Updated: Oct 6, 2021
Social anxiety is actually quite common and can look extremely different from person to person. Dejame explicar (let me explain in spanish). If you're thinking something along the lines of "Oh wow! I did not know she speaks Spanish, where did she learn?!" then you should click here real quick then come back. I'll wait.
See, I told you. Like, I was saying, while one person could be afraid of looking silly to others in general someone else might only be afraid of being the center of attention when in crowded areas. In other situations crows might not bother someone with social anxiety at all. Instead, they might have a fear of disappointing their loved ones only, where another could fear they will act in some way that will be deemed as inappropriate socially. This fear, as with most things, exists on a spectrum. Someone with mild symptoms could experience slight physiological symptoms that are uncomfortable. Someone diagnosed with extreme social anxiety probably experiences multiple extremely uncomfortable and maybe even painful symptoms, which results in extreme avoidance behaviors and willingness to do almost anything to avoid the unwanted social interaction. However this only feeds the fear causing it to grow larger, giving the fear more power to take control of your thoughts and behaviors.
If you want to kick this fear in the butt, then all you need to do is follow the following 4 steps. Comment below if you have tried these before and they worked for you. Or if they did not work for you and what was helpful.
Tip #1 - Identify the scary.
This first tip should be a juicy one. It’ll keep your readers with you.
We need to get as detailed as possible here because in order for this to be most effective you have to tackle the fear directly. Not at 85%. How do you tackle a fear at a percentage you ask. I'll tell you. Let's say Drake has a fear of crowds because he is worried someone will label him as a douche bag. However, he will enter large crowds if the music is so loud he cannot hear what anyone is saying. If he were in a large crowd walking down a busy street in New York or at a crowded bar, that would be a different story. Sometimes his anxiety can get so bad they do not even remember the details of the situation when it's over. If this is something you can relate to, ask a loved one who has been with you during the feared situation in the past how you acted. So dig down deep, probably where the Sunday Scaries hide, and figure out that specific situation that causes those not so fun physical sensations to start up (i.e. butterflies in stomach, tightness in chest, fidgety, etc).
Tip #2 - Imagine doing the opposite.
The middle tips should go into a bit more detail, explain more. Keep them short and to-the-point. E.g., if you're writing a post about how to blog, you can write something like: "Decide how often you want to blog. Be realistic about it. Think you can blog twice a month? Commit to once a month and stick to it."
Now that you have found your special kryptonite (extreme exaggeration because superman cant defeat kryptonite but you can defeat this social anxiety), it's time to write it down. If you find yourself a little hesitant about that task that means it's probably a great exposure. Some people find that writing something down makes it feel more real, which would make it the perfect first step in conquering social anxiety. Once you are able to do this and find it boring and no longer anxiety producing, try turning this sentence into a scenario. Don't worry about your grammar and length and all those other aspects that aren't as important. Just focus on the details of your sentence. For example, if Drake were to complete this task with his fear (aka an imaginal exposure, aka script) he might focus on hearing someone call him a douche bag and how this makes him feel physically and mentally. Paint the picture focusing on those things that cause you the most anxiety so it feels real. Then read this document and sit in those feelings. Journaling about the experience afterwards can be helpful.
Tip #3 - DO the Opposite.
Now go out into the world and do the damn thing. We already know it's going to feel uncomfortable and scary, but the good news is that feeling will be gone shortly after you do the thing. The other thing to keep in mind is those feelings cannot hurt you; you are perfectly safe! There's this emotion that all humans experience called anticipatory anxiety. This specific kind of anxiety comes up right before we do something we think will be scary or distressing. Here are the facts: anticipatory anxiety is often worse than the anxiety the actual activity will cause, the more you delay the activity to think about how scary it the more intense anticipatory anxiety will become, the best way to overcome anticipatory anxiety is to complete the activity as quickly as possible.
If you want to start off with baby steps that's completely fine. So maybe Drake starts out by walking on crowded streets with a friend because that is still scary for him, but not as scary as doing that by himself. Then maybe his next step would be to walk down the busy street alone. Maybe his final task to overcome this fear is asking strangers in crowded areas to call him a douche bag or imply this in some way. I like to tell everyone I work with to try and go above and beyond to these exposures. This is because when completing exposures, if you are able to do something more frightening than your original fear then your ability to face the original fear increases exponentially. Looking at Drakes exposures this could look like Drake going to a bar an introducing himself to multiple people as a douche bag or walking down a crowded street yelling that he is a douchebag or giving a presentation in a public place on all the reasons why he is a douchebag. If he can do that you can bet your bottom dollar that he can walk or be in a crowded place without music.
You think I'm kidding? Here are a list of exposures I've done with my clients:
Ordered food from a non-food store
Ask food stores what a simple food item is (i.e. What's a donut at Dunkin Donuts)
Surveying a neighborhood on anything
Having a conversation with as many people as possible (in race form)
Doing cartwheels in a larger store
Screaming phrases in a quite neighborhood
Dance contest in public
Screaming song lyrics in a car with all windows rolled down
Sending food back at a restaurant
and so many more!
Tip #4 - Feel the feels.
Even though everything in your body is telling you this is going to be the worst experience that you have ever gone through in your life, you technically do not know how you are going to respond to the scary situation you are putting yourself in. Yes, you could get so anxious you have a panic attack and go crazy having to be locked in a mental health hospital or you could break out in incontrollable laughter because some of these situations can make us feel silly. However, whatever you feel make sure you take the time to actually feel it and not distract yourself from those feelings. You know, by getting lost in a rabbit hole on social media or binging Netflix because that new show coincidentally all of the sudden looks interesting or anything and everything you can think of not to fully feel what your experiencing. A lot of people use humor. Do whatever you need to do to feel these feelings; journal, call a friend to talk, create some art, engage in mindfulness, literally whatever. If you don't, then this is not going to work and you will have put in all this effort for nothing.
Tip #5 - Repeat!
Now that you're a pro, can you guess the next step? That's right, repeat until your bored! WHOA NOW. This does not mean you get to just stop this great work when your bored. However, you do not need to be doing these exposures as often and to the degree that you were doing them before. You just need to do enough to ensure this fear does not come back and start to take over your life again. I typically suggest tackling thoughts as they come up at this point. For example, if you have a socially anxious thought such as "why did I say that, I sounded so stupid" that's your que to do an exposure. So maybe you go somewhere in public and purposefully try to sound stupid. If it were me, I would probably go to a fast food place and attempt to order in gibberish.
Don't worry, be happy.
Now go make your plan! Remember we learned in a previous post that making our goals public increases the likelihood that we accomplish that goal. So comment your goals below. Or leave some words of encouragement if you have been through this process before for our newbies. If you are still having a tough time that's okay. Everybody needs help sometimes; check out this workbook I find helpful or contact me to get some assistance :)