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In this post I share the 5 biggest lessons I learned from my own experience of overcoming social anxiety and from exclusively coaching socially anxious clients for the past eight years.
Know how to tell you have overcome social anxiety? Where it came from? How not to get rid of it? And how to overcome it once and for all?
Learn this and more and see how social anxiety may be affecting your life and what you can do to get rid of it.
We’ll go beyond the basics because you probably already know that social anxiety affects your life, but how do you really overcome it once and for all?
This episode is all about understanding how social anxiety may be affecting your life and what you can do to get rid of it in uncommon ways.
Here’s five biggest lessons learned from overcoming social anxiety:
#1: Once you feel safe, your social anxiety is gone
Alright. When you break social anxiety down, what it really comes down to is that you’re in a social situation and you’re perceiving some kind of a threat. And because you are perceiving a threat, your body is responding to that threat by firing off the fight, flight, freeze response, which is our body’s natural response to deal with a threat.
You’re being put in survival mode in order to either fight it, run away from it, or if you can’t do any, play dead.
So it’s the threat that is causing the activation of the fight, flight, freeze response, which results in the symptoms: your heart racing, having like a dry mouth, sweating, this excessive panicking, wanting to escape a situation, lump in your throat, tightness in your chest, shaking.
Whatever your symptoms are, those are the symptoms that result from the activation of the fight, flight, freeze response. But where does that come from? Well, there’s the perception of threat.
So when I relate this back to my life, when I was anxious, so if I was in a social situation, say I would be in a group situation. I’d be introduced or something to a couple of new people. I would then be feeling anxious because there were threats for me.
The threat would be they might not like me or I’m going to say something stupid or I’m going to look insecure or they’re going to see that I’m nervous or whatever. And all of these threats made it not feel safe for me to be myself. There were threats there that were activating the fight, flight, freeze response.
Now, the ones that I share are very common for other people, but there are more common threats for other people, such as the threat of being criticized or the threat of being humiliated or being put down or attacked or challenged or rejected. Of course, how can I forget that one?
So these threats are there, and these threats cause the activation of the fight, flight, freeze response, which kind of leads me into biggest….
#2: You are reliving your past
Now, the part of our brain that actually activates the fight, flight, freeze response is called the amygdala. It’s this small, almond-sized structure of our brain that activates our body, that informs our body whenever we perceive a threat, whenever there is a survival situation.
Now, this part of the brain is also associated with storing emotional memories and with our perception of certain social situations based upon those memories. And what it also does is it labels these survival situations or traumatic memories as emotionally fearful. And it does that so that these memories of threatening circumstances help us to avoid similar situations in the future.
Now, let’s have a look at how this works. Let’s look at an example. Say you’re eight years old and you have to read out loud in front of the class. Now, you’re already not too fond of this, but you go and you’re a bit nervous, and you go and you read a word wrong. I’ve heard this example quite a bit, actually.
That’s why I’m bringing it up. So you read the word wrong and now everyone starts laughing at you, and you don’t know what to do and you feel helpless and you become red in the face and you’re embarrassed and you feel out of control.
Now, in that moment, a trauma is formed. Now, it’s not a threat to your survival, as in you’re not going to die, but it can be a threat to your identity, to your wellbeing. And when you feel overwhelmed in this situation and it’s traumatic for you, then what your brain does is it takes a little snapshot of this moment and it stores within that little trauma capsule, if you will, all the sights, the sounds, the smells, the sensations, and the feelings, and the learnings, such as “I can’t make mistakes in front of people,” or something like that, whatever the learning is. And then that trauma capsule gets stored in procedural memory. And you move on, you live your life, and your amygdala labels this memory, this traumatic experience as emotionally fearful.
Fast forward two decades. So now you’re 28 years old and you’re at work and your boss shows up and he’s like, “James, come to the front and give us a little insight about blah blah blah.” And now, the moment you hear that, boom! You feel fear and anxiety. And why is that? Well, because your amygdala is perceiving this situation as a threat. Why?
Because this situation is similar to the experience when you were eight years old and you were reading out loud in front of the class and you were humiliated. And so you end up reliving all those feelings from back then. And you actually end up reliving them even before you go to the front of the class or even before you go stand next to your boss and take the stage. And that is because your brain is kind of alerting you about what’s going to come.
It’s kind of like it’s saying like “Hey, this is going to be painful. Careful. You might experience the same pain that you experienced back then.” And so you feel anxious and you feel the same feelings from back then: the shame, the humiliation, the helplessness, and so on. So while you’re 28, you actually end up feeling like you’re eight. So you’re reliving the pain of your past.
#3: Social anxiety is an emotional problem, not a logical problem
Alright. So to stay with that example from just now, your boss calls you out, you can then go, “Okay, well…” You can try to rationalize and be logical about it. “Well, even if I go to the front, my colleagues, they will probably still like me. And I’m not going to lose my job even if I’m a bit anxious. And even if they all see me nervous, it’s not going to be the end of the world because they have their own lives and they’ll forget about it and blah blah blah.” Right?
Even if you don’t even have the time for that. That’s a different story. But say that you had the time to do that. Then still that will help you maybe a little bit.
And I’m not saying changing your thoughts. You should do that. I do it every single day. It’s not an exaggeration. I do it every single day because it’s helpful, but it won’t resolve your social anxiety because in that moment, your whole system is in survival mode, responding to the threat that it’s perceiving. So no amount of logic is going to stop you from feeling anxious in that moment. So social anxiety is an emotional problem.
So you want to look at “Why is this a threat for me?” Well, it’s a threat for you because you had that experience when you were eight years old and your brain is like, “This is going to happen all over again. So run, stupid. This is going to suck.”
