Step-By-Step Guide and Free Workbook to help you beat social shyness and anxiety
If you are suffering from social anxiety and suffer from frequent panic attacks, or feel your social anxiety is too difficult to manage on your own, we recommend that you find an experienced CBT counselor who can help you recover.
Social anxiety is the fear that you are going to be judged by others. It keeps you living in fear and impacts your ability to reach your full potential. Social anxiety can make everyday life events an agonizing experience. Daily activities such as, going to school, grocery shopping, and social situations, are incredibly uncomfortable. Many women who suffer from social anxiety avoid situations that might trigger their anxiety and end up missing out on things they wish they could participate in.
If you experience or can relate to 3-4 of these signs, this guide is for you!
I am here to tell you, with practice and perseverance you can conquer your social anxiety for good.
Signs of Social Anxiety:
- Assuming the worst possible outcome in social situations. For example, “If I try to talk to him, he’s probably going to laugh and walk away so why bother?”
- Calling yourself names when you feel like you failed in a social situation. (loser, awkward, clumsy, etc.)
- Believing everyone is thinking negative things about you.
- Feeling as though you go through your day with a large spotlight on you and everyone notices each and every mistake you make.
- Setting too high expectations socially, and consistently feeling as though you are failing. (ex: “I should be an amazing conversationalist in every situation”)
- Trouble asking for help from teachers and other adults.
- Difficulty making eye contact.
- Afraid you are not going to know what to say if someone talks to you.
- Planning your day so there are as few social interactions as possible.
- Not wanting to order your food or drinks at a restaurant.
- Fear of speaking in front of others.
- Not knowing what to say over the phone or via text.
- Planning a conversation and then “freezing” in the moment.
- Feeling you aren’t able to talk to people you genuinely want to get to know.
- Feeling awkward in most social situations.
Symptoms of Social Anxiety:
- Fast heart rate
- Hands shake or feel clammy
- Voice trembles, choking feeling in your throat
- Dizziness or nausea
- Shortness of breathe
- Face turning red, and sweating
- Butterflies in your stomach
- Mind goes blank when faced with speaking in front of others
Social anxiety is no joke.
While many people feel nervous in certain social situations, social anxiety can feel paralyzing (at times) and can wreak havoc on your life, and your body. The good news is, that it’s completely possible to recover from social anxiety.
Approximately one-third of teenage girls and young women I work with suffer from social anxiety, and here is one story.
Molly and I started working together to overcome her social anxiety. Over a year ago when we met she was a shy, socially anxious, but an incredible 15 year old. She was having trouble making friends and fitting in at school. She physically tried to take up as little space as possible and often sat hunched over on the couch as if she was trying to disappear.
Even though she struggled with all of this, she was also motivated and ready for things to be different in her life.
Each week, we set a social challenge for her, and each week she tried to do what she said she was going to. She reported that every, single conversation and social interaction with peers felt awkward and uncomfortable. The worst time for her was lunchtime because for a shy or socially anxious teenager the lunchroom can feel like hell.
Where should I sit? Will they even want me to sit there? What if I ask to sit down and they say no? What should I say when I sit down? What if they ignore me? What if I don’t understand why they are laughing? What if they are laughing at me?
Each day Molly pushed herself to walked into the lunchroom and join a table with a group of girls from an after-school program. Every day she said “hello” in a quiet voice, and most days it wasn’t heard (or acknowledged) by the group of girls. She tried to join conversations but struggled to find topics that would be both interesting to her and to the group of girls. This went on for months, but Molly didn’t stop trying. This particular group of girls never allowed her to feel like a member of their group.
Molly’s efforts were not made in vain. By showing up every day in spite of those girls, she continued to try and face her anxiety fears. Yes, she could have avoided the lunchroom all together, but instead, she ended up building confidence in herself.
Later that spring, she decided to join the tennis team. By being open to the experience of joining a team, Molly made new friends to sit with at lunch. She found a group of friends who didn’t require her to try so hard on a daily basis.
Fast forward to this school year.
Molly sat with the old group of girls a few times and it still seemed they didn’t want to include her in their conversations. During one of our chats, she decided she was going to scope out other tables that she could join during the week. She stated a few girls in her Biology class always looked like they were having a good time. I encouraged her to ask the girls if she joined them at lunch.
I still see Molly a few times a month,
she has blossomed into a confident, charismatic girl who is proud of who she is, and is less afraid to share her thoughts with others.
She’s joined another sports team, made more friends, and no longer feels that social anxiety negatively impacts her life. She lovingly describes herself as awkward but it no longer has a negative connotation. For Molly, the key to conquering social anxiety was being willing to do the things (over and over) that scared her until they weren’t so scary anymore.
Three Tools to Help You Conquer Social Anxiety:
1. Create a Social Goal
What is your ultimate social goal?
Is it to find a group of friends that you feel comfortable around? Would you like to be able to speak confidently at school, work, or maybe you want to simply carry conversations with new people? Whatever your goal is, you CAN achieve it, you only need to break that goal down into small, manageable steps.
