had no interest.
If you do not have interest, that is perfectly fine. For those that do, I hope you are able to get something out of my journey and I would feel very satisfied if a single person improved due to a simple hour of me writing the following.
1- About Me
2- All Anxiety Comes From Fear. Period
3- Good and Bad, Happy and Sad
4- Climb a mountain and tell no one
5- Past, Present, and Future
6- Expose yourself
1- About Me
One year ago I was petrified of even the smallest social interaction. I remember walking down an isle in a grocery store and as I got closer to a random stranger that was down the isle my anxiety increased with every step. I would fear something so small as them striking up a conversation and having to reply without sounding stupid.
When I decided to aggressively pursue learning as much as possible about Social Anxiety, I felt a noticeable improvement within a week, significant improvement within a month and now a year later don’t think about Social Anxiety ever. Prior to this, for 30 years I had tried a laundry list of medications and just generally avoided situations that made me uncomfortable.
Currently, I work as an accountant for one of the top Business Schools outside of the USA. I have meetings, speeches, and interactions with groups of people where I need to clearly express my opinion to them on a daily, and sometimes hourly basis. I have not thought about Social Anxiety in months.
2- All Anxiety Comes From Fear. Period.
A lot of us experience anxiety and don’t understand it. We are bewildered what is taking place and just want the feeling to stop. We fight, avoid, and even run away from situations to make this feeling stop; however, these actions reinforce our fear and make it grow stronger.
What is taking place in your body is simple. The fight or flight reflex kicks in when our brain interprets certain stimuli as a threat. We interpret something as a threat then our body (adrenal gland) releases adrenaline. This adrenaline is what we have labeled ‘anxiety’. Adrenaline is what produces the “feeling of fear”.
Adrenaline is useful when you are in woods and cross paths with a bear as it gives you energy to fight or run. However, in social situations adrenaline is not as useful because some of the symptoms are counter productive. For example, not being able to think clearly is normal symptom of adrenaline and is not useful when you are giving a speech.
An example of this is below.
- You are on a date
- You are fearful that you will come across as nervous to the other person as you approach their place.
- Because you are fearful from step 2, your body starts producing adrenaline
- You start feeling anxious and fearful and desperately want this feeling to stop
- Because you are afraid of feeling anxious in step 4 your body produces even more adrenaline causing even more anxiety.
- You experience the symptoms of excess adrenaline like racing heart, slowed thinking, and acting fidgety.
If you would like additional reading on this subject, I recommend Claire Weekes “Hope and Help for Your Nerves”. Take some of her writing with a grain of salt (She wrote it in the 60’s) but simply understand her message. I was motivated to beat SA and read her book in one day, it’s an easy read. Try an audio book if you don’t like reading.
3- Good and Bad. Happy and Sad.
These are opposing sides. Without good there would be no bad. Without happy there would be no sad. When you train yourself to stop caring about people having a good opinion of you, then you don’t care the times you think they have a bad opinion of you. When you train yourself to stop feeling happy when you receive praise, you will no longer feel sad when you receive criticism. People with Social Anxiety fear other peoples (potentially) negative opinions.
The important point is to no longer fear receiving criticism or a bad opinion. That’s what this all ties back to, fear. Remember anxiety is fear resulting in your body producing adrenaline and producing a feeling that we all find uncomfortable and have labeled ‘anxiety’.
Let me give you an example. Let’s say I write a post on a message board and get a lot of positive feedback. I might in the past have read over my post multiple times, read the positive responses multiple times and felt good about myself, resulting in being happier. However, when I would write a post that was received negatively I would dwell on it. I may become upset that people have a negative opinion of me.
To restate: Stop caring about people giving you praise and having a good opinion of you. Once you stop caring about happy and good, you automatically stop fearing bad and sad.
If you find yourself worrying about others good or bad opinions, simply catch yourself. It’s ok to slip and start caring about the good, you’ve been doing this for years. It is not something you will stop doing over night. Don’t be hard on yourself and simply stop thinking about people’s opinions (both positive or negative) when you catch yourself.
I actually found tackling these situations from the ‘positive’ angle easier. It’s not always easy to tell yourself to simply “stop thinking about it” when you are facing a negative opinion. It Is much easier to catch yourself feeling happy when receiving a positive opinion and remind yourself to not let others opinions get you too high.
4- Climb a mountain, and tell no one.
Do you ever find yourself trying to impress people? You care so much what people think about you that you feel the need to rattle off accomplishments in an effort to make that person have a ‘good’ opinion of you?
Who we care to impress can be people we should be comfortable around. Our parents, or family members for example are people we may care about them having a good opinion of, thus fear them having a bad opinion of us. Other culprits are authority figures such as bosses. Their opinions seem to matter more.
If we were to express our opinion on a subject to a crazy homeless person would we fear them having a negative opinion of us or our opinion? Of course not, because we do not value the opinion of a crazy homeless person as much as we care about our dad having a good opinion of us. There is nothing to fear with the crazy homeless person’s opinion, so your body does not produce adrenaline, meaning you don’t experience anxiety.
When you care about someone having a positive opinion of you, you will fear them having a negative opinion of you.
What I say to this is: “Climb a mountain, and tell no one”. It can be extremely empowering to do something very positive and then not feed your need to tell people so they will have a positive opinion of you.
When I first started going to Toastmasters classes (public speaking) I told people before I even went because I wanted them to think I was brave. Then when I failed badly in my first attempt I was embarrassed because now I thought they had a negative opinion of me.
From then on I didn’t tell a single soul I was going to public speaking classes. I went for months, gave speeches that were incredibly difficult for someone with Social Anxiety, and didn’t brag, or tell anyone. It felt very empowering to not need others praise to feel fulfilled and satisfied doing a difficult task.