Blushing, sweating, your gut twisting,… your mind kicks in overdrive, it’s buzzing, screaming,… but nothing comes out. You’re gripped by anxiety,…dreading social judgment. Sound familiar? Well ironically, you are not alone. Now what? How to overcome social anxiety?
The last few years, somehow, more and more people suffer from social anxiety. Why? What causes it? But more importantly, how can you overcome your anxiety?
If it can come, it can also go. So, as a former socially inept geek myself, let me help you out! Contrary to what you might believe, overcoming anxiety is about confronting your fears – instead of evading them.
The timing won’t ever be right, so stop waiting for a better moment to arrive. Start solving this now!
Either you suffer the rest of your life without any hope of betterment. Or you invest in yourself now, feel uncomfortable while challenging yourself. But grow wiser, braver and more confident. Making it suck way less in the long run. It’s an investment in you!
To get started you only need a pen and a notebook, or you can download my gift to you, some homework sheets! Including a step by step action list.
Making a commitment is your first todo. Commit to conquering your social anxiety! I don’t care if you use this article, read 100s more books or follow your mom’s advice. As long as you commit, start taking action today and solve it! We all need more confident people in this crazy world. We need YOU! So:
- Commit to overcoming your social anxiety
Nice! You’ve entered the fray! Write your commitment on page 1 of your notebook and finish with a flamboyant signature.
Secondly, dig deep and find out why you are doing this. Do you want to find love?
If you get what you want, what will that outcome be like? Think about that, dig deep, keep asking
Grab your notebook again and write your deep emotional reason down. Open your notebook
- Define your why and look at it everyday!
Good, you are aligned with your goal and drive. Let’s have a
Root Causes of social anxiety
There are several overlapping causes of social anxiety. The more classical causes and modern afflictions of the spirit. Let’s have a look at all of these to better understand how to overcome social anxiety.
Behavioral causes – It could be due to experiences. You’ve been treated badly in the past, so now you dread people and socializing. For example, you’ve been humiliated by classmates, teaching you to fear people close to you. So when you are in a group, you have a strong emotional response. You are conditioned to fear group interaction.
These thoughts create strong negative beliefs, which in turn create strong negative thoughts. You are stuck in that loop.
“I’m just,… weird”, “People don’t think I matter” “You are making them uncomfortable”.
All these judgements generate lots of anxiety.
Evolutionary – it is likely that (the basis of) social anxiety has an evolutionary purpose. As social mammals, we need each other. Yes even, introverted people have a social drive.
In the past, this was more essential because being part of your tribe meant survival. Losing them was death. Being accepted and liked in the group
That is why you are so keen to be regarded positively by people. But if your fear response is too strong, you’re paralyzed. A nervous wreck is no good when
Overstimulation – More recent research on social anxiety points to our abundance of screens. You are constantly triggered by a bright lit monitor with infinite information flashing before your eyes.
Data is evolutionary helpful, so your body releases your reward hormone. A shot of dopamine. It makes you feel good and motivated to find more novel information.
But getting constant input from an inexhaustible source overloads your reward system. You are constantly triggered in the essence of your social and biological being: 24/7 News (danger); Facebook (social life and gossip), Instagram (status and food), Gaming (adventure & curiosity), and ofcourse porn, porn and more porn (reproduction ftw).
These mediums are designed to keep triggering you. Force fed stimuli, overloading dopamine systems which eventually just numbs you down. You’ll need more and more (novel) information to feel stimulated and motivated.
Dopamine is also supposed to trigger you to socialize and build relationships. But after over surging your reward system, your social motivation pales in comparison to the challenge.
Staying at home feeling ‘meh’, feels better than going out socializing. Especially when you can feel better with just a few clicks. This mismatch in motivation results in crippling social anxiety.
Needing friends but unable to be motivated to go out and meet people.