Dream up your crazy, wildest, social goal and write it down. On a “scary-scale” of 1-10 (ten being absolutely terrifying), your social goal should be a 9 or 10. If it isn’t, try to dream even bigger!
Once you are sure about the goal you would like to achieve, it’s time to find the baby steps that will help you get there. Back to that “scary-scale,” what is an action step you could take that would be a 1 or a 2 on that scale? It can scare you a little bit, but you should feel pretty confident that you can do it. Next, choose an action step that is a 3 or a 4 on the scale. After that, another step that is a 5 or 6 and so on. The idea is that by the time you get to where you are ready to conquer your crazy, wild social goal it won’t feel as scary because you successfully conquered the baby steps that led up to it.
Once you have your goals, and know what actions are on the scary-scale, share it with a trusted friend or family member. It helps to have someone to hold you accountable to your steps so if they see you slipping back into your comfort zone, they can give you encouragement to get back at it.
**Be sure to download our free guide at the end of this post, it will guide you through this goal setting process quickly and easily!**
2. Listen to Your Inner Coach and Quiet Your Inner Critic
Who you choose to listen too makes all the difference in the world.
You begin conversations in your head from the moment you wake up and it doesn’t end until you go to sleep at night. How these internal conversations go, really matters.
Our thoughts and feelings affect almost every aspect of our lives. On any given day, if your thoughts are more negative than positive, it’s going to negatively impact your mood, your choices, and your actions.
You have an inner coach and an inner critic. Your inner coach believes in you and is your greatest cheerleader. If you pay attention to the conversation in your head you might hear her saying things like, “you’ve got this!”, “keep going, you’ll be ok!”, or “I believe in you!”. Your inner coach gives you hope and confidence. Your inner critic, on the other hand, can be a big bully. Unfortunately, you may hear the big bully (inner critic) more loudly than your inner cheerleader.
Start paying attention to the conversation in your head. First, focus on who you hear from more often, your inner critic or your inner coach? Without trying to change it, jot down bits and pieces of your inner dialogue for an entire day. Before bed, spend some time reflecting on how you talked to yourself and how that either positively, or negatively impacted your day.
Next, when you notice your inner critic chiming in, stop her in her tracks. Try not to beat yourself up for having the negative thought, simply choose a more positive thought to replace it with. For example, look in the mirror before you leave the house in the morning. If you hear your inner critic say, “Your hair looks terrible today, is that really the best you could do?” Cut her off, and replace the thought with a more positive one. “I look good, and this is going to be a great day.”
Can you feel the energy that surrounds each of these statements? One is very energy zapping, while the other is optimistic and uplifting. Quieting your inner critic takes commitment. You’ve probably been talking to yourself negatively for so long, it’s going to be a tough habit to break. But it’s oh so worth it.
A negative inner dialogue can be detrimental to your happiness whereas a more positive inner dialogue builds confidence and self-worth. If you choose to listen to your inner coach, you will really begin to believe that YOU’VE GOT THIS!
My advice is to leave notes for yourself all around the house and set reminders in your phone that pop up intermittently and remind you to choose your inner coach. After 30 days, it will get easier and your inner critic will fade into the background.
**Download Your Free Workbook** at the end of this post!
3. Breathing Exercises
When feeling anxious, you may often forget to breathe and when you don’t breath your body begins to panic. Many of the physical symptoms of social anxiety can be calmed by simply breathing deeply and breathing often.
I encourage my clients to practice these simple breathing techniques when they are not in a trigger situation (a situation that creates anxiety). By practicing when you are calm, you are more likely to remember what to do the next time you panic.
4×4 Breathing: This technique is my favorite because you can do it in a room full of people and no one will notice. Simply breathe in deeply while you count to four, and breathe out at the same pace as you count to 4 again. Repeat until you feel your physical anxiety symptoms slowly going away.
10 Breaths: Breathe in and out while you count to ten, but there’s a catch! Say you get to breath 4 and you find yourself starting to think about what triggered you, you have to start over. The idea is to take ten breaths while focusing solely on your breathing. Each time you get distracted, start over. The idea is if you are fully focused on your breath, your anxiety will subside. If you focus on what is making you anxious, your anxiety will grow.
Full Breath: If you are in a place where you feel comfortable (say a bathroom stall) using the full breath technique is very helpful. Take a long slow inhale until you can’t breathe in anymore, and then slowly exhale until you can’t get any more air out. Repeat. Deep breathing in such ways has calming effects on your nervous system and can help with an array of physical symptoms due to anxiety.
By setting social goals, listening to your inner coach, and focusing on your breath in tough situations you can conquer your social anxiety. On of my favorite quotes says, “Life begins just outside of your comfort zone,” and it’s the truth. Things will get easier every day if you are willing to do the things that scare you. I wish you luck on this journey, and I’m here for you if you need me!