How To Overcome Social Anxiety In 9 Fundamental Steps
Are you struggling with an intense, irrational fear of social situations?
Do you feel different, awkward, or just plain worthless?
Would you like to finally feel at peace, connect with your friends and live the life you are truly capable of living?
You’ve come to the right place. I know how you feel…
I’ve had an intense, deep feeling of unworthiness ever since I remember and it only got worse over the years.
I became a top expert at running away from my biggest inner struggles, but I learned that one could only run so fast…and so far.
When I couldn’t run any more, my feeling of inferiority caught up on me all at once.
Panic attacks in social situations grew stronger and more frequent. Talking to fellow classmates and authority figures became a nightmare. I was anxious even when I was talking to friends I had known for years.
When I realized that I have social anxiety, all sorts of questions started running through my mind:
“Why is this happening to me, and what is the cause?”
“How can I overcome this crippling, irrational fear of people?”
“How can I prevent trembling and face twitching?”
“How do I overcome this numbing feeling of inferiority and worthlessness?”
All I wanted was to feel loved and accepted.
The truth is, there are many ways to overcome social anxiety and they all have one thing in common: in order to get rid of that paralyzing fear and feeling of unworthiness, you have to change your thoughts and your behavior.
You have to be willing to change and choose to be courageous instead of staying inside of your comfort zone.
You have to be willing to be uncomfortable.
Accept the way you feel right now and accept yourself, despite all your fears.
Then take appropriate action that will lead you towards unshakeable confidence and the social life you want.
Slowly and progressively, what used to be uncomfortable will not only become comfortable; it will become enjoyable. That’s what you should aim for.
Your goal should not be just to overcome social anxiety. Make your goal bigger. Let your goal be to start enjoying social interaction and meeting new people.
I bet you’re still wondering, “Yes, but how do I get there?”
Here are 9 fundamental steps to overcoming social anxiety. They include excerpts from my guide “Bye Bye, Social Anxiety.
1. Accept Your Social Anxiety
Accept the fact that you are feeling inferior to other people and that the feeling of inferiority makes you anxious in social situations. Keep in mind that it’s only a feeling. It does not have to represent the truth, and with some work, you can change that feeling.
Acceptance means that you make peace with the fact that you are experiencing something unpleasant. It means letting go of the internal struggle in order to save your energy for problem solving in a more emotionally detached, productive, and constructive way.
Your biggest struggle is the struggle itself, and wanting to have control over everything.
Let me illustrate this more clearly:
Your first reaction to your internal struggle is to fight it, or to escape from it. This is absolutely normal. Who wants pain and suffering in their life anyway? But by doing so, you increase the inner tension because you create a second, or even a third and fourth struggle, instead of addressing the first one.
Fear of fear is the number one cause of recurring panic attacks.
I used to feel weak, worthless and angry at myself for feeling intense fear in what are supposed to be normal situations. This kind of battle with your own feelings can pretty much escalate as far, and on as many levels, as you can imagine.
A typical example is being afraid of a social situation. Since fear brings numerous unpleasant physical consequences (trembling, blushing, sweating, twitching, etc.) you start fearing the fear because you don’t want others to see that you are anxious.
Unfortunately, this only increases the anxiety and chances that other people will notice it.
I remember how my social anxiety escalated into panic attacks simply because I wanted to control it, and started being afraid of the fear itself.
2. Change The Relationship You Have With Your Thoughts
When you practice acceptance, you change the relationship you have with your thoughts. It’s not the troubles themselves that make you suffer, but your reaction to, and relationship with them.
Acceptance is an antidote to suffering. Consequently, your feelings towards your thoughts and anxiety change as well.
For example, you might be having thoughts like “I’m worthless” or “I’m awkward”, but you don’t have to emotionally attach to them or act in accordance with them. In other words, you don’t have to let other people treat you poorly because you think you are worthless, and you don’t have to isolate yourself from others because you think that you’re awkward.
When you detach from a thought and accept it as it is – just merely a thought – heavy emotions start to dissolve.
There’s a very effective modern therapy called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (in short ACT, always pronounced as the word “act”, not as individual letters) which helps you accept your thoughts and feelings, and teaches you the practice of mindfulness.
Mindfulness means being aware of: the present moment, your thoughts and feelings, and your world surroundings. When you are mindful, you are paying attention without judgment, merely noticing and accepting things as they are. Mindfulness helps you emotionally detach from your thoughts and feelings, and enjoy the present moment.
I personally often find it too hard to stay mindful and focused on the present moment in distressing situations, so if you’re anything like me, you should attack your social anxiety from all sides and also work on changing your thoughts.
