Dealing with social anxiety – part 2

As discussed in my previous blog, social anxiety is far more complex of an issue than just being “shy”. It is caused by attachment/social trauma in early years or by a particularly discouraging event later in life. We have also established the fact that it is a persistent force that can inhibit your growth and expression. Therefore, the question remains: how can we overcome this?

I can recall the times I felt social anxiety and the symptoms are very hard to simply ignore when you experience it. I could be totally calm one moment but when met with a particular social situation that I had been avoiding my body started to turn the fight/flight mechanisms on and my thoughts lost control. I felt as though my throat was being strangled, I felt a lot of sensations in my stomach and also couldn’t stop inventing scenarios in my head. It crippled my ability to articulate myself, and made me very self-conscious. With all of this going on, it became difficult for me to become present and therefore I felt frustrated as I was missing out on connecting with certain people.

Eventually I grew fed up of feeling this so I would start to look into ways of overcoming this. If you type online “how do you recover from social anxiety” you will get a series of self help advice which generally goes like this:

  • Observe and try to understand your social anxiety – when you next find yourself socially anxious, study the situation around you, become aware of what triggers you and why.
  • Learn to relax yourself – practice breathing techniques to slow the fight/flight mechanisms.
  • Challenge your beliefs – are people really thinking about you? Do you have proof people think of you in a certain way? Don’t just assume you know what people will say or think.
  • Face the fear – do a presentation, go out and meet some friends, do whatever it takes to prove yourself wrong.

In my experience some of these methods are useful. For example, learning to observe yourself and understanding your social anxiety can help in growing a resilience towards it. The more you understand the nature of it (it originates from conditioned beliefs and anxious thinking patterns) the easier it becomes to understand the fact that the thoughts that you experience do not reflect the present reality, it only reflects the past.

Once you become aware that these fears you have are based on false assumptions you make which have no evidence; this will give you the confidence to move forward and assert yourself clearly in future social events.

When you are facing the next social event, it is important to remind yourself to stop thinking and start being present. From a clear mind, you then need to do the thing you are afraid to do. This transition from thinking to simply being is not easy, because we are actually addicted to thinking. This is why therapists may recommend meditation or mindfulness since this tackles your reliance on thinking. In my experience, I would say regular meditation does help to give clarity and improve the quality of life. Nevertheless, just going ahead and facing the fear is the fastest way out of this.

Often we don’t want to face the fear due to fear of rejection or humiliation, but let me tell you something: It will be very uncomfortable and maybe painful to face it head on, but in the long run you will suffer less. After all, would you rather feel extreme discomfort for one day or have to go through the rest of your life never being free to express and always having to plan your way out of any social situation? Believe me, I would chose the former option. Also realise this, people haven’t got time to think about you and what you did or said yesterday; they are only thinking about themselves.

If you take this advice but still struggle, don’t be too hard on yourself either; everyone has insecurities, even those that appear stoic and strong on the surface. Being fair with yourself and applying a self-loving attitude is important. If you were to seek professional help, this can prove beneficial as your therapist can help facilitate your self-awareness of what beliefs you hold and help you challenge them. In addition to this, your therapist can coach you through facing this fear systematically. Recovery will take time but the result is definite!

In my next social anxiety blog, I will share my personal experience of how counselling benefitted my social anxiety. For now, I hope the above insights prove useful.

All the best.

Azeem

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