How I Overcame My Social Anxiety
* Disclaimer: This is based off of my own personal experience and is by no means professional advice. *
Here is my Success Story on How I Overcame Social Anxiety:
I have had Social Anxiety since around Middle School age.. it was probably when I entered 7th grade that it started getting worse and worse. It consumed me for the rest of my years in school:
School was extremely stressful for me. I started pushing all of my friends away. There were many days and weeks where I wouldn't say a single word at school (I talked only when a teacher asked me a question - and it was usually just a yes or no response, or a terse answer). I lost interest in everything I loved to do. I began to ostracize myself: Eating alone at lunch time. Never trying to make friends.
Yet, I was so, so very lonely.
It ate my insides up: How much I wanted to be like everyone else, yet the terrible fear that had no base dictated the entirety of my life and who I was.
I couldn't control my heart, which beat everyday like my life depended on it, as if I was always on fight-or-flight. Like I was going to be killed at any moment.
My social anxiety became me and I began to forget who I was. I had no drive to live life as a human being. All I could focus on was surviving day-to-day; And I had no clue this was the case. It became my normal. And I learned to live this way for the next 10 years of my life, because this was who I was. And I believed nothing could change that.
Perhaps some of you are feeling this way as well. I know Social Anxiety has its own spectrum, so my story may not be completely like your's.
For example: I went to school just "fine": I managed to get good grades, didn't skip school, I was terribly shy, but that was it. I did everything else okay. I know most people with Social Anxiety oftentimes skip school... I guess I hid mine well to others. I don't know...
All in all, Social Anxiety manifests itself in each person differently to the outside world... though I think that inside, we each have a very similar monster eating us apart every day.
That is why one of the most important things about Social Anxiety is to believe in yourself. Maybe others will say it's just shyness, but only you know what is exactly going on in your own heart and mind. No one else is able to know such things, no matter how close they may be to you.
Anyways, excuse the long intro, but I hope this helps you understand where I came from in this journey I went through. Here are some of the steps I took that helped me overcome my Social Anxiety. I hope this helps any of you out there who are facing the same difficulties as I once did, and are feeling hopeless.
I know that for all those years, I thought my Social Anxiety was a part of myself I would never be able to change. But you can. There is a person on the other side of your Social Anxiety.
Steps I Took That Helped Me Overcome my Social Anxiety
1. Be Self-Observant
The first time I actively began to take charge of my mind was when I was in High School. It was during one of the morning bus rides when I suddenly realized how passive my mind was, and it bothered me. I didn't want to let my anxiety take reins over my life. If I didn't like something I wanted to understand why and how it was affecting me.
From that moment on, I decided to actively think - think about why my mind thought the way it did, and why I could be feeling the way I did. Every morning - during those bus rides, I inadvertently began training myself to observe & understand my thoughts and feelings.
It was almost as if I began to develop another set of mind - The one I had the whole time, and then the other that simply looked on, from a bit farther away, more impartial, yet trying to constantly understand the other.
Thoughts To Keep in Mind
- Don't overthink it
- It's okay to cry. Don't be embarrassed of crying.
- People aren't really looking and caring as much as you think they are
- Always look for the good in people - And remember it.
- You don't have to make huge changes in your life to go places. Just one decision. One choice each day. You'll get closer to where you want to be.
When I was in school, there weren't many people who knew about Social Anxiety: How to detect it and how to help young students with it.
This was why it was important for me to try to pull through whatever situation life threw at me - Because it couldn't be helped that others didn't understand how I was... I never made it clear how difficult it all was to others. At that time, I had no idea I had Social Anxiety, I simply thought it was shyness.
It's important though, when you do have Social Anxiety and you are put in situations that cause a lot of stress and fear in you, to quiet those thoughts and feelings and not give up.
There were always times when I wanted to quit school, wanted to skip the days that brought fear to me. But I managed to pull through and with each situation - I grew stronger and more sure that life would work out in the end.
3. Want to Improve
When I began to go to college, I wanted more than ever to start anew.
That was why I made the effort every day to get out of my comfort zone and find new friends. And I did - I found amazing friends who accepted me for who I was and loved me as I was. They were people that I ate meals with every day, took classes with, studied with, watched Korean Dramas with late into the night. And I gradually began making up for all those years I hadn't developed my social skills.
That's one of the biggest downfalls of having Social Anxiety from a very young age: Even to this day, I have a hard time forming sentences or putting my thoughts into words... but those college years made me try my hardest to improve.
I began to study human relationships almost like a course itself: Taking mental notes, analyzing conversations and trying to pick up innuendos in social situations.
Always work towards improving yourself with each day, and with each conscious decision you make. If you do nothing, if you continuously stay in your comfort zone, nothing is going to change for the better in the long run.
4. Be Transparent to Others
The #1 hardship I had with Social Anxiety was that I was more inclined to being misunderstood by others.
However, as I grew older, I learned to not be as embarrassed or upset with myself and that I had to be more transparent to others. I had to try to explain my way of thinking, and even if I was to afraid to, I needed to trust in the goodness of other people. Most of the time, the people around you truly do want to understand you.
I wrote in a journal everyday, and I think this made a huge difference in helping me organize my thoughts and draw up ways to slowly improve myself.