3. Change Your Thoughts By Looking At The Bigger Picture
When our feelings are intense, we tend to overgeneralize or see things through a dark filter. We exaggerate the significance of a situation and blame ourselves for everything, or pretend to know what other people think. In other words, when our feelings are strong, our thoughts tend to be quite distorted.
In these intense moments, it can be incredibly helpful to take a step back and analyze your thoughts. Think of a recent unpleasant situation right now. How do you feel about it? What thoughts come to your mind? Can you replace them with more rational ones? Is there a different way of seeing it?
For example, after a social situation that made me feel uncomfortable, I’d usually have thoughts like:
“I looked completely awkward.”
“I’m so stupid.”
“I’m sure they think bad things of me and laugh behind my back.”
“Nobody likes me.”
But when I take a step back and look at the bigger picture, I can see those past situations in a more balanced way. I can replace those thoughts with rational or even positive ones like:
“It was ok, even if I did seem strange. People don’t really pay as much attention to me as I think.”
“I’m not stupid just because I didn’t react the way I wish I would have. After all, there are many things I can do well.”
“I can’t know what other people think. They probably forgot about the situation the minute after it happened.”
“Some people may not like me, but my friends and family often express their appreciation of me.”
“That situation might have sucked, but life goes on. There are many good people and things in my life for which I am grateful.”
This kind of thought process neutralizes your emotions and redirects your attention to a more constructive stream of thoughts.
Try it right now, and notice how your feelings change along with your thoughts.
Now think about this: all research shows that compared to the conscious mind, the subconscious is far more powerful, and plays a much greater role in the way we perceive the world and make everyday decisions. While working on your conscious mind is very important, because it’s the one you are directly in touch with throughout the day, it would be a true waste of potential to stop here and not use the techniques that open the door to your subconscious.
4. Connect With Your Subconscious Mind
The technique that helps you connect with your subconscious, and was a big game changer for me, is self-hypnosis. Self-hypnosis helps you align with your deepest self and the peace within. It allows you to change your thoughts on a very deep level by communicating directly with your subconscious, without the noise of everyday thoughts standing in the way. This process enables a much stronger effect and quicker results than most other techniques.
All you need is a calm place and to dedicate at least 20 minutes a day for practice. The first results and positive changes in your well-being are usually seen within a month or less of regular practice. Depending on the person, positive effects can even be noticed within the first few days. It is well worth your time and dedication.
Hypnosis and self-hypnosis are very broad topics and I can’t get into details in this article, but I assure you that practicing hypnosis on a regular basis can be a life-changing experience.
You can find plenty of great information and excellent hypnosis downloads on the hypnosis downloads website, including a full course dedicated to overcoming social anxiety with the help of hypnosis.
5. Learn To Relax
This is definitely one of the most important points. When your body is relaxed, it’s much easier to change your thoughts and behavior because your mind becomes clearer and more focused.
After all, what you truly want to change the way you feel. You want to feel at peace, and relaxation techniques are the very first step to inner peace. It might take some time before you are relaxed in social situations, but by practicing relaxation in the safety of your home, you will at least get a sense of what inner peace feels like in the first place. With time and practice, you will be able to take that feeling with you everywhere you go.
Some of the best relaxation methods are diaphragmatic breathing, autogenic training and muscle relaxation. The first two methods are described in my book “Bye Bye, Social Anxiety”, while a description of progressive muscle relaxation can be found here.
6. Make Peace With Your Fears
It’s natural that we want to avoid unpleasant things as often as we can. Unfortunately, when it comes to fears, avoiding what you fear only works in the short term. In the long run, avoidance makes your anxiety persist, and can even make it grow because it reinforces your brain’s belief that social situations are dangerous.
It’s time to make peace with your fears because in reality, it’s not the fear itself that is stopping you, but your attitude towards it.
See fear as merely a sensation in your body. It might be unpleasant, but it can’t stop you from acting in spite of it.
Every day, people who seek personal growth have to choose to get out of their comfort zone, accept the fear they are feeling, and do whatever they have set out to do – in spite of their fears. You can do it too!
“Real self-confidence is not a lack of fear. It comes from trusting yourself in spite of your fears. See your dreams as bigger than your fears.”
Make peace with fear, and act in spite of it.
7. Consider Two Important Elements When Setting Out To Face Your Fears
Staying in situations that make you anxious is not enough to overcome social phobia. If it was, we’d all be freed from social anxiety while going to school or to work every day. There are two important things you need to consider when you set out to face your fears:
· Face your fears progressively, step by step.
