Social anxiety prevents us from fully living our lives. All anxiety does this, of course, but social anxiety does a particularly good job of blocking our movements along the path to our quality life. This anxiety disorder is more of a spectrum of experiences than it is one single form of anxiety. It ranges from shyness (which isn’t a diagnosable disorder) on the mildest end of the spectrum to avoidant personality disorder (this one is so pervasive that it’s categorized as a personality disorder rather than an anxiety disorder.
Social Anxiety Isolates the Real You
“In response to human interaction, either I clam up and can barely speak, or I click into intellectual mode so I can explain something and be done. Idiot.” —Brian Cunningham in My Life in a Nutshell: A Novel.
Social anxiety gets in the way of our human interaction, which includes our interaction with others and with ourselves. It involves the fear of judgement; a lack of self-efficacy, that inability to believe in ourselves and capabilities; the habit of overthinking every component of every interaction; a very unhealthy dose of negative, harsh self-talk which of course only fuels the anxiety.
Anxiety, social and otherwise, is a large sheet of cling wrap. It sticks and restricts and suffocates. It’s like that common dream that involves the need to run forward but the inability to do so because you’re held back by some great, unknown force and the harder you try to move, the more stuck you stay. Like in that dream, when we try to thrash against or outrun social anxiety, it doesn’t work. Brain Cunningham knows this all too well. When he’s with people, he can talk “correctly.” He either says nothing or too much, and he thinks that he speaks in a stupid manner. This makes him isolate. He keeps his interactions to a bare minimum, and he makes sure the ones he has are safe.
To some degree, social anxiety limits lives. You don’t have to continue to let social anxiety control and restrict you. Anxiety isn’t who you are; therefore, you can separate from it and step away from it to fully live your life.
Mindfulness: Be Still to Embrace Living
Recently, I met Deepak Chopra. The experience was significant for me for a number of reasons.
- It was amazing and mind-blowing and inspiring to hear this guru in person discuss wellbeing, mindfulness, health, and consciousness. I grew in many ways in those few hours.
- To meet a person whom I admire and who addresses topics that I find important was both professionally and personally motivating.
- I actually did it: I bought a ticket to a small reception so I could meet him in person.
- I introduced myself to him, shook his hand, thanked him for his work, and asked him for a photo and the possibility of including my own mindfulness book in the picture (this despite the venue’s discouragement of (but not hardcore rule against) photos with Deepak Chopra.
In my not-too-distant past, I would never have done that. Ever. No way, no how. I certainly would have attended the lecture with a stage and many rows of seats separating us, but I wouldn’t have met him. My social anxiety would have forbidden it. I would have feared negative judgement from this man I respected. I also would have believed that everyone in the room “knew” that I was a phony in my work (that’s called the imposter syndrome, and it was part of my life with social anxiety).
I’m grateful that I’ve been able to shed social anxiety and find stillness inside. This way, I can travel the paths I want to travel while living a quality life full of wellbeing. Embracing living is possible for everyone.
How to Shed Social (or Other) Anxiety and Be Still
Transcending social anxiety to live free of its constraints is a process. Think of it as a magnificent journey toward living a life you value. For me, it was a matter of finding approaches that I believed in and would let me shift my whole being: not just thoughts but thoughts, emotions, and actions.
Some of the principles that guide me on my life’s journey include:
- Acceptance that certain things are just the way they are
- Defusion, or separating my self from situations, people, and events
- Developing a deeper understanding of myself
- Mindfulness, Living fully present in my moments rather than stuck in my mind
- Knowing my values—defining what I do want instead of what I don’t
- Taking action to work toward my values, goals, and dreams
- A healthy lifestyle that nurtures brain and body and involves nutrition, hydration, movement/exercise, adequate sleep
There are more, but these are my primary tools in transcending anxiety and being still. Many come from acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). Mindfulness stands on its own but is also part of ACT.
I’ve written these books (and others) to be helpful resources for overcoming anxiety and any other struggle blocking your path to wellbeing and a life worth living. Social anxiety has a dedicated section in The Mindfulness Workbook for Anxiety with insights into this life-limiting form of anxiety as well as exercises to work past it.
Click on the images to learn more. And regardless of how you safely go about it, do keep moving forward to the life you want and deserve.