The majority of people with social anxiety disorder never receive any professional treatment for it. And while some people may suffer in silence, many reach out on forums and online groups to learn self treatment for social anxiety disorder.
As I shared in my last post about social anxiety symptoms, I’m not an anxious college student or a new mom anymore, and I’m happy to report that self treatment for social anxiety disorder really does work.
The catch is that it doesn’t happen instantly- you must practice and practice and put yourself out there. Consistency and the right mindset is key. Here are strategies I use that really work…
Recognize Negative Thinking
Without even knowing it, socially anxious people often are very self critical and self sabotaging. You may have a lot of negative self talk floating around in your head. If you have social anxiety, you may think and feel thoughts in social situations such as:
-Everyone will think I’m a loser
-I won’t be able to talk when it’s my turn
-Everyone will notice my voice shaking
-My face will turn beet red if I have to talk
-I can’t handle being in a normal conversation
It’s important to notice when you start to have these negative thoughts and then challenge them so you can see that they really aren’t true. For example, if you are new on a job, you may have an underlying negative thought such as, “I’ll never be able to fit in here. They’ll all find out how nervous I am.”
You can easily challenge this thought. Is it true that you will never ever fit in at work? Of course not. A new job takes time and everyone adjusts after awhile. Will everyone be your best friend? Of course not, but you will naturally gravitate to people you like over time. Will everyone really find out how nervous you are? Well, some people may notice you are quiet, but that’s probably more normal in a new job than being overly loud and obnoxious. And what will they find out? If you feel nervous at the new job, the reality is most people really wont notice or care much at all…
So this is an example of how you can start to challenge negative thinking. The catch is you have to be on guard and really try to catch yourself, as a lot of negative thinking with socially anxious people is an automatic reaction.
Learning to identify negative thinking patterns can be done alone or with the help of a qualified therapist.
Resist the urge to avoid situations
Avoiding social situations that scare you will lead to more fears down the road. For example, if you are nervous about sitting in a class because you might get called on to speak, the urge for the anxious person is to try different things to not stand out, such as sitting way in the back and avoiding eye contact. More extreme avoidance behaviors include skipping the class occasionally or dropping out of the class altogether.
While this may seem tempting, it only reinforces that class is something to be feared and avoided. The very best thing a socially anxious person can do in a situation like this is to use relaxation techniques and continue going to the class.
Resisting the urge to avoid the class and doing your very best to remain calm while there will help you in the long run. Sound impossible? Please read on…
Having the Right Mind Set
If you’ve had social anxiety for any length of time, you may feel that facing your fears is a really tall order. And to be honest, it certainly is. But believe me when I tell you that it is far from impossible. In fact, I have had a lot of success in self treatment for social anxiety disorder. But I take a very gentle approach to my anxiety recovery. Like most anxious people, I am very sensitive, and so I respond much better to a gentle, gradual approach to re-entering and re-learning how to function in the social situations that have scared me in the past.
So, being gentle with yourself is the first step. The second is to go into the situations you fear while breathing correctly- this is called diaphragmatic breathing, where the belly fully expands on the inhale. Anxious people tend to breathe shallowly and this can make you feel even more anxious. You can do diaphragmatic breathing while you write that check in the grocery store, or sit in that class you dread. It really helps keep you calm and as relaxed as possible. I also try to remember to physically relax tense muscles. If I am sitting in a class or in church or a restaurant, I try to scan my body for any areas of muscle tension. When I find it (usually in my neck and shoulders and jaw), I relax those muscles and let myself be as limp as possible.
Having the right mindset while practicing self treatment for social anxiety disorder also means doing a little preparation before hand.
Before you go to the bridal shower, before the business meeting, before you take that math exam…
We anxious people tend to work ourselves up into a tizzy before we go into a social situation we fear, and this only makes it harder once we’re actually in the situation.
