How to beat social anxiety

Loneliness is something that has plagued everyone at least once in their life. It’s a terrible position to be in. I’ve always pondered on why some people find it harder to make friends or socialize. Or why human relationships are harder for some than others. I’ve seen some people easily make friends in just a few minutes while I would struggle for ages and wonder why. As the usual pattern in my blog goes, lets go through a story. I’ve spoken to quite a few friends who have had similar issues and compiled a story.

(Since my last post was about a break up, I’ve had a few people ask if Myles was actually me. Not really, the story of Myles was made based on stories from a few of my friends, and mine too)

 

Myles was on his way to a new meetup, his sweaty hands gripped the steering wheel tighter as he got closer to the venue. This was a meeting where he knew absolutely no one, He was fighting the thoughts in his head that were insisting on him driving back home and avoid the struggle altogether. His head played versions of his meetup with him standing awkwardly as people around him socialized, talked and laughed, and of how stupid he would look when that happened. “Damn it! Why is this so hard just for me?!”, he thought to himself. He had no problems going to any event if he had a buddy along, heck he could even make a few friends. But going alone, no way.

Myles led a relatively good life, he was only 24 and he already had a stable job, the deposit of his house paid, his own car. Having an IQ of 132 and fairly decent looks, you’d believe life would be smooth for him. That wasn’t the case though, he lived most days keeping to himself, convincing himself that he was an introvert. But hey, even introverts need socializing. He sometimes wished he could make some friends, but he could never get around to doing it, he always got the last minute panic syndrome and ends up cancelling it. He did have a few friends though, but like all introverts, he found himself always going over and beyond for his friends, who usually end up not bothering about him as much. Why does he go through all this then? The answer lies further into his past.

Myles was the youngest in his family. He was born and raised in a small community and most of the interaction he had was with friends or friends of friends. He never really had to go out of his way to meet random people. This was compounded with the fact that his life was always a constant comparison with his sibling. His brother was the ideal child, he was extremely smart, back to back class topper, quiet, never got into trouble while Myles was just above average in studies, talkative and never “as good as his brother”. He could play a few instruments, play some sports but he was somewhat a rebel and he did get in trouble during his school and university. “Why is it that we are only called to see the principle for getting in trouble in your case, and never your brother?”, his parents asked each time. Little did they know a lot of this slowly shaped and brought up his social phobia and quietly affected and shaped him. Myles was a perfectionist, he wanted things to be perfect and he would go on to tinker on something, sacrificing everything else to no end,  till he thought it was perfect, be this relationships or friendships. This was a testament to the fact that his whole life was a statement of how he was never good enough. No matter how good his marks were or how hard he tried, he’s never felt like there was anything he’d done that was to be proud of. Don’t get me wrong, his parents loved him and helped him whenever they could but they had no clue about their comparisons. All they wanted is what any parent would, for their child to be the best they can, to push as hard as they can, by helping them always see that they can do better and the upper limit was always set by themselves. But it is a fine line where this can cause more damage than good. This feeling of never being good enough was always subconsciously there in his head. When he made friends, he could never see the fake ones from the real ones, since he’s always felt that the fake relationships and friendships were things he could fix or that they resulted from something he did. He could not see that some people were just not good friends, rather only that maybe he should’ve done more.

Going back to where we left off, Myles recently had a pretty bad break up and it hit him harder than he thought. He went through weeks when he had no one to talk to, none of his friends called him up to ask him how he was doing. Even when he wanted to go out and clear his head, he called most of his friends and they weren’t free. It was then that he realized how truly alone he was. His greatest fear of ending up alone was finally coming true. He spent weeks cooped up in his room, just lying in bed till one day his friend who stayed overseas called him up and had a long conversation with him. It was then that he realized he needed a change, he need to find more people, he needed to leave some. He needed to change himself.

It was then that he realized he needed a change, he need to find more people, he needed to leave some. He needed to change himself.

Two months later, Myles was on his way to a social dinner. He did not know anyone there, but this time around though his mind was calm. As he reached the venue, his phone buzzed, he looked at it and saw that his friend had asked him if he was free for coffee on the weekend. He asked if he could invite a few other friends too. For the first time, things seemed to flow real easy for him. He was happy.

 

I’m sure many of us have gone through similar feelings at some point, it may be the feeling of not being good enough than a sibling, of never being able to say NO to friends in fear of losing them, maybe it is of loneliness, not fitting in or never being good enough for a person, or just being socially awkward with the fear of looking stupid in front of others. What did Myles do that brought about such a drastic change? I’ll explain. Follow these 10 steps and see for yourself that it is possible to teach an old dog new tricks.

1. 30-day free trial –  Have you seen all those infomercials which let you use an item for a 30 day free trial,  promising that if you end up not liking it, you could return it?  The fact of the matter though is that studies have found that if you constantly expose yourself to something for around 30 days, you start getting comfortable with it. This works well in all aspects. If you can force yourself to do something outside your comfort zone for 30 days, you won’t find it hard to do anymore. When I went to church after a personal rough patch, I found it really hard in the start since I knew absolutely no one.  My friend suggested the 30 day trial method, so I made a decision, every week at church I would try to get to know a new person.  I didn’t even need to get to the 30 week (church is once a week)  point for me to be a whole lot more comfortable with talking to people. I even thought to myself, “Hey I’m not too bad at this.”  Trust me it works.  Push yourself in the start and it will be so much easier in the end (you might even end up enjoying doing it)

I even thought to myself, “Hey I’m not too bad at this.”

