Overcoming Social Anxiety
"It's all in your head." Probably the same phrase you hear endlessly if you are someone with any sort of anxiety or paranoia. And the scary part is......it really is! Though that sounds as something so simple, I mean that you created it...you can kill it too. The problem with this simplistic nature is that mental battles are the hardest to win. Fear in itself is developed in the mind, and the mind having no limitations can amplify that fear as much as it wants. This means a small problem can feel like the biggest problem of your life if you truly believe it. Physical confrontations have a set limit. The object or person you are against is just.....that person or object. Mentally though, that person or object can be of an entire different level of confrontation. Have you ever watched a scary movie? You know, one of those that are straight thrillers, but nothing is legitimately "scary". The entire time the surprise in your head is visualized as something scary, gross, wicked, and demonic (at least for most scary movies nowadays). When you actually get to that part in the movie, what really happens is someone randomly pops out and makes a loud noise. Surprising you yes, but from the swift/clever moment made to make you jump. Not from the image itself (though some movies are masters at making very wicked looking creatures as special effects become more and more advanced). To my point....anxiety in everyday real life situations is the same way (I know it was for me). You could be driving and actually visually in your head imagine yourself crashing. You could want to start a conversation, but visualize the person giving you the same "wtf" look most people give when you say something they don't like/understand. Maybe you want to speak up in class, but you remember what it looks and feels like when the entire class turns around just to watch you mess up. Anxiety is a tricky battle, because it is all in your head. Just because it is a tough battle to win, does not mean it cannot be won. In this blog post I will separate what you should do mentally and what you should do physically in order to start fighting back with your anxiety. BOTH are essential for overcoming social anxiety and each step helped me when it came to overcoming social anxiety (and other anxieties).
Realize The Source
Yes, much like anything realizing the source of your anxiety is essential. For example with social anxiety, is it just with strangers? Maybe only when you are in a larger group? Or maybe when it is one on one speaking? Not only the situation, but you have to look into why you are anxious and how you feel. Do you feel unattractive and feel as if someone will judge how you look when you talk? Maybe you do not want to "sound stupid", and every time you speak with people, that is how you feel based on how you have been treated in the past. THE NUMBER ONE STEP for overcoming social anxiety is to realize in what setting flares your social anxiety (it could just be any social interaction, not just a specific one) and also why you feel anxious.
Realize Only YOU Can Help You
You can read all the ebooks you want. You can read all the blog posts you want. You can ask for advice all you want. NOTHING is going to fight this battle for you. Yes, people who have gone through social anxiety or certified professionals can give you advice on how to fight back.....but you are the one having to do the fighting. YOU must make a decision on whether you want to avoid social interactions and be afraid or fight back and have a chance at being social and happy. It's purely up to YOU.
Everyone Gets Anxious At Times
Something I learned with being more open about my anxieties is there are more people out there that have some sort of anxiety than don't. Of course, the levels of anxiety differs from person to person, but it is in fact anxiety. Some people have bad anxiety when they stress. Some (if not all unless you are not human) get anxiety when they go to the dentist. For me it was social anxiety and anxiety being in cars. I always hated both and felt completely uneasy. You feel as if the worse case scenario is about to happen and you visualize it in your head over and over........and over and over,repeating until the task is finally over. There are also plenty of people out there in this world that have the exact same anxiety you do and to the exact same level. There are websites out there (typically forums) to where you can chat with others with the same problems. In order to be ready to fight, you MUST realize that you aren't the only one in war.....and people have won before. Reach out to those who have won, get moral support and support others who are still battling, and you will win.
You Feel More Than People See
A huge part of social anxiety is after it flares up, the anxiety only gets worse because you worry about your behavior. You start to panic, because you are worried people will find out how anxious you are and react. You stress trying to hide it, especially in large groups. The endless sweating, deep breaths, stuttering, and confusion makes you feel like you are not doing a great job at hiding it and "being normal" so you start to freak out. When the whole conversation is done and you leave that area you still ponder on what had happened and it plays in your head over and over how "weird" you must have looked to them. Fact is, most times people who have seen me struggle to talk, did not even know I had social anxiety when I eventually started explaining to people why I am not that social. No one remembers the times I basically freaked out when having to give a speak in front of people. Why? Because a lot of the symptoms are internal. Yes, maybe your speech is somewhat stuttered, but besides that the overheating, fast heart beat, swollen throat, and paranoia are all in your own head to fight....they cannot see it. For those who stutter a lot when speaking to tons of people (like I do) you have to realize most people are probably too uninterested or bored to even listen, especially in a class. Keeping in mind that people won't be seeing most of the social anxiety signs and that the external ones most people won't even listen to or remember, plays a huge role in having the courage to start practicing your social skills (which I will talk about later).