It was a journal of thoughts... not like a diary, but more like random entries scattered throughout the day with tidbits of inspirations and enlightening moments that I wanted to look back on.
Journal Entry Ideas:
- Quotes You Want to Remember Forever
- Books You Read
- Important/Memorable Events that Happened During the Day
- Stream of Consciousness
- Song Lyrics
- Analysis of Yourself
- Progress in Your Life
There is something about reading that develops the part of one's brain to better understand things about the world. When I began taking courses during college on Poetry, Literature, and Creative Writing, there was something inside of me that clicked.
I believe that when you learn to analyze poems and literature, you start doing the same to real life, and your life stops being so mundane and superfluous. Even the smallest, most everyday moments have the opportunity to become rich. And for someone with Social Anxiety, having that sort of skill can mean everything.
7. Learn Calming Techniques
I started experiencing panic attacks during my years in college: No matter how much I tried to improve myself and work towards making my life better, the Social Anxiety was just getting worse and worse. In the end, this worsening progression was what I finally got me to seek professional help.
When I was having these moments of panic attacks, there was mostly nothing I could do but wait it out and get my mind out in as best of a condition as I could get it. But here are some tips nonetheless that helped me tremendously:
- Have people you trust around you: Talk about it with someone who will simply listen.
- Spend time outside - Sit on a park bench, Look at the starts at night, go for a walk while listening to your favorite songs. It helps.
- Please do not hurt yourself - It's so easy to use physical pain to distract from the pain of a panic attack but please don't. If it comes to that, please seek professional help... No matter how insignificant that method of causing pain may be to you.
- Try thinking of something else: Counting down from 100, listing off as many animals as you can in your head, listing off as many book titles as you can, song titles, etc
- Meditation: Take 30 minutes of your day and spend it quieting your mind and simply focusing on your breathing. Breathe in and breathe out. And focus solely on that task. Trust me, it will help.
"Meditation did not relieve me of my anxiety so much as flush it out. It took my anxious response to the world, about which I felt a lot of confusion and shame, and let me understand it more completely. Perhaps the best way to phrase it is to say that meditation showed me that the other side of anxiety is desire. They exist in relationship to each other, not independently."
- Mark Epstein (Open to Desire: Embracing a Lust for Life)
8. Seek Professional Help
I spent 8 years of my life thinking it was simply shyness before finding out it was Social Anxiety. It also took me 2 more years - until I couldn't handle it any longer - to seek professional help. I wrote it in my journal that no matter what, that year I would go see a counselor... It took me 6 months after that entry to set it into action.
Please, don't wait as long as I did to seek professional help.
What worked for me was weekly therapy sessions with a counselor. The first several times I went, I was too frightened to talk, and I didn't - If I had to communicate something, I wrote it down in a notepad. And they were completely okay with that.
My counselor actually was the only one that talked for the first 2 sessions - And I stayed completely silent because I just couldn't form any words. Those first two days helped me build a level of trust towards my counselor so that later, I could open up to her.
I also was appointed a Psychologist. I was prescribed medication for my Social Anxiety; And for me, he recommended Sertraline (Also known as Zoloft in its brand-name form).
** Disclaimer: This is not meant to be any medical advice, and is just my personal experience. Sertraline is the medication that worked for me, but it is by no means a right fit for everyone. Consult with a professional psychologist for the best advice. **
I was slowly introduced to it with increasing concentrations as I went. At first, it didn't do much except give me a bunch of unpleasant side effects: But it was when I hit a specific concentration that I started to feel calmer and the side effects died down to practically nothing.
I have to admit that before, I was afraid to take medication because I thought it would change who I was, and I didn't want that. However, taking Sertraline helped me so that when I was faced with situations that made me anxious, I had better control over my emotions. I was still the same person: It didn't make me emotionless. The medication simply helped my emotions be less debilitating. My thoughts and feelings were finally a part of myself that I could live with.
** Tips: If cost is an issue for you, do prior research about some cost-effective ways to receive help. The university I went to had great Student Health Resources and the therapy sessions were free for all students. Talk with your school counselor to see if there are options available and check with your insurance program to see if appointments are covered. And if you are prescribed medication, make sure it is the generic form of the medication (versus the brand name of the drug) to keep costs at a minimum.
The medication I took worked wonders, but it wasn't everything
The steps I took prior to being prescribed medication for my Social Anxiety - in my opinion - was what helped the medication work so smoothly for my anxiety. I had been using methods of CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) long before I even knew what the term was and what it meant.
In all things considered, take tiny steps to understand the way you react to different situations and try to understand the basis of your fears: And how your fears are not truly things to be afraid of.
Remember to praise yourself when you put yourself out there and come out with new experiences and positive results. Remember them. And if you come out with negative results, that's okay... It happens to everyone. The world is not going to end and you will live on. There is no need to be embarrassed. Keep moving forward.
It takes a long time to figure oneself out.
I know there are probably hundreds and thousands of articles out there with a more scientific basis of how to overcome Social Anxiety Disorder; However, I know that hearing stories from real people who have overcome it sometimes means just as much as any study or psychological technique.
I know this was quite the monster of a blog post... But thank you for sticking it through until the end, and I hope you learned at least one thing that proved helpful to you. And I wish you the best in your own life's journey.
Until next time my friends, take care