Spoiler Alert: Dealing with social anxiety is not a “one and done” kind of deal. And that’s good news, because the only way you could realistically remove all social anxiety would be to die. So how about a better plan?
It’s a good news, bad news situation. You want the bad news first? Okay, here it is:
If you have struggled with social anxiety before, it’s a guarantee that you’ll struggle with it again…and again. If you’re still breathing, you’re probably not through the anxiety woods for good.
The good news? You’re alive, and you’re human. It’s a pretty good tradeoff.
Now, some say that feeling life is pain, that pain is an indicator that you’re still alive and kicking. Anxiety will always be there on some level — especially when you’re doing something new. You’ll get that old, familiar knot in the pit of your stomach. It goes by many names: anxiety, nervousness, even excitement. Call it what you like, but a magical thing happens when you push through that anxiety and come out on the other side: it’s called life.
Anxiety rears its ugly head when we’re out socializing or networking, and then it spreads until you wake up one day and realize anxiety is running and ruining your life. The temptation for a lot of us is to remove ourselves from situations at the first sign of anxiety. You know — bolt out the door and keep running until the threat is gone. Imagine the message that sends to your brain: “You’re weak. You can’t cope with this.” This throws you into a loop; your anxiety grows and reinforces the message that your body and brain are screaming.
Tempting as escape and avoidance might be, it’s counter-productive. Since we’re never going to avoid anxiety, what we want to do is learn how to understand it and channel it so we can actually benefit from it. Here are three tips to help you handle anxiety better:
Tip 1: Accept anxiety as a normal part of life.
“I might die. Is there something I can do? Something I can take? A drink?” We look for some outside fix to squash our anxiety, even going to extremes to avoid the feeling. But the most important step is just understanding that it’s normal. Everyone has social anxiety. It’s not unique or unusual; it’s nothing that needs medication. It’s perfectly normal — especially if you’re doing something new.
What’s funny is that once you realize what’s really going on when you feel anxious, you might almost start to like it. When I have anxious moments in my life now, I cherish them. I start laughing, because I know what’s about to happen is going to be really fun and probably pretty funny, because I’m walking into unknown territory.
It’s nearly guaranteed — you can look back on moments like that ten years later and you’ll realize how silly it was to let the anxiety get the best of you. In the grand scheme of your life, these moments of anxiety and the chemical reaction in your body are not going to last, and they’re not going to be as horribly memorable as you might think.
Tip 2: Do what you want to do anyway.
What are you passionate about? What are you excited about? It’s weird, but if you are excited about something, that excitement can be enough to nudge you beyond that anxiety threshold without even thinking about it much.
When I was traveling with the band, I remember those moments of performing on stage the first few times were terrifying. It was awful, a feeling I hated. I felt embarrassed, and it seemed impossible for me to perform at my best — even though I’d rehearsed for months to prepare. But I loved music more than I feared failing, and that’s what made me willing to get up there and try again.
That’s the funny thing about anxiety. When you find something that really interests you, something you can really lean into and put your all in, you start to realize you can overcome your anxiety. Then when you encounter anxiety in other areas of your life, it’s less scary.
That’s why we don’t want to avoid anxiety. Instead, we want to systematically find areas where we know the first time we do something, we’re going to be terrified, but if we keep at it, soon we’ll be on the hunt for a new challenge to tackle.
Tip 3: Face your fear.
You can let anxiety hold you back from doing what you love, or you can make it propel you forward and get excited to do something new. At the end of the day, it’s your life.
It’s like producing your own movie. You don’t want this fear to force you to be a passenger in your life — you want to drive, to call the shots. Facing fear is how you shrink your anxiety down to a manageable level.
Think about what your life would look like if you were able to move through all your anxieties with ease. What’s the end of that look like? Are you chatting with someone you’re interested in? Are you going after that promotion or job?
What would your life look like if anxiety took over and hindered you from doing all those things? All of a sudden you become lonely, stuck in a job that you don’t like, frustrated, and overwhelmed by depression.
So those are your two worlds, your two choices. Are you going to take a few anxiety-filled steps if they might lead you into the world you really want to live in?
A great first step is joining the Art of Charm 30-Day Challenge. Some of the challenges are guaranteed to lure you out of your comfort zone and leave you feeling more than a little anxious. But what’s amazing is that you’re not alone. The Challenge community is right there with you, and everyone in there has been exactly where you are right now. There you’ll find encouragement, as people root for you to push through and get better.
It’s not like you’re diving into the deep end; it’s more like taking baby steps outside of your comfort zone. You’ll be amazed how easy it is to overcome those fears and make great progress if you string enough baby steps together. Before you know it, you’ll look back at how far you’ve come, and that old comfort zone will be a hazy memory.
Pro Tip: Pick this friend, not that friend.
If you’re planning to go out and practice facing your social anxiety, the natural choice might seem like picking a friend who doesn’t have a lot of anxiety. They’re smooth and you’re learning, right?
But what actually works better than hobbling out on that crutch is picking a friend who’s just as anxious as you are, then challenge each other to push through the anxiety in small ways. Maybe you each introduce yourself to someone or choose some other daring deed to do. We’re not looking for giant victories… just little ones you can celebrate along the way.