That’s pretty much it. So it’s an emotional problem and you’re not going to think your way out of it. It’s helpful to change your thoughts. It’s helpful to be realistic. It’s helpful to be optimistic. But all of those things are not going to get rid of the trauma and it’s not going to stop you from being anxiety-free.
#4: You can stop reliving your past and eliminate the threats that are being perceived
Now, your brain perceives a threat as a result of the beliefs that you have. And these beliefs that you have were learned from these traumatic past experiences. And so in order to get rid of the threat, you need to neutralize these experiences and get rid of these beliefs. Right. Great. How the hell are you supposed to do that?
Well, I found very effective tools for that. And the most effective one that I’ve found that’s also the easiest one to apply is called EFT or emotional freedom techniques or tapping. Now, if this is the first time you hear about it, you’re probably going to think I’m crazy or you might think, “Well, he said some interesting things up until now, and now it’s going way on the left field and this is weird and the little bit of credibility that this guy may have built up is gone completely now.”
But listen on, alright? This stuff is amazing. It’s changed my life.
So EFT stands for emotional freedom techniques and it’s a psychological form of acupuncture, with all the needles and stuff. But instead of using needles, you tap with the tips of your fingers in specific acupressure points on the body. So it looks weird. It looks silly.
People often assume, “Oh, it must be a scam because it’s something new and I don’t know what it is.” We’re evolving, right? This is a really powerful technique and what it does is it disconnects the emotions from whatever you’re thinking about. So if I’m thinking about that memory of when I was eight years old and I had to come to the front of the class and I was made fun of, now as I’m thinking about that memory, I feel the shame and the humiliation that I felt back then.
When I now start stimulating these pressure points, what it does is it starts to disconnect the emotion from that memory step by step by step. It’s amazing. So studies have shown that the tapping sends a little signal to the part of your brain called the amygdala that we talked about before, and increases the production of serotonin, your happy hormone, and it decreases the production of cortisol, the stress hormone. And these biochemical responses create a sense of calm.
Now, how it exactly works, I don’t know. I’m not a scientist. And I also don’t care because it is so amazingly effective.
So that’s the main thing that I would recommend in order to deactivate your past. And that’s what you can do with tapping. Now, that’s not the only tool. So let me tell you about a couple of other ones that are really powerful. There is PSYCH-K, psychological kinesiology. There’s logosynthesis. And you can just Google these things and you’ll find them out for yourself.
And I think the most well-recognized is EMDR, eye movement desensitization and reprogramming. Many psychotherapists have that as well. I’m not trained in that. I don’t have any experience with it. I’ve just read the reviews between that and tapping, and I’ve interviewed the experts. I have a podcast and I’ve interviewed 67 experts so far. And with experts, I’m talking about psychologists, psychotherapists, researchers, authors. And the psychotherapists tell me that the tapping is more efficient and easier to apply. But whatever gets you the results that you’re after.
So yes, you can deactivate your past. You can get rid of these beliefs. Alright. So….
#5: Socializing is easy when you feel relaxed
Now, a lot of people that I work with, they often tell me, “Well, I don’t have any social skills,” or “I’m boring,” or “I’m just not that funny,” or “I’m not interesting,” or blah blah blah. And then I always ask them, just like “Alright. So what are you basing that on?” or I might ask them, “Is there someone that you know that you’re comfortable with?”
Maybe with your dad. Maybe that’s not the right example. Sometimes with their partner. Sometimes with a person. Sometimes, for the lucky ones, there is a person with whom they’re comfortable. And then I ask them, “Alright. So when you’re with that person, do you not have a sense of humor? Do you not have interesting conversations?” And then they say, “Yeah. With that person, I do. But in general, when I’m anxious…” I’m like, “Yeah, exactly,” because when you’re experiencing anxiety, it’s impossible to be funny.
It’s impossible to be interesting because your whole system is in survival mode. Every part of your system is saying, “Get the hell away from here,” or “Fight that,” or “Freeze.”
And when that is going on, you can’t be coming up with jokes or telling interesting stories or solving math problems because blood is rushing away from your head and away from your digestive system into your outer limbs. Your whole system is prepared to fight the danger, to run away from it, or to freeze.
So don’t judge your social skills based upon the times that you’ve been anxious.
What I found is that when you get rid of the anxiety and when you accept what other people think of you, when you’re okay with that, when you appreciate yourself, when you accept yourself, when you feel confident about asserting yourself, when you’re just okay with who you are and you feel safe to be yourself, then you’re just relaxed. And when you’re relaxed, then you can joke around. Then you can be interesting. You can be interested. You can listen. You can just be in the moment. Anxiety takes you out of the moment.
Well, no. Anxiety brings you in the moment, but not that moment right there. You want to escape it. But when you’re relaxed, socializing is just natural.
If you worry about “I’ve got to say the right thing. I can’t say the wrong thing. I have to do it perfect. Blah blah blah,” all of these things are in the way of you being relaxed. But when you’re relaxed and you’re just natural, that’s when you’re fine. Socializing is easy. My four-year-old, she walks up to other kids and she just starts talking. And I don’t think they’re having the most interesting conversation. They’re just hanging out. But they’re comfortable. She’s comfortable. The people she interacts with. It’s comfortable. So when you’re relaxed, socializing is easy.
Alright. So those were my five biggest insights from overcoming my own social anxiety and from having coached hundreds of clients. I’ve logged over 5000 hours of coaching now. I’ve exclusively worked with people with social anxiety. And I’ve put together for you a little mini package where I talk about how I’ve overcome my own social anxiety. It’s a PDF, a little eBook where I share how I overcame my own social anxiety, what I did that didn’t work, what I did that did work. Subscribe below for this and more!