Trying to understand Social Anxiety: My Story
So here I am walking through the entrance of bunnings, anticipating the things I have to buy for my second job today. ‘9-volt batteries’ and a ‘new angle grinder’, since my last one got stolen. I say good morning to the lady at the front of the store, with a bit of energy in my voice. I am in a great mood but as I walk towards the tool section I see her. This girl I have seen a couple of times before. Really pretty, to the point where just imagining myself talking to her makes my anxiety spike and in turn, my thoughts go haywire.
I learnt about reframing beliefs the night before, and about the defence mechanisms my mind uses to cope in these situations. In no particular order, we got apathy (probably my mind’s favourite ‘go-to’) where there is a voice telling me ‘I don’t care’, ‘she’s not even that attractive’, ‘she’s probably a bitch’, ‘focus on your work’. Avoidance, trying to keep from her and keep the socialising quick and to the point. Blame, blaming my anxiety on a past I could not control, on my parents for not raising me right, and on God for giving me flawed genetics to work with. And Intellectualisation which pretty much sounds like what I am writing now.
As I saw the tool I wanted, it was locked in the store cupboard. Thus, I had to talk to her. I had no choice. The anxiety spiked even more, that dreaded limiting belief concreted in my mind from high school. My brain automatically thinking ‘she won’t like me’. Just the thought of making small talk with her scares me. I went up to her nervously asking to grab an angle grinder. As soon as she said she will call someone, I quickly walked back into the lane.
You know what, I am just getting anxious writing this scenario down for you reader. Yes even writing about social situations makes me anxious.
I am one of the few thousand people in their late 20’s who have social anxiety issues which have not been dealt with.
It’s not all bad in my world. Running a business has me making small talk and socialising with customers and fellow contractors all the time. I can actually make conversation and talk to people with ease without much trouble or pressure (I use to struggle with this mundane skill once upon a time, no surprise). The two main social components I struggle to deal with, well let’s make it three is; approaching and talking with strangers (especially groups), being vulnerable and owning my emotions and feelings (being real in other words), and as you have read in the first paragraph, talking to people I am attracted to. All at the ripe age of 29.
With seven decades of my life ahead of me I have decided that something has to be done now to get better control of this anxiety (I’ve learnt it never goes away). It matters because in theory, life is better with deeper relationships and of course with love.
So I started with getting answers from books since I love reading so much. Mark Manson, my favourite blogger and author has a great book called ‘models’ and great blog posts on his site on the subject (and other subjects closely related). Mel Robbins has great audiobooks to help with courage and change. I am currently reading a great book by Ellen Hendrikson called ‘how to be yourself’ based on battling social anxiety.
I have made a checklist of actions needing to be done to play this long game (unfortunately there is no band-aid solution). Mark Manson mentions in his anxiety course that one of the best ways to combat it is through ‘progressive desensitization’ which theorises that one should, in increments expose oneself to the anxiety giving stimuli, til eventually down the track it softens. Ellen Hendrickson says the same thing in chapter 9 of her book.
‘So if I did what I did this morning (not to the same girl of course, that would be creepy as F!) every day for a few weeks (or months) I’ll eventually feel fine being around girls I’m attracted to and also be able to take it to the next level and talk to them, and after that maybe even asking them out for coffee (I do not want to think about how to process going on dates at the moment).
It all sounds trama filling to me at the moment. Plus I have another sort of fish to fry on the side too. Talking to strangers, or if we are being specific, being real and vulnerable with strangers.
The challenge for me at the moment is exposing myself to these situations and keeping myself accountable. The former, by meeting like-minded strangers at meetup events using ‘meetup.com’. The Latter by seeing a psychologist who will guide me through this process of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (similar to progressive desensitization) and keeping me in check with my progress.
Mark Manson mentioned in his course, books and articles that sometimes anxiety is based on values which are out of our control. Ones which most of the time create irrational beliefs that hold us back. He says the way to achieve more power over fear is to instil overtime more empowering beliefs to replace the old limiting ones. Mine probably goes something like ‘people will think I am a loser when they get to know the real me’ and ‘girls won’t like me because I am a loser’. Both are irrational beliefs (even though I can counter them logically in my head) based on things I can’t control (others opinions). My new empowering beliefs are based on my top values of courage and compassion; ‘to have the courage to be real with myself and others as it will give opportunity for deeper connections with a few people knowing that I can’t make everybody like me’ and ‘have the compassion to judge myself and others by their heart and not their flaws”. Mel Robbins taught me in order to be motivated to change (conquer fear) you must envision your ideal self in your head and take courage into action towards it. It’s painful but the journey will be worth the destination.
I hope to get there one day. One day I will read this article back in however much time it takes and smile at how the past me started that journey and persisted.
Thank you for reading and if you can relate, comment your story of progress and/or success.