So calming the mind is absolutely essential. I like to get into a nice calm relaxed state using my self hypnosis for panic attacks download, or by doing some prayer or meditation. Taking that extra 10 minutes to calm and center yourself before a social event can make all the difference in the world.
Do it Step by Step
Remember that you didn’t become socially anxious overnight, and getting better isn’t going to happen overnight either. But once you actually get determined to go forward with your social anxiety recovery, you will see that it quickly becomes easier and easier. I realize if you haven’t started yet you might think this is impossible, but you’ll have to take my word on this. It really does get easier with time.
That being said, you do have to have a practical, step by step approach. It helped me to make a list from 1 – 10 of the social things I wanted to do but couldn’t. #10 would be something that was uncomfortable for me, but I could do it if I really had to. Working up to number one, the social anxiety situations get harder and harder. The top 3 would be things that I thought “No way could I ever do that.”
Here is the list I made awhile back:
10. Be ok in line at the grocery store
9. Go to church, go to communion
8. Use public bathrooms (shy bladder syndrome)
7. Make small talk with neighbors
6. Eat lunch in cafeteria with co workers
5. Give a speech
4. Go to a party and mingle
3. Talk to authority figures with ease
2. Have friends over to the house
1. Have a dinner party at my house with friends
Your list will be different from mine, since you are your own person and have your own unique experiences of course. This is just to illustrate how to make a social anxiety to do list to work on. And my list is different than it was a few years ago. The point is to have something concrete in writing that you can see and work on.
Now you will start working on your list, starting from the “easiest” challenge. So for me, it was being ok in lines at the grocery store.
Waiting in lines has been hard for me for most of my anxious adult life. And I got to the point where I was sick of being freaked out and having panic attacks every time I had to get groceries. My goal was to learn to go to Shop Rite on Saturday afternoon- the busiest time of the week- stand in line, not panic, and actually be fine. Be able to relax, talk to people around me, say hi to people I knew, browse though a magazine if I want, and just be able to wait for those 10 minutes without falling to pieces. Tall order? Maybe, but certainly not impossible when I broke it down into manageable steps.
Here is how I approached waiting in line at the grocery store step by step:
Practice standing in lines in stores when it’s not busy- say at 7 am. (I am not kidding, I actually did this). Go through the self check out. congratulate self. Next trip, go to Shop Rite at 7am but go to the actual cashier. Next go to Shop Rite at 7am and use the cashier line with some people in it. Do this until it is no longer hard. Congratulate self.
Next, go to grocery store when it’s not too busy and use the self check out line. Repeat until no longer anxious. Work up to going to the grocery store when it’s not too busy but actually going through the cashier line. Repeat until no longer anxious. Congratulate self.
I kept this up until I could shop and stand in line at Shop Rite (the busiest store, but also the best selection for groceries) on Saturday afternoon.
Do you know how good it feels to be able to go to stupid Shop Rite every Saturday? I’m telling you, it is fabulous. My world has opened up that much more. It is amazing, and it feels amazing.
Now that I have tackled #10 on my list, I went on to #9, then #8, etc. etc. I am happy and proud to report that I have met all the challenges on my list so far, except #1, but I know I will be able to have a dinner party someday soon
The reason I showed you how I tackled the grocery store is so you can see that the process is slow, gradual, and gentle. This makes it easy to succeed, and each tiny success builds on the previous one.
Since the situations that make people feel socially anxious vary greatly, you have to be a bit creative when coming up for a plan to master specific social tasks. For example, learning how to relax enough to be able to pee in a public restroom took a bit of creativity on my part, but I’m really glad I did it. Being able to use public restrooms is a skill I definitely needed to have, lol.
In closing, self treatment for social anxiety disorder works. You can do it by using the steps I’ve outlined here. Remember to be kind and gentle to yourself and keep at it. If you are determined, you will succeed!
I wish you peace,
ps. I use self hypnosis to help get me in the right mindset before I leave the house for my social anxiety exposure work. You can learn more here.