I lived with social anxiety (social phobia) for most of the 15 years I had anxiety and depression. It was one of the most debilitating and horrible anxiety disorders I went through. Socialising was a dirty word and people intimidated the hell out of me, which is why I avoided social opportunities like the plague! Weddings, parties, events (and all the other fun stuff) were completely non-existent. If I were invited I’d worry about it for days. By the time it came to the event it was too late - I was exhausted from the worry, and too ill to go.
When you overcome social anxiety like I did, your life will completely change. You’ll realise that people aren’t the source of intimidation and torture you thought they were. Together, you’ll make things happen, and your life will be much richer for it.
Here are the top five reasons why I had social anxiety, and why you do too.
1. You don’t have anything to say
Anxiety will keep you locked away and insulated in it’s tiny little world, and the more your comfort zone shrinks, the less likely it is you want to see other people. Small talk (or any talk) is impossible when you don’t have anything to talk about. If you don’t have anything to talk about, the last thing you want to do is talk to other people. That’s why it’s so important to get yourself out there and do things you enjoy, like hobbies and classes. They give you things to talk about with people that share your interests. They also boost your self-esteem, giving you the confidence to get involved, chat, and express what’s on your mind.
2. People intimidate you
Public speaking is consistently our number one fear, which means that other people frighten us. What other people think about us is everything, and we’ll do anything to get approval. If you don’t think this is accurate, try going to the supermarket in just your underwear! For me, I was particularly frightened about having a panic attack and embarrassing myself in front of others. The fear was so overwhelming I isolated myself. When I realised people were the source of so much happiness, joy, excitement, and comfort, I started to see them in a different light. They no longer intimidated me, and I could build relationships built on trust. When you’re able to see people in the same light, your relationship with them will change too.
3. You feel helpless
When you’re socially anxious you feel completely helpless. You look at everybody else chatting and having fun and believe that you’re the only person struggling. ‘Why can’t I strike up a conversation, but everybody else can?’ The reality is that’s far from the truth. Unless you’re a networking genius (and very few are), most other people are as intimidated as you are – they just hide it better or have practised socialising a little more than you. You’re not helpless; you’re just like most other people. All you need to do is practice socialising more and remember that it’s completely up to you how others make you feel. When I realised I possessed this power, I could either take something somebody said with a pinch of salt, or use his/her words to inspire me to take action.
4. You have low self-esteem
I didn’t think people would be interested in what I had to say, so I didn’t say anything. I was always the quiet one keeping my distance in case somebody asked me a question. ‘What me; you want to know what I think? Oh…well…I’m not sure…’ My cheeks go as red as ripe apples, and I stutter my words. Part of getting past this feeling of embarrassment is being confident in the knowledge that you have a lot of great things to say, and people do want to hear it. You are unique and special, and there will be things you know and say that others will find fascinating. When you break through the feeling of inadequacy there will be no stopping you.
5. You get comfort from staying at home
When a socialising opportunity was cancelled I got an immediate sense of relief, almost as though a massive weight had been lifted off my shoulders. This short-term relief kept me in the belief that I was doing the right thing by avoiding socialising completely. In reality, all it was doing was keeping me locked away and isolated, until I became too afraid to leave my house (I was agoraphobic for over 3 months). Breaking through the fear of social anxiety is absolutely worth it – believe me, it will change your life. Don’t be fooled by the short-term comfort you receive from using avoidance. Very soon, there won’t be anything left to avoid.
ABOUT CARL VERNON
Carl Vernon is a best-selling author & speaker, talking and writing about all things anxiety, stress, success & well-being.