Suffering from social anxiety is like tiptoeing along the edge of a very steep cliff.
The slightest look, the subtlest tone of voice, the smallest gesture that anyone does can set you off into a tirade of insecure, self-hating thoughts that make you shrivel up and fall back into the endless depths of your inner abyss.
As a person who has suffered a lot from social anxiety, I know precisely what it feels like to suffer from intense feelings of self-consciousness, awkwardness, and insecurity. Not only did I have a really severe phobia of speaking with others, I also carried around a terrible phobia of feeling judged and persecuted even when NOT interacting with people.
It is so easy to feel as though “you’re losing it” when you have social anxiety. I remember how intensely paranoid and claustrophobic to the point of hysteria I felt when walking through shopping centers and sitting in trains. My heart would race, my muscles would tense, my eyes would get glassy and my blood pressure would instantly shoot through the roof making me feel faint.
Does this sound familiar at all?
If you experience social anxiety the reality is that you’ll rarely ever feel a sense of joy or deep connection with others, and will wind up feeling very alone, misunderstood and socially isolated. When you are in conversations or out in public you might also feel:
- A sense of impending doom or dread.
- Paranoia that people are watching and judging you.
- Intense physical discomfort while talking with others (aching and strained muscles).
- A tight/tense voice.
- Sweating hands, chest, armpits, etc.
- A flushed face/blushing.
- Racing thoughts.
- Mental blanks.
- Palpitations or a fast heartbeat.
- Intense discomfort when making eye-contact.
After conversations, you might also reflect on what you said, did, or how the other person reacted to you for hours and hours on end, nit-picking each and everything you did wrong and hating yourself for it.
Once again, I have experienced all of this many times before. But today, I am here to help you, give you an empathetic hand, and show you that it is actually possible to work through this problem with complete success.
Overcoming Social Anxiety
When I was plunged into the dreary depths of social anxiety, or social phobia, I struggled to get air for a long time. I was lost, I was alone, I was hurt and I was bitter. “Maybe YOU can get over social anxiety, BUT I certainly can’t,” I was prone to think as I read through success stories in books and internet articles. “I hate this feel-good bullsh*t” I also thought with resentment and undercurrents of despair.
The reality is that yes, there is a lot of really bad advice out there on the internet. I pretty much tried it all and failed so many times that I’m often surprised that I managed to break through. But there is also some really valuable advice out there which is worth exploring – and which I hope to provide you with today.
I have no way of guaranteeing that you will benefit from my way of overcoming social anxiety because we all have different emotional, mental, social and biological contexts. But please read what I share here with care. This is not cheap throw-away feel-good advice – this is hard-earned, blood-and-sweat, tried and tested gold which I offer to you openly:
1. Approach Your Healing With Counter-Intuitive Patience
When you are anxious you’re impatient, so it is very difficult to approach your recovery with a “slow and steady” mindset. Likely, you will have a “quick and easy” mindset towards overcoming social anxiety right now like I did, but the truth is that there is no quick-fix. Sure, you can stop and meditate for 15 minutes every day, but to make deep and long-lasting changes you need to go-against-the-grain and be willing to consciously set aside an immense amount of time for your recovery. Overcoming social anxiety can take months, even years, BUT remember that the deeper and longer your commitment is, the more profound your healing will be.
2. Work on Evolving Within First
When I suffered from social anxiety I focused a lot on developing my outer world and appearance: I wore nice clothes to be more appealing to others, I worked on being more charming, I wore attractive makeup, I learned social etiquette and taught myself about good body language. But all of these changes were on the surface; they were superficial. When you work on evolving inside first, on changing your inner thoughts, perceptions and beliefs, you experience a lot more depth of change.
Inner work is a path of growth that starts with developing self-awareness, followed by the paths of:
… and finally self-transformation and self-mastery later on. All of these paths are non-linear, meaning that they are all interconnected and weave back and forth as you grow. For example, you might be learning to love yourself while simultaneously focusing on exploring your core beliefs in the spirit of self-exploration. But all of these paths are absolutely vital for your recovery.
3. Understand, Accept and Love Your Imperfection
Understanding, accepting and loving yourself are all tied in with the inner work journey, and yet I wanted to explore them a bit more as they are all so important. The truth is that you must learn to forgive yourself of your flaws, failures, ugliness, imperfection and awkwardness before you can really heal. Exploring everything you hate about yourself also means exploring everything you love about yourself (no matter how little). Perhaps you love your sense of humor, style, artistic talents, kindness or other trait or talent? It is imperative that you reprogram your mind to find the good in you before you accept the bad in you. You can do this by keeping a self-love journal, by rewarding yourself every time you succeed in something, by quiet meditation or reflection, by daily affirmations, and many other routes.
4. You Are Just as Worthy and Valuable as Everyone Else
A big issue I had was fearing people because I felt like I was “below” them, “unworthy” of them or somehow unequal to them. This however, is a major illusion of the mind. The truth is that no matter who you are or what your background, race, sex, culture, ability/disability, socio-economic status is, you are equal. You are just as worthy and valuable as Oprah, you are just as worthy and valuable as the Queen of England, you are just as worthy and valuable as Brad Pitt, you are just as worthy and valuable as any single person in the world no matter who they are, how attractive they are, how popular they are, or how rich they are.
To truly understand this is empowering.
5. Expose Yourself to Situations That Make You Uncomfortable
Yes, it sucks. I know. But I can also tell you that it is 100% of the time worth it, no matter how anxious you end up feeling, or how badly you “fail.” When you courageously face your fears you are immediately rewarded with a feeling of pride. Instead of continuing to sabotage your own happiness you are actually doing something to make yourself stronger. There is nothing as tragic as cowardly giving up on your opportunity for growth, even though you know it will make you happier and stronger. Slowly exposing yourself to uncomfortable situations or people is vital.
6. Feel Your Feelings, Listen to Your Thoughts, Let Them Pass
This point requires the development of self-awareness. The more self-aware you are, the more ability you have to recognize the onset of fearful feelings and cycles of obsessive thought. You suffer so much because you resist your thoughts and feelings, but when you learn to recognize them, feel them completely, realize they are not truly “you” and let them pass, you are liberated. Meditation and certain shamanic substances like cannabis and psilocybin mushrooms, when taken in the right conditions, with the right people, are excellent ways to increase your self-awareness about your tendency to fight against uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. (Of course, ensure that these substances are legal in your country/don’t conflict with any of your medications before taking them.) You can read more about non-resistance here.
7. How People Treat You is a Reflection of THEM Not YOU
If someone is malicious, judgmental or unkind towards you, that is a reflection of THEM not you, because the way they feel about themselves directly determines how they feel about you. Why does someone like the Dalai Lama treat people with kindness and genuine love? Because he treats himself with kindness and love. Similarly, self-hating people treat others with hatred and bitterness, and insecure people always judge others severely. Learning to see beyond a person’s behavior into their hidden pain can help you immensely in this regard.
8. Continue Reaffirming Your Self-Responsibility
It is SO easy to fall into self-victimization. That is partly why I left social anxiety forums and dropped the “I’m a social anxiety disorder sufferer” label – they just did me no good. When we blame others for our misery we immediately refuse to take responsibility for ourselves. In reality, it is completely up to US to heal ourselves, no one else (even therapists) can do this for us unless we are first willing to do it for ourselves.
Lastly, learning how to ground myself, participating in forms of catharsis (like exercising and dynamic meditation), cleaning up my diet, and taking these 4 herbs have all helped me to overcome social anxiety.
How has this article helped or inspired you? Do you have any recommendations or stories to share about overcoming social anxiety?