2. Pride goes before fall –  we always tend to connect social anxiety with low self esteem, but strangely enough, most of the time it’s more to do with pride. The person suffering from anxiety always assumes wherever they go, everyone else watches/listens/talks about them.  They feel like they grab the center of attention. Most of the time they do not even realize it is secretly pride. As surprising as this sounds, you see how this actually makes sense? The remedy?  Easy.  Just remember that in a new environment, chances are that most people there are too engaged with themselves to pay attention to you or what you are doing unless you talk to them (or you’re wearing a polka dot dragon costume)

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3. Realize that nobody is perfect- No, you aren’t perfect, nobody is, and no amount of tinkering can fix that.  And maybe that’s the way things are supposed to be,  we are all flawed and we search for others who can help us fix ours while we fix theirs. You messed up?  You said something stupid or wrong? Laugh it off or apologize and move on. Realize that it is alright to stumble sometimes,  good people realize that and overlook it.  If they don’t, you really don’t need such company,  which actually brings me to the next point.

 

4. Yes, you can say No –  I was the kind of friend who would never say No to anything that was asked of me, even if I didn’t want to do it or it was an inconvenience. It’s nice to be helpful and have empathy but there are times when you should say no because sometimes saying No, might help you filter some people out or realize who actually likes you for who you are. Remember being around a friend is about being able to be yourself,  being able to say you disagree, that you don’t want to do something.  If you find yourself in such circumstances where you are forced to always compromise to make the friendship/relationship work, leave. Sometimes being with wrong people who bring you down or devalue you can make you feel as lonely as being alone, if not worse.

Sometimes being with wrong people who bring you down or devalue you can make you feel as lonely as being alone, if not worse.

5. Remember that you always have a choice- this is something that always helped me.  When I started going to new groups, it was so much easier once I told myself, “If things go really bad,  I can always chose never to go again.”  Let’s say you make a complete fool of yourself, you can always chose never to go for it again. And about running into those people later on in life, like I mentioned in step 2, people have better things than to talk and think about you all the time.

6. Judge not or you shall be judged- This is one of the most important points. There’s this saying that we tend to take on the image of what we fear the most.  Most socially awkward people who join a social circle ends up joining in when the group talk about other people struggling. I’ve done this too and I regret it. Even if you aren’t someone who is socially awkward, remember that sometimes being mocked about something similar over and over again might be what got them there in the first place. I’ve heard heaps of people laughing at awkward people who say the wrong things, act weird or don’t pick up on social cues when around new people. Maybe they are struggling with something personal,  maybe they’re trying to reach out, maybe they are at the edge of a cliff and how you act toward them might unknowingly be the decision maker. No, I’m not being dramatic. You never get anywhere in life by mocking or putting someone else down, rather be a helping hand. I remember this time when I volunteered at church in the welcome team,  my job typically was to stand outside the main hall and greet people as they enter and direct them to the main hall.  Simple enough. I remember this one time when among the crowd of people that came in,  there was this one guy who walked in on his own, hands in his pockets and looking down, he did not talk to anyone and walked straight ahead. I walked towards him, shook his hand and said “Hey man,  how are you doing today?  Hope you have a great week!” His eyes teared up, he said thanks, put his hand on my shoulder and walked into the hall.  Later on at the end of the service when they were praying for people who were having family breakdowns, I easily recognized the same person stand up.  It’s only then that I realized, it’s so easy to overlook or judge someone but  we never realize what they are going through. Smile, have compassion, be nice to people, we don’t know their struggle.

7. Ask and you shall receive- It is a natural defense mechanism that we have,  to lock ourselves up to avoid being hurt, but sometimes it’s good to reach out.  You sometimes get help from the places you least expect.  While I was struggling with things, I reached out to two people and even if all they did was listen to me and check on me once in a while,  I can tell you I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for them. Remember, people do care about you. Don’t let a few of those who don’t shut you down from opening up to the ones who do.

Remember, people do care about you. Don’t let a few of those who don’t shut you down from opening up to the ones who do.

8. Pray –  Now my blog usually never has much to do with religion, but this is something which really helped me and I cannot leave this one out. Bring imperfect ourselves, sometimes the only one who can help us is the one who is without any imperfection.

9. Only you set your limits –  I’ve heard people say how bad they are at interacting with other people and I’ve seen them socialize really well when they were forced to and was pretty amazed at well they did it.  Most of the time our reluctance to leave our comfort zone makes us come up with excuses like “I like being alone”  or “I’m more comfortable like this”.  Shut up,  no one  loves being alone. Stop justifying your reluctance to overcome your fears. You are not defined by what others think of you, rather just what you think of yourself and how you act on it.

10. Shut your brain down sometimes- I’ve found the hardest thing about going for a social event is that on the way to it, my brain is constantly replaying instances of how and what I could do wrong.  When this happens,  shut your mind off from these thoughts or do what I did,  play a song and sing along in the car 😉

And that’s it. Follow these 10 steps and trust me, it’ll get a whole lot easier. This is in no way going to start off easy. Hours of mentally convincing yourself, battling sweaty palms, awkward moments and thoughts of giving up are all part of it, but pull through,  sometimes you don’t know how close you are to the destination when you finally give up..  Hang in there friend.

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1 Comments

  1. I was surprised to read this article.I can relate to every word you have written here. It has always been difficult for me to form friendships or even talk to people. It’s scary and in a new place it is so much more difficult to form friendships. I always wonder how some people could socialize easily and others not. It’s hard to say no but bitter experiences have pushed me to learn to say no . I have made only very few friends in my life but they are the forever kind of friends. Your article’s given me some insight into my difficulty. Thank you!

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