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When social anxiety threatens to ruin your life

Do you feel like everyone is quietly judging you?

Judging the way you look, the way you walk, the stupid things you say...

Like you have an evil brain which doubts everything about you. It laughs at you and tells you nobody thinks you’re interesting.

And no matter how much you try to do better, try to improve your confidence, try to participate in real life, deal with work, go to parties and make new friends…

Your fear holds you back every single time.

You stand there watching everyone else having fun, getting their degrees, getting married, progressing with their lives. And you know that all you would need to do to join in is just talk and get involved, but, you just can't do it.

What you so desperately want is being dangled under your nose but you can't get to it, like someone holding the key to your prison cell just out of your reach.

But what’s worse is that part of you believes this is all your fault.

And it's really not somebody else dangling your prison key in front of you. It feels more like you can reach the key, but you're choosing not to and at the same time getting upset about being in that prison cell.

You know you have a problem and if it wasn't for that problem you'd be having a great time, and that it's because you are too weak to face your fears that you can't join in,

Sounds familiar?

And so the big question is...

How do you break out of this nasty soul draining cycle with social anxiety?

How do you stop putting yourself below everyone else? And how do you develop the confidence to break out of your shell so you can be yourself around people?

Are you battling your social anxiety using toothpaste instead of guns?

You see, the truth is that none of this is your fault. It's just that no one has shown you exactly how to win over your social anxiety.

And as a result...

You have developed habits which work against you whenever anxiety attacks. And like a soldier using toothpaste instead of guns to fight a battle, you automatically default to the wrong ways of coping.

The fastest way to beat your social anxiety problem is to train your brain to do three things slightly differently.

And once you become an expert at doing these three things, you'll be surprised that you can switch your social anxiety off in under 3 mins.

I know that sounds madly impossible.

But let me elaborate...

Why social anxiety becomes a war you never win

Lynn had quite bad anxiety on Saturday. And it was annoying as it was her sister’s wedding.

She tried to pinpoint why she felt so anxious, but couldn't. It came out of nowhere.

“It’s my sister’s wedding for goodness sake! I am supposed to be happy and excited.” she thought to herself.

Lynn's mum noticed this and said...

“You are not feeling yourself... I can see it in your eyes.”

And that just made Lynn feel 10 times worse.

If her mum could see she was struggling, everyone at the wedding must know she wasn't enjoying herself.

This spiralled quickly into...

"They all think I am selfish for ruining my sister