Make a list of all the situations you are afraid of and put them in order from the least scary to the scariest one. Start with facing the least scary situation and soon you will notice that you are feeling more and more comfortable with it. That’s when you move to the next one, until you reach the one that frightens you most.
· Eliminate partial avoidance and safety behaviors.
Partial avoidance and safety behaviors are fancy terms for the strategies that you use in social situations in order to make yourself feel safer and avoid rejection. Here are some of the examples:
´ You keep to yourself and barely talk or say hi to anyone.
´ You zone out, daydream, and get immersed in your thoughts.
´ You drink or take drugs in order to feel more relaxed.
´ You keep yourself busy with your phone, book, or something else.
´ You only speak to people you know well and feel comfortable with.
´ You don’t speak your mind. Instead, you agree with whatever others are saying in order to avoid any kind of conflict or heated discussion.
8. Use These Tips to Help You Get Through the Situation You Fear
· Remember, it’s OK to feel fear, it’s just a feeling. Let it be. Most importantly, do not try to hide it or fight it. Make peace with it. Everyone feels fear sometimes.
· Practice diaphragmatic breathing before or, if circumstances allow it, during the situation. Take a slow, deep breath, and slowly exhale. Make the exhale longer and slower than the inhale. It’s definitely one of the best techniques to get instant relief. It will calm you down and help you (re)focus on the situation.
· Focus on the present situation. Get out of self-consciousness and overthinking. Focus on people’s positive qualities and what you like about them without involving bitterness or jealousy in any way. Be engaged and curious about others. Everyone likes to feel they are an interesting person.
· Another thing that can help you get out of the overthinking state of mind is to observe social interaction and conversations mindfully: Take interactions as they are, without judgment or expectations. Socially confident people don’t really think much about how a conversation will turn out. They are just focusing on the present and enjoying it.
· Do you know that the way your body processes fear or excitement is basically the same? To your nervous system, it doesn’t make much difference. Which one of the two emotions you will experience (fear or excitement) is only a matter of psychological interpretation.
You probably won’t be able to do this immediately when you begin to work on overcoming social anxiety, but give it a try once you feel you’ve made some progress: transform your anxiety into excitement. Power yourself up!
You will feel resistance in the beginning and will have to break out of your comfort zone (remember, there’s no real growth inside your comfort zone!). But once you start talking to people something clicks, and suddenly you find yourself in a much more pleasant, lighter state than when you started.
· After facing your fears, don’t beat yourself up and don’t judge yourself, even if it didn’t go as you wished. Even if you are certain that you said something stupid or acted in an awkward way, it does not matter.
What matters is that you gathered the courage and acted in spite of your fears. Be proud of yourself for taking a step towards reprograming your brain!
9. Be Kind to Your Body
This should go without saying but what you put into your body and how you take care of it makes a huge difference in overcoming social anxiety.
· Exercise at least 30 minutes a day, 3 to 5 times a week. Cardio exercise releases similar chemicals in your brain to the ones used in medication for anxiety and depression. It can also make you more sensitive to these chemicals, which adds to the benefits of the workout. The exercise must make you breath heavily for at least 20 minutes, but not make you lose your breath.
· Get enough sleep. Most people absolutely underrate the importance of sleep. Lack of sleep can trigger anxiety and depression, along with numerous other physical and mental health issues. Think about how moody and agitated you can be when you are sleep deprived, and how good and calming it feels when you’ve had a long, good night’s sleep.
· Eliminate caffeine (it stimulates a similar effect to the fight or flight response, and can even trigger a panic attack), alcohol (enhances anxiety and depression in the long run), and sugar (can cause anxiety, agitation and mood swings).
· Eat foods that are rich with antioxidants like vegetables, seeds and nuts, as they strengthen your immune system and encourage the calming process in your body.
I hope this article helped answer your question on how to overcome social anxiety. Even though it’s a very long and extensive post, I’ve only scratched the surface and there’s a lot more to consider when dealing with social fears!
If you are serious about overcoming your social phobia, I invite you to check out my guide “Bye Bye, Social Anxiety” where I go into much more depth about the mindset you need to adapt and describe many different techniques that are essential to transform the theory into practice effectively and quickly. Only reading about social anxiety, however, will not cure it! You need to take the right actions, and you will learn those steps in my book.
Please leave your comments and questions and let me know if you found this article helpful. I reply to all the questions you share. I’d love to hear what has helped you. What are you struggling with most? Which technique or tip will you try first? Let me know!