Many of my clients would never guess that I have social anxiety. If you watch my videos, it would seem highly unlikely that I become overwhelmed when I am around a group of people I don't know. There is a big misnomer that if we know better we do better...but knowing is not learning. The two are completely different concepts. You can read a book about brain surgery, but doing it is a learning process based on lots of actions.
Social Anxiety Triggers:
Performances: Athletic competitions, musical performances, public speaking (this one terrifies me; I become frozen😱), work presentations, asking for help in a classroom or at work
Parties and Meeting New People- This one occurred a few weeks ago. I was shaking, and then once I started shaking I was having anxiety about the anxiety🙄.
Small Talk- Lots of people struggle with this one because it's not engaging enough to distract you from your social anxiety. But I am a firm believer in exposure, because I can do this one better than I used to thanks to work...years of exposure.
Dating- This one normally consists of two people facing each other and can trigger small talk and having another person focused on you (like a small performance).
Writing and Reading in Front of Others- Lots of teens attend therapy with this complaint and it becomes an academic barrier because they don't ask for help, which leads to overworking assignments to compensate.
Eating in Front of Others- It's kind of like a small performance.
Using Public Restrooms- Paruresis or urophobia- are the medial terms...I call it "shy bladder," some people feel like urinating is a small performance also.
Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, most social situations have been restricted, so it was easy for me to forget I had social anxiety. But guess what...I went to a work event and there it was as present as ever. SMH. Anyone who has it knows it is so visceral, which means you can feel it in your body. I was literally shaking, (and for no logical reason). I was blindsided by my old foe. In the past I had more social experiences to practice my skills, but this time I was shocked by my social anxiety.
The good thing about skills is that you never forget 'em, it's like riding a bike, once you get back on, it all comes back to you. So, there I was shaking and shaking more because I was shaking. Then I remembered my skills: I went within my body ignoring what I could sense in others and breathed.
Part of my social anxiety is due to my ability to sense things in others, to read people. Now -- My conclusions are not always valid, but I can read unspoken things like when a person is closed off, or the feelings of others at times, their level of warmth, their judgments, (which are sometimes of themselves), and their lack of interest in the conversation.
In my office it does not occur because I am in the role of therapist which has my brain focused on someone else. Thankfully it is a very comfortable place, but in social situations I want to be more open personally and vulnerably. I do not want to be the therapist in my personal life. I want to be me: excitable, funny, sensitive, playful, engaging, and keeping it light.
Back to my recent social anxiety episode...I knew these people, yet my body would not calm down. I was excited too. Somewhere I read...are you excited or anxious? After a year of minimal social situations, I become very excited to see people. I'm like a kid jumping up and down in my skin. I began using my skills breathing and smiling, relaxing my body, mindfulness of participating in enjoyable conversations, and it passed. It ended up being an enjoyable outing.
Avoidance is a common reaction to Social Anxiety.
My history with social anxiety is to just avoid, avoiding all places where I experience this. However, I also know that avoidance only creates more anxiety.
So my plan moving through this life-long foe is conquering it. Anyone who knows me, knows I take a challenge anytime it comes my way. When I felt inadequate as a therapist, I learned so many therapeutic techniques to conquer my inadequacy. When I was afraid of heights, I hiked scary trails with no railings, I walked across terrifyingly high bridges that you could see through, and I ziplined any time I could.
Lean into fear, not away from it.
I have to repeat whatever I am anxious about again and again. It is not white knuckling it. Patience and self compassion are essential ingredients to ease my exposure to my social anxiety and learn that I am safe in social situations. It is learning. We all can learn new things.
Social Anxiety Skills:
1. Accept all invites where anxiety is triggered - Avoid Avoiding
2. Public speaking😬 again, again, and again - Avoid Avoiding
3. Exposure scripts to lower anxiety
4. Self-compassion Script
6. Mindfulness of the present moment to stay out of rehearsing, anticipatory anxiety, and ruminating after the event.
7. DBT acting opposite - confident body posture
8. Loving Kindness Meditation to prep for events
9. RODBT initiating social safety
10. Support is essential (loved ones or a therapist)
A foundation of self compassion is necessary for change. If this resonates with you, then please contact me. I work with anxiety disorders for a reason. I deeply understand and know them!