The first step in physically fighting your social anxiety is to start expression your feelings. Most people with any sort of social anxiety have the fear of expressing their thoughts, ideas, desires, and interests. Whether you like to draw, write, sing, or anything that expresses who you are, start doing it more! Not only do it more, but express as much of you as you can. For me, it started with writing. I then went to Youtube videos. I eventually moved into live video streaming with viewers. Take steps into expressing yourself and never look back. You may "doodle" a lot in your spare time on notebook paper. That's good. Now start to do full scale drawings on drawing paper. Find yourself a drawing notebook and try to improve your ability to express yourself. Take it even further and start doing large scale drawings or even paintings. The point for this physical task is to find yourself, what you have inside, your interests, and how efficient you are at displaying your thoughts. You must become comfortable with who you are and be able to display yourself in some form.
Practice The Approach
Now we finally get to actually do something around your area of difficulty. Everything before this was just mental and emotional preparation for the actually tasks to fight whatever things you cannot do due to your anxieties. When practicing the approach, it will definitely differ from one anxiety to another. In this post I am covering social anxiety so I will explain how I "practice the approach" to get over my own problems. In this case, you are literally practicing an "approach". All you will be doing is waving and smiling at everyone you see. THAT IS IT! No talking, no stressing, no worries. All you will be doing is smiling and waving. What this does is gets you comfortable with eye contact and the initial approach when it comes to conversation. The hardest part for most people is trying to speak to someone first, while being the one to actually engage the conversation. The goal here is to get used to engaging a person for conversation and being friendly while doing so. Also, nothing is wrong with making someone else's day brighter by smiling and waving towards them. Never know, someone could feel utterly depressed and that smile could make all the difference in their life.
Start Practicing On Video
Before talking fluently in person, you must talk fluently alone. The best way to do this is to film yourself speaking or speak about something you love towards an online audience. For me, that was Youtube. I also took an online speech class before and had to film myself speaking. I went from taking 20 different takes, freaking out, and stuttering/losing my train of thought countless times, to now talking to people on live video stream and in person comfortably. I still have my moments when put on the spot, but NOWHERE close to where I had started. I recommend starting a Youtube channel. You do not have to edit your videos, share with people on Facebook, or even put tags for people to find your video. Just create an account, record yourself talking either about your thoughts that day or your interest, goals, ambitions, or struggles, and just merely upload the video. That is it. Why upload it? You do not have to, you can just save it. I recommend uploading it, because there are people out there just like you looking for support that would stumble across your video and literally be excited to see someone with the same anxiety come out of their shell, motivating the viewer to do it themself. It's not just for you, but for others struggling with social anxiety as well. It's like planting the seeds of success for others to gith their battle as well as find you and help you with yours. In order to find help and give help, we must have an outreach during these difficult times.
Now I don't mean just start talking to people all the time. I am talking about just putting yourself in the situations you fear. That might mean put yourself in a large class in order to get used to being in a large setting of people. You do not have to engage conversation with everyone, but just being there gets you used to the setting in itself. If talked to or asked to speak then do so, but you do not have to go out of your way to engage with everyone. Sometimes someone will say something that truly sparks your interest. If so, then try and built with that and continue the conversation with the thing you truly know and love. This makes it easier since you have full knowledge on the subject and you would more than likely love talking about the thing you love with others that do so too.
Introduce Yourself (judge the waters)
Now that you have practiced your speaking, practiced engaging the attention of someone, you have gotten used to the setting you fear most, IT IS TIME to test the waters. Start to just introduce yourself to people. You know that smile and wave task I talked about earlier? Every few people just introduce yourself. You do not have to continue the conversation after that. If they want to continue the conversation do not be rude and just leave, but you have no obligation to continue it yourself unless you want to/are ready. If you are too frantic about talking witht the person, just let them know you just wanted to introduce yourself, but have to be somewhere soon. The decision is yours. As long as you are friendly, introduce yourself, and make a call on whether you want to continue the conversation or not, you will be perfectly fine. You never know, you may enjoy talking to the person and continue the conversation....maybe making a friend.
Let The Conversation Flow
Much like the task above, you will be doing the exact same thing except this time no option to back out. Try to let the conversation flow and and don't force any topics you have no knowledge or interest in. If anything try to steer the conversation towards one of your expertise or hobbies. This will make it so much easier when it comes to adding your input on the topic. All you really have to do is listen, then talk about an aspect of the thing you love. Built upon the conversation and just let it flow.
To Summarize This Up
The summarize this up, you have to be willing to fight both mentally and physically in order to overcome social anxiety or any other anxiety for that matter. Preparation, practice, and execution are all essential. You do not have to become the best speaker in the world, but developing decent social skills is much more important when it comes to relations, employment, and even just asking anyone for help. Below I will list the bullet points to summarize this entire post.
Overcoming Social Anxiety Summary
1) Realize the source of your anxiety
2) Realize only YOU can fight this battle
3) Know that everyone gets anxious at times
4) Understand that you feel worse than you appear
1) Figure out how to express yourself
2) Practice engaging someone's attention
3) Practice your speaking/Record your speaking
4) Put yourself in the uncomfortable setting
5) Start introducing yourself to people
6) Let the conversation flow and built upon itself