But the rabbit hole goes deeper. Modern media and drugs are comparable, as both induce a huge dopamine spike. The flight towards a dopamine kicks and resulting addictions are strongly correlated to a bad social life. You are more likely to get addicted if your social life sucks. If you have loving friends and family, the odds of getting hooked are smaller.
So the information addiction deteriorates your social motivation, causing you to cling more to overstimulation, causing more deterioration, more stimuli, and on and on and on….
FOMO – Another common cause for anxiety is the Fear Of Missing Out. Pretty self-explanatory :). Looking at social media, you can constantly envy your colleagues, old classmates
You constantly compare your behind-the-scenes with everyone’s highlight reel. Your internal turmoils versus highly curated images. Not to one person’s feed, but you compare yourself to thousands of people. Constantly feeling belittled, left behind, foolish, ugly and not part of the gang. Actually making said celebrities money by making yourself miserable.
Even if they are genuine successful people (so not solely by the merit of useless content), you only get to see the result of their success, not the arduous process of blood, sweat
Overprotection – Affluence has changed society. Causing our parents to raise us as very special. On top of that, our entire capitalist culture is based on limiting risk and maximizing profit. The cultural response is protecting what is most important, your kids! Put on top of deep parental instincts you get overprotection sponsored by mom and dad, which is eventually emulated by yourself.
This way you were not exposed to risks. You’ve experienced no real setbacks and adventures. But the treasure is where the dragon lies, you need to challenge yourself to grow. Nobody runs a marathon on the first try. You need to train and built up to it.
Same with social challenges You can’t just chat up to the hottest girl in town if you can poorly talk with colleagues without breaking a sweat.
What keeps you from solving it
Why can’t you escape this pernicious cycle of anxiety? Well, there are several self-defeating “defense” mechanisms and emotion-fueled rationalizations that keep you in this state. Understanding them is the key to solving them.
Avoidance – First of all the active avoidance of social situations. As said only exposure helps. But you find plenty of reasons to not face your fears.
Your mind rationalizes a host of arguments, fueled by strong emotions, to excuse yourself! So you don’t go to that party: “because you don’t like parties anyway”. You skip class “because it is not that important” and don’t go to the shop “because who needs food anyway”.
You are so scared, that your fear whips up your mind to find excuses.
Negative thoughts – The string of negative thoughts that pop up, before, during and after a social event hamstring you.
“They are not going to like you”
“Oooh my god, they are thinking I’m weird”
“She thinks you’re unattractive”
“They probably hated me being there.”
The worst part is these behaviors actually fulfill your fear of being judged by the group. Since you don’t try to really interact, you make the problem worse. All these “safety” behaviors make others hesitant to even approach you because you are distant and closed off.
Increased self-focus – In tense
“I’m sweating so much, someone will notice…!” You really overestimate how visible your anxiety is. This self-focus blocks you from focusing on the people in front of you!
Digital attention traps – as mentioned, the world is filled with digital distractions vying for your attention. As you feel bored or lonely you resort to consolation from the digital realm. Being distracted takes away the urge and motivation to do something about your predicament.
So a proper list of causes and behaviors that maintain the problem. Now you need to challenge them. We need to take away these sources and battle our behavior.
First by recognizing, acknowledging and analyzing how your social anxiety affects you now. Have a look at this scheme of your self-strengthening loop. Grab your notebook or worksheet and fill in how it works for you! You will recognize your personal pattern, how the circle keeps on going due to the
Most of your action and thoughts stern from beliefs. Beliefs are internal models of how you think the world and you work. To illustrate how relative they are, let’s take a look at The Circus Elephant anecdote.
As elephants in circuses grow up, they are chained to a stake in the ground. The cute enslaved baby elephant wants to walk away, but she can’t. The stake is too strong. She will try and try, but eventually
It is an acquired belief. Same goes for your own mental stakes! No matter how you think you are chained, you can break free!
You can develop yourself, you can change your thoughts, you can change your beliefs, you can be relaxed, social and make friends!
He who says he can and he who says he can’t, are both usually right”Henry Ford
Secondly belief to change: your victim role.
