At best, social anxiety is a royal pain in the ass. At worst, it destroys lives. Like, really destroys them. And as with everything, it lives on a spectrum.
One of the biggest problems I believe that makes the reality worse for those suffering the most is a lack of understanding — form those who think they have the answer and it’s easy — of just how disruptive and debilitating it can be.
Which is some bullshit. Because they don’t have the answer. And it certainly isn’t easy.
Just how bad can it get?
Great question. Love where your heads at. Here’s a bunch of words I believe best answer that question for you;
“All day, every day, life is like this. Fear. Apprehension. Avoidance. Pain. Anxiety about what you said. Fear that you said something wrong. Worry about others’ disapproval. Afraid of rejection, of not fitting in. Anxious to enter a conversation, afraid you’ll have nothing to talk about. Hiding what’s wrong with you deep inside, putting up a defensive wall to protect your “secret.” You are undergoing the daily, chronic trouble of living with this mental disorder we call social anxiety disorder.” – Thomas A. Richards, Ph.D.
Pretty bad, I’d say. That’s it at its worst — a social anxiety disorder.
And “disorder” is the fine line between normal levels of anxiety and what can feel like a completely fucked up, draining, and impossibly debilitating reality.
While anyone with social anxiety can benefit from the tips in this article, if you do have a severe disorder, you should be working with an experienced professional who both listens and understands. And can help you take the pragmatic steps required to break this bitch down so you can build yourself back up.
Wherever you lie on the spectrum, while the fear may be irrational, the reality is not. Your struggle is yours. And that struggle is real.
It doesn’t matter jack-shit how someone else perceives it. What matters is how you perceive it. And a willingness to do something about it.
Fortunately, you can tame the beast. A little work can go a long way, offering you much relief resulting in a far greater quality of life. But you must be sensible and pragmatic in your approach.
Kaizen is the Japanese word for improvement. Kai meaning change. Zen meaning good. It doesn’t focus on rapid improvement. It focuses on gradual improvement. Because more often than not, striving for rapid improvement or change only screws everything up.
Here are some tips to help you integrate a kaizen approach to better manage — and beatdown — your social anxiety:
For the love of God, have patience.
While we live in a world where we refuse to settle for anything less than instant gratification, you have to ask yourself, how’s that working out?
I’m pretty sure Seth Godin was lying when he said marketers aren’t liars because marketers are full of shit. That’s what the market demands. Lies lies lies. Nobody wants to confront the truth, and the truth is it takes time and patience to make headway with any form of anxiety.
The less patience you have, the longer it’s going to take. Consider it one of life’s great bitch paradoxes.
Show yourself some God Damn compassion.
If you didn’t already know, the biggest asshole you likely know is yourself.
Pay close attention to your self-talk, and you’ll soon know what I mean. It would help if you made a concerted effort to stop being such a prick to yourself.
Unless you are actually a first-class asshole, I’m guessing under no circumstances would you treat any other living bean with the low level of respect and compassion by which you treat yourself. So stop. You’re excuses and justifications are already ringing in my ear. Just stop.
I get it’s not easy. Calling yourself up on your own shit and holding yourself accountable? Yuck.
Journalling can work magic. Take your worst critic and float that prick up outside of your head for a drone view to show him just how big a prick he is.
Then journal how cruel you are to yourself and how much better your life will be when you start treating yourself with the same level of respect and compassion you would your best friend. Or any other human being. Now write down what that respect would both look and feel like and start integrating it into your daily life.
The more you try to deny it, the more it will kick your ass.
When you begin to accept it, you will take a massive leap towards a life not plagued by it. And yes, for you, that might mean your social anxiety disappears altogether. But why put so much pressure on something that already requires such energy?
This is your current reality. Take it from there and work with it.
Get to know yourself.
The social anxiety you are experiencing might be perfectly justified because what you think you should be doing doesn’t line up with either your values or your personality. You just think you should be able to dive into every social situation as cool as you like because you compare yourself to others that can. No no. The world doesn’t work like that.
Find out who you are and embrace it. Sometimes you just need to give yourself permission to say no because what you think you should be saying yes to goes against your personality and values. Simple. Just giving yourself permission to say NO in itself can be extremely liberating.
Create an alter-ego
And sometimes you’ll know that saying no won’t get you to where you want to be. You also might find yourself saying no when you wish you could say yes.
Don’t beat yourself up. Remember, compassion. Break it down into more manageable and achievable goals. Again, patience. Kaizen.
You might want to play with creating an alter ego.
There is an excellent book by Todd Hartman called, “The Alter Ego Effect.” The basic premise is that you create an alter ego that can act like batman when you feel like Robin.
For example, Beyonce was a church-going virgin. She wasn’t exactly comfortable performing those raunchy dance moves on stage. So she created an alter ego, “Sasha Fierce,” and fuck me, did it not work?
You can gamify this and make daily progress as long as you maintain achievable goals. That’s when the momentum will kick in. And momentum is everything.
Challenge yourself daily
Small daily challenges like making eye contact, smiling at people, saying hello, introducing yourself, asking for directions, etc., are all great ways to expand your comfort zone, build confidence, flex your social muscle, and gain momentum.
Only you know where you’re at, so only know where your comfort is breached.
Your objective should be to stretch the muscle gently. By doing so, you’ll expand your comfort zone. If you try too much too soon, you run the risk of tearing the muscle and only setting yourself back.
It all depends on how severe your anxiety is. As a general rule, the more severe it is, the more cautious and pragmatic you should be.
Finally, get some help.
It’s worth reiterating. Roughly 33% of people with social anxiety disorders wait ten years before they get help. There are no two ways about it. This work is way more demanding on your own. So why punish yourself even more? And the longer you put it off, the harder it gets.
Please remember, the only person you are challenging is yourself.
Put all competition aside for a moment because you’re dealing with some serious shit. And comparing yourself to others doesn’t help.
What happens when you take your eyes off the road? You crash. So stop looking at all that’s going on in other people’s lives and start focussing only on yours.
This is your life. Anxiety can — and will — destroy you if given a chance. So be ruthless in how you go about protecting yourself.
If you are going to compare yourself to others — and you will — try not to be so biased about it. You’ve got many wonderful qualities that others don’t have and would love. So don’t forget to acknowledge them. And stop polarising your comparison to the best of the best in just about every category. In doing so, you’ll only set yourself up for both failure and misery. And we don’t want that.
Remember, life is long. Remember, Kaizen.