I thought I would write some words of hope and advice for suffering from social anxiety disorder. It took me 30 years to overcome social anxiety. I am 43 now. My social anxiety started becoming serious around age 12 (although, I experienced it my entire life). Everybody is different, and nobody knows what will work. From age 12-20, I didn't realize there was such a thing as social anxiety. I "yahood" it on the Internet in 97 and that's when I learned what social phobia/social anxiety was.
What worked for me:
Exercise was really the only thing that worked before being diagnosed. I started working out and reading everything I could about weightlifting. I believed that if I became muscular and attractive that I would become popular and get girls. This significantly reduced my social anxiety and increased my self-confidence. Unfortunately, my insecurities, fear, anxiety, and depression also caused binge eating, drinking, drugs, oversleeping, and avoidance. Exercise wasn't the miracle cure because I kept self sabotaging myself.
Klonopin is the only thing that ever worked for me. I don't recommend it though because you become physically dependent to it. Klonopin worked very well, but it was a crutch that kept me from dealing with the underlying causes. I'm still taking klonopin. I'm addicted to it. Everytime I've tried to taper off of it, I would experience debilitating anxiety and other side effects.
My therapy mostly focused on relaxation techniques. I think it is important to have someone to talk to and get feedback from. Going to therapy weekly or monthly also keeps your mind on the goal. The years I would stop therapy are the years I would stop trying to help myself. The advice a therapist gives is sometimes helpful, often not, but the act of just going kept me trying and holding myself accountable.
Self Help programs:
Anthony Robbins and Zig Ziglar were very motivating. Overall, I think "Success" based self help programs may have had negative effects because it made me equate success with happiness.
Pick up Artist and Seduction:
I listened to a few David D'Angelo audio programs. Oddly enough, this may have had one of the biggest impact on my life. It made me more confident with talking, flirting, asking out, and dating women. It increased my self confidence and added to the foundation that ultimately helped with overcoming SA. It created positive life experiences that I would later use to remind myself of my social abilities.
Emotion based Self Help Books:
These had the biggest effect. Over the past 20 years I've read or listened to over 100 self help books. Books that helped the most:
- How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
- Radical Honesty by Brad Blanton
- Get Out of Your Mind & Into Your Life by Spencer Smith , Steven C. Hayes
- Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life's Most Important Skill by Matthieu Ricard
- Un ***** Yourself by Gary Bishop
- The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown
I took lots of notes and wrote a lot of my own opinions and interpretations of the content. I think the active note taking and my personal thoughts and expansion of the content was more helpful then the books themselves. I don't think passively reading books help that much. Actively contemplating the content, writing your own interpretations, and taking action based on what you learn is what matters.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy was a game changer; specifically reframing negative beliefs. I purchased Dr. Richard Thomas's Overcoming Social Anxiety program. For 2 years I spent nearly every week acknowledging and reframing at least one negative belief I had about myself. However, I also realized that when reframing beliefs, I was also trying to manipulate myself into believing "beliefs" that i didn't really believe.
The workbook along with the audiobook Get Out of Your Mind & Into Your Life by Spencer Smith , Steven C. Hayes helped me learn to accept myself and be more authentic. I went through the workbook and audiobook mulitiple times and it was life changing. It allowed me to be more authentic and genuine about my beliefs, accept who I was and my life experience, and it improved me with reframing my beliefs with out BS'ing myself.
Meditating is more complicated then many people think. I found that meditations based on my insecurities were most effective. Meditations based on relaxation and releasing thoughts were also very effective. I meditate at least 5 minutes everyday.
I think quitting drinking, drugs (except for klonopin), reducing social media, reducing television, and instead focusing on eating for health, exercise, and doing physical and mentally stimulating activities not only built confidence and reduced anxiety but also made me more physically and mentally capable of handling anxiety.
Another thing that helped significantly were meetup groups. I joined several Social Anxiety meetup groups and eventually started my own. I've made several friends that experienced similar issues that I did, and a few of us were very pro-active at trying to overcome social anxiety (many who weren't). This support system and making friends that were dedicated in overcoming SA is what led me to step up my action and ultimately free myself from the majority of my SA.
It wasn't until I put all these together over the past 3 years that I made serious and substantial improvement. I still experience social anxiety, but I think my social anxiety is on par with the average person now. I am also more comfortable and willing to experience anxious moments and know what I need to do when I have an anxious moment.