You are not just a ball tossed around by forces. You are an actor – playing your chosen role in the world. Determining your way and your reactions to the stage and fellow actors. You actively take part in your own life, your choices shape your life. Don’t think you are a victim of the whims of the gods, but take responsibility for your life.
Thirdly be grateful of all the good things you already have in life. Don’t take it all for granted. Sheez, for that matter, grab your notebook
Do it, write 10 things down. Let me help you get started. 1) I have internet that allows me access to everything, 2) I have a roof over my head which is pretty nice,
You see, there is loads of stuff you can be grateful for. Remember that! Keep thinking about all these blessings, you normally take for granted.
Lastly – assume people like you – instead of believing the opposite. You probably have the weird illusion that people don’t like you. Spoiler: it is because you don’t like yourself. But we are working on that.
That’s cool and all, but how do you implement new mindsets. Well, there is not one definite way. But let’s do this. I wrote the first 4 down, you print them out. Put it on your mirror, and
How does this work? You will have situations where your old and new mindset apply. But etching your new mindset your brain every day, it will pop up in these moments. You will sometimes start acting on your new way of thinking consciously and eventually unconsciously. Over the long term, months to years, you adopt this new way of thinking, making it your new mindset. So:
- I can develop into a better me by taking action
- I am the actor not the victim in my life
- I’m grateful for all the good things in my life
- Everybody likes me until proven otherwise
- Write / print positive beliefs and reread them everyday
Transforming negative thoughts
For whatever reason, you have a bunch of negative thoughts. Together with your
No, only through your own experience they appear true.
If you think people don’t like you, you only perceive hostility. If you actually question your thoughts, you can negate that impact.
Your negative thoughts are about you and what happens before, during & after social events. They are all negative biases you create. Let’s take a look at the 7 types of negative thoughts.
Predicting the future – “People will judge me as a failure” “I will turn red and stammer a lot.” – You assume what people will think and how you will react. But this hasn’t happened yet. Thinking this way makes you unnecessarily anxious in advance.
Mind reading –”They think I’m boring” “See, nobody likes me” “You just made it weird”, you assume to know what everybody thinks. Pretty presumptuous if you ask me. You don’t know! They might not even pay attention, or the opposite could be true!
Taking things personally – “Did I say anything wrong” “I have embarrassed everybody!”, if the situation turns silent, or awkward, or things don’t go smoothly, you immediately blame yourself. But there can be many other causes. Including the social clumsiness of others. It is everybody’s responsibility to keep a social dynamic smooth.
Overgeneralizing – “I can’t talk in groups” “Talking to a girl is just not possible for me” Because something didn’t go well once, doesn’t mean you can’t try again and learn. Stop overgeneralizing anecdotal evidence. As you change, so can the results.
What if statements – “What if I say something wrong?” “What if I get outcasted again?” You make ‘logical’ predictions of the future, but nothing has happened yet. You are making yourself anxious with predictions.
Focusing on the negative – “Why did he look so weird at me” “Why did everybody stop talking” – you focus on single negative moments in a conversation, while the entire experience could be pretty good. This focus colors your memory too much.
Labeling – “I’m just the quiet guy” “I’m just so boring” – your negative beliefs about yourself get translated in labels. These labels are what you think – not what you are or can be! You can change the underlying beliefs.
So, those are the 7 types of negative thinking. How do we challenge them?
Think about it. What happens before you go to a party? What happens if you try to talk to people? What pops up in your mind? How do you label yourself? Take note! Brainstorm now and keep track of it in the future. List them all in the worksheet/notebook and define what kind of bias is attached to it.
Next action will be analyzing and questioning your own thoughts. Here are some good examples, but think of your own critical questions as well:
- Is there proof that contradicts this thought?
- What triggered this thought in my head?
- Is it a relevant response?
- What would a friend say if she heard my thoughts?
- How will I feel about this in 5 hours? 5 days? 5 months?
- What does thinking this way bring me for up and downsides?
- Is there another way to look at this situation?
“People don’t like me” → Recognize as: “Mindreading” → There is no evidence for this, besides it doesn’t matter if these people like me in a few days, maybe I should give myself and them a chance → New way of thinking → “Hey these people don’t know me yet, let’s find out if we can get along.”
The first 100 times you might do this on paper.
So grab your notebook or use the worksheet:
- Write down negative thoughts you experience, label them, question them and define a positive alternative.
How to relax and let go of our self focus during anxious episodes
Still – despite all the mind-bending, you have a strong tendency to focus on yourself in scary social situations. You can’t help but relate everything that happens to yourself.
A good conversation isn’t just about one person, it concerns more people and the underlying dynamics. Focus on that and it will go a whole lot better. So here are a few tips to help you let go:
Stop overanalyzing, not everything is about you. No more connecting irrelevant matters to yourself, but letting them go. The small silence wasn’t about you, neither was the glancing away. Remember – you are not the central focus of everyone. There are enough things for people to think and talk about (mostly themselves).
Also know, that all your anxious thoughts and symptoms are way less visible than you think. Sure people might notice you are a bit on edge, but no way they comprehend how anxious you are. Even if people do notice, it is not that they will think you are a bad person all of a sudden. A lot of people will actually sympathize. Besides feeling anxious doesn’t mean you are doing badly.
Furthermore, stay true to yourself, albeit a bit more social :). Don’t limit yourself because of fear of judgment. Neither
As you talk, show yourself and lose the filter. Your anxiety causes you to highly curated what you say. It comes off as very stale, especially in
Focus on the person in front of you. They might not feel that comfortable either. By making them comfortable, you help yourself. This by showing interest, questions and just not being a dick. Concentrate on the conversation you are involved in.
Stop evaluating your performance and appearance.
Be invested in the now, don’t focus on the few things that might’ve gone wrong. Hey, so what there was an awkward silence a few minutes ago, no problem. You are over it. Focus on the now. It is okay if there are silences – they are not an evil vacuum needed to be filled. Besides, it is not just your responsibility to keep a conversation going.
Neither do you need to shine in every conversation you
If you do still feel anxious. There are 2 techniques you can use to mitigate your nerves. In the long run, you want to check out some Meditation. For a good rundown check this guide. It will help you relax and decouple your thoughts and reactions.
For the short term wins: relaxing breathing techniques. If you feel stressed out, breath in for 4 seconds, hold….., and out for 4. Focus on your breath entering your body, surging through your trachea. Holding it there for a second, letting it out, pushing it back into the world. Do this 10-20 times. You will much more at ease.
So what to do:
- During conversation make effort to stop focusing on yourself,
insteadfocus on others, make eye contact, let go and have a nice talk.
- Use slow deliberate breathing to relax
in the moment
- Adopt a meditation habit to be more relaxed in general.
Modern life is filled with digital distractions. Twitter, Instagram, Reddit,…ugh Goodreads! They transform into digital addictions. That, as said, really limit your social motivation.
But just getting rid of them comes at a cost. Sure you can delete your Facebook and Whatsapp. But how are you going to stay in touch with people? Yet if you go online, you binge content like crazy. No matter your digital guilty pleasure – gaming, porn, series – it overrides your motivation and reward mechanisms. It just feels better than boredom, or the existential dread of your life going nowhere.
But distracting yourself doesn’t help in the long run.
To be clear, I don’t judge you for enjoying any of these. It is perfectly normal to be stimulated by this well-designed entertainment. But it gets so easily out of control. That’s why I suggest curating your digital streams.
Try identifying what platforms you use to stay in contact with people, relax or learn – keep those channels open. Also identify where you are just mindlessly sharing and consuming more, more and more,… and more. Your infinite time consumers. You know, the platforms you use when you feel sad, bored or irritated, but afterward don’t feel any better. Curate those!
Choose one digital addiction to address first. Let’s say Facebook. Then commit to losing the hold it has on your life. No more typing “F” and “Enter” mindlessly, losing hours of your time. Nope. Learn to wane off the habit.
Start by analyzing what triggers you to go to Facebook. Boredom? Loneliness? – Result: Facebook. Recognize these triggers, so you can learn to be aware of them. As you are stimulated, choose another reaction.
To make it easier, you can prevent access to your addiction. Lock your computer and delete the Facebook app. Or use these extensions to limit being triggered. . In addition apps like Cold Turkey (my favorite) or Freedom can limit your access for set times. A third option is to put your mobile on grayscale mode, it’s less stimulating than all the pretty rainbow colors all the time.
You will always be tempted to give in. That is why I urge you try at least a week without your primary indulgence. So you’ll experience the impact it has on your life. You may feel utterly bored at times, but exactly this boredom can give you the opportunity and motivation to start working on yourself!
Untying your digital leashes is hard. Especially if you’ve grown up with a parallel digital world all your life. But try to find a balance between your digital and analog life. Let it not determine how you spend your real life, but rather enhance it.
- Analyze computer/phone usage, distinguish between waste- and useful
- Choose one digital binge to limit
- Write down analysis of your own behavior related to app/game/site
- Recognize triggers and choose a different action when tempted
- Create settings, install applications and extensions to limit triggering
How to overcome social anxiety
through exposure therapy: the real deal!
Alright – enough with the preparations. Time to really expose yourself to your anxieties. As said, the only way to overcome your fear is by facing it! All of the
Time to eliminate your avoidance and safety behavior. But you can do this gradually, you won’t be thrown before the lions, let’s first face some kittens. Step by step confronting your fears, growing stronger and overcoming your anxieties.
So grab your notebook again. I want you to build an exposure hierarchy. List all the moments where you feel (social) anxiety. For example: doing groceries, asking for directions to a stranger, asking a cute guy/girl out. List them all and rate them between 1-100 of how fearful you are of it.
Arrange them from least to most scary.
- What is the absolute worst that can happen?
- How you can prevent this from happening or repair the damage.
- If things don’t work out, will it matter in 6 Hours? 6 months? Or 6 years?
- What are you missing out on (in your life), if you don’t complete this exercise?
Great, so you have visualized how little danger there actually is. But also what you are missing out on
Start with the first item on your list. Then you are going to do that every day until your anxiety response is half of what it was. So if talking to a stranger is scores 30 on the scale, you go out and talk to a stranger every day. By gradually exposing yourself to your fears, you numb down your anxiety response. Until one day talking to a stranger feels half as scary, scoring just 15 points.
Then you move on to the next item on the list. Again,
In the long run, everything will become less daunting. By the time you reach the highest ranked item, something like confronting your boss, it doesn’t score a 100 anxiety points but 60. All because of the training you did in advance. You grow braver so you can more easily confront your final boss fear.
So start executing number 1 on your list today! And tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow. Until your anxiety has halved. So you can move on to the next. This way you condense years of social training into a few months.
I’ll bet your ass you are going to feel more relaxed, courageous and social over time! So make your list and start taking action:
listof social anxieties and rank them on intensity
- Evaluate each one with the fear setting exercise
- Start at the bottom and expose yourself daily to this fear until your anxiety response has halved
- Move to the next item on the list until finished.
- Congrats you’ve overcome your anxieties! Bask in glory and be proud of yourself!
So what do we have a thorough plan to work through your social anxiety step by step. Addressing the multiple challenges that come with it. Taking away part of the causes, solving the limiting thoughts, and facing the fear. It is time you conquer your dragons and claim your reward! But not without your
Print these out and get yourself a notebook. Start observing, learning, and going through the exercises. Step by step you can overcome this. Think of your commitment you made!
You now know how to overcome social anxiety. Go for it. It will be hard, you will face setbacks, but hey, if it was easy you would’ve done it years ago. I’m sure you will succeed in the end!
Go get them tiger!
Oh yeah, before I forget, let me know how it works out!