I don’t remember myself as an extroverted kid but I do see a happy kid in old photos. A little girl who, despite feeling things deeply and noticing the slightest details, felt ok in most scenarios. But somehow, there was a moment, or a bunch of moments in my life that turned shyness and introversion into social anxiety.
I don’t remember those moments. I can’t point out a specific month, week or day when I shifted from being carefree and spontaneous to being hesitant and fearful. But that shift happened. And I’ve been living with it ever since.
What the hell is it?
Social anxiety can be described as a feeling of being nervous and uncomfortable in social situations such as meeting someone new, walking into a roomful full of strangers, talking on the phone with someone you don’t know, speaking in public or making eye contact.
It happens due to an irrational, overwhelming fear of being judged by others in public, being embarrassed or humiliated, accidentally offending someone causing conflict or being the center of attention.
I knew I had to treat it once the symptoms got physical. Honestly it feels like an uncontrollable storm inside you. Your heart starts pumping, your muscles tighten up, you get lightheaded, unable to catch your breath, and may feel like you’re out of your body.
Determined to face the facts, these are some of the things that have been helping me in the process of accepting my fears and emotions and learning about them to rebuild my automatic thinking patterns.
I began searching for ways to conquer anxiety and before starting therapy, one of my biggest tools was the simple mind trick of relativizing.
The rational part of my brain would talk to the irrational part of my brain saying “Come on, it’s not that bad.” or “Is this really that important?”.
This can lead to some level of overthinking, but it has worked for me in the past. In the middle of an emotional situation, the act of trying to come up with facts helps you turn your cognitive brain back on.
2. Expose yourself
This is the tip nobody wants but you gotta get out there!
I was introduced to Graded Exposure Therapy which consists of creating an exposure fear hierarchy, in which feared situations are ranked according to difficulty. Thus, you attach more realistic beliefs about your fears, and become more comfortable with the experience of fear.
This therapy can be exhausting, especially for an introvert whose brain spends a lot of energy talking to people. On the other hand, everything is more mentally draining when you’re not used to it, and the more situations you live, the less you’ll feel threatened by them.
Ultimately, life is your therapy.
3. Be alone
People with social anxiety are often natural introverts or highly sensitive: they recharge their emotional batteries by spending time alone instead of in the company of others, or process information more deeply than others.
That’s why it’s so important to reserve alone time when working our anxiety. Adopting a “minimalist” lifestyle when it comes to your calendar also helps, as well as learning how to recognize our exhaustion and speaking up for our needs.
4. Remember to breathe
On a day-to-day basis we don’t experience many physical threats. Most of the time we’re supposed be relaxed and feeling good. Our alert mode should only kick in a small percentage of the time.
But for someone with social anxiety, those percentages are way off balance, we’re always under stress in social situations or public spaces, and if we get into alert mode we instantly start hyperventilating.
That’s why it’s so important to learn breathing techniques that trick our brain back into relaxation mode. These techniques will help, but maintaining a mindful lifestyle will help you feel grounded and calm.
Meditate when you can, or just pause for 15 minutes every day and focus on your breathing. You’ll notice the benefits.
5. Move your body
When it comes to calming your mind, there’s no better remedy like exercise.
It decreases stress hormones like cortisol, and increases endorphins – your body’s feel-good chemicals – giving your mood a natural boost. It can take your mind off problems by redirecting it on the activity at hand or getting you into a zen-like state. It can promote confidence and be a good source of social support.
Exercising often makes us become less affected by the stress we face. It can supply some immunity toward future stress as well as a way to cope with current stress.
Whether it’s yoga, aerobics, running or dancing, you choose what fits you best. Anything helps!
Summing it up
I believe a very important thing we have to understand is that our anxiety is nothing but a misunderstanding about ourselves and others.
At some point, our perception of ourselves got corrupted by an event and we became scared to be criticized and constantly wishing to be praised. Like Noah Elkrief, says on this video “your happiness is based on others opinions”.
And that’s ok, because at some point, we weren’t strong or wise enough to feel or think differently. But now we are, and we’re working on ourselves.