If you're like me, you've turned to Google time and time again to answer one specific question...
How do I overcome social anxiety?
The search results often give you a list of things you can do to work on your social anxiety. Some say find a good self-help book or suggests medication and therapy. Other results say keep exposing yourself to bigger fears over time. The common thread is that most of the results want you to take some kind of action.
But the one thing that seems to be missing from these articles is how to prepare yourself before you take action.
I guess the assumption is that you've done all the prep work and now you're ready to start, but I'd bet that's not the case.
Overcoming social anxiety is frustrating, especially when you're first starting out. Sure, most of us are motivated when we decide that we're going to kick this bad habit. But when it comes time to step into the ring, we struggle to maintain that motivation and end up right back in the cycle that we so desperately want to escape.
So how do you prepare yourself to overcome social anxiety before you get started?
That's what we'll be discussing today.
The Stages of Change
In order to become an Anxiety Fighter, you have to prepare for change. According to research, there are 5 stages of change. Pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance.
Let's discuss the first three stages in a little more detail.
The first stage of change is the pre-contemplation stage. In this stage, there is no desire to make any change at all. Change isn't even on the radar.
We've all been there, right? At the point where we think we're stuck with no way out. We think to ourselves we'll never be the person we desire to be.
In other words, this is the point of helplessness and hopelessness.
The second stage of change is the contemplation stage. This is when you start to daydream and think about a different life for yourself.
You start to say things like, "I wish I was more outgoing" and "I wish I could just walk up to someone and start a conversation," and you imagine what that would be like. You also begin to recognize how social anxiety has been holding you back.
The contemplation stage is when you begin to consider that things could be better for you.
You also start to identify the benefits to change. You begin to realize that making changes could lead to more enjoyment at work, stronger relationships with friends, and more fun in social settings.
The third stage of change is the preparation stage. This is the point when you've decided to make a change in your life.
We all arrive here differently. Some of us are simply fed up with the life we've been leading and desperately want something new. We often see this in friends who decide one day that they are going to the gym seemingly out of the blue.
Other's come to the preparation stage out of a long-awaited desire for something new and for whatever reason now seems like the best time. There are even some people who are pushed into it via ultimatums from loved ones or greater responsibilities at work.
From my experience, the ones who arrive to the preparation stage on their own, tend to be the ones who go through with taking action and finding success. But individuals who are forced to this point often struggle because they weren't given the opportunity to go through the other stages freely.
So what stage are you in?
I doubt many of you are in the pre-contemplative stage. After all, if you had no desire to make any changes in your life, you wouldn't be here reading a blog about overcoming social anxiety.
A good number of you are likely in the contemplative stage. You've begun to consider a better life. A life where you're not afraid of small talk, going out alone, talking to strangers, or feeling judged and embarrassed.
Maybe you've had some experiences where things didn't go as bad as you thought it would and that made you hopeful. Prayerfully, this blog is providing you hope that when you get ready to take action, you'll have a source and resource for strategies to help you become an Anxiety Fighter.
The rest of us are in the preparation stage. We've done our daydreaming, we've had are good days, and we want more of them. We have goals and desires that we want to accomplish and we recognize that our social anxiety is the obstacle in the way.
But before we take action, we have a little more work to do.
Identify the Main Problem
As we gear up to take action and work to overcome our social anxiety, we have to first identify exactly what it is we're fighting against.
To simply say, "I want to overcome social anxiety" is little too broad of a problem to tackle. Social anxiety shows up in several different areas of life: public speaking, small talk, social events, feeling judgment, and even physically with racing heart, sweaty palms, and those stomach butterflies.
In order to become an Anxiety Fighter, you have to recognize that fighting all of your fears at once can be hard. Instead, identify one smaller problem and focus your efforts on that issue.
The benefit of focusing on one issue is a greater opportunity for success. Plus, the strategies and tools you use to tackle that problem, will help you overcome other aspects of social anxiety too.
For example, let's say you identify your biggest issue with social anxiety is always thinking that you're being judged by others. So you learn strategies and exercises to help you manage and overcome these thoughts and feeling.
Then when you continue to take action and decide that you want to conquer public speaking next, you'll be able to call upon the techniques you've already learned, making the next obstacle a little easier.
Recognize Where the Battles Will Take Place
As an Anxiety Fighter, it's important to remember that all of the battles you will have with social anxiety will take place in your mind.
Yes, I know that it's the outside world that causes us to feel anxious and awkward. But it's our response to the outside world that triggers our negative feelings, behaviors, and reactions.
We have to learn to control our response by managing our thoughts. As we continue to walk this journey together, we will learn exercises and strategies that will require us to stretch our comfort zone in the company of others. But remember, all of that activity is designed to help us fight the battle going on in our minds.
Commit to the Process
I've been trying... well not really trying, but I've been thinking about trying to lose some weight and get into better shape. While I keep wanting to believe that the dryer is shrinking my t-shirts, I know that I'm just not moving around as much as I used to.
The funny thing is, I've worked out in the past with some success and I have plenty of exercise equipment taking up space in my home. I also have a monthly gym membership that I use semi-annually. Yet, despite all of the tools that are available to me, I struggle to use them.
The reason is, I haven't committed to the process.
In order to have any success with losing weight, I know I have to commit to the process. I'll have to show up a few times a week and actually use the equipment.
The same way I have to commit to the process of losing weight, is the same way you and I have to commit to the process of overcoming social anxiety. We have to do more than think to ourselves we will do this.
In a study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology, researchers found that individuals who explicitly stated the day, time of day, and location they would participate in an activity or exercise, that they were three times more likely to complete that task than people who simply stated they wanted to do something.
Making a commitment with specific pre-determined intentions will help you stay on this journey. We just have to commit to showing up and doing the work of overcoming our fears.
Figure Out Your Why
Before you begin to take action on overcoming social anxiety and becoming an Anxiety Fighter, ask yourself this question:
Why do I want to Overcome my social anxiety?
This journey won't always be easy. On this quest to overcome social anxiety, you will run into obstacles and challenges that you've likely never experienced before. You'll meet people who will not always be on your side and may even encounter struggles that you never saw coming.
You may even want to quit and go back to being the person you were before you decided to tackle your anxiety.
But when that happens, you need to have a strong reason why you're fighting this battle. A reason so strong that it keeps you going, especially when the going get's tough.
Maybe you're tired of feeling disconnected and scared in public. Perhaps you're tired of watching other people get promoted ahead of you simply because they were willing to put themselves out there when you weren't.
Your reason why could be that you made a promise to someone that you would change or that you want a better life for yourself. It could be because you don't want your kids looking up to you and falling into the same struggles you did.
Whatever your reason is, figure it out before you start taking action. Write it down. Have it somewhere that you can see it on a regular basis.
Having that reason will help you continue to press forward even on your toughest days. It will be your antidote to any difficulties you face along the way.
Now You're Ready for Action
After you learn about the stages of change, identify your main problem, remind yourself of where you battles will take place, commit to the process, and determine your reason for doing all this, you'll be ready to take action.
Skipping even one of these steps can result in you not being as successful as you could be on the journey. Take the time and work through these steps. It won't take long and will put you in the best position for success.
Next Action Steps
In the comments below, answer the following question: Why do I want to Overcome my social anxiety?
Here's my answer: I want to overcome my social anxiety because I know that I have allowed great opportunities to pass me by, simply because I was too afraid. I was afraid to speak up, start a conversation, or voice my opinion.
I worry too much about what other people think of me and sometimes I allow that to shape my behavior. This has never served me well and I want to live a life that is true to who I am and who I believe God wants me to be. Not a life based on my skewed perception of what other people think of me. That's why I want to overcome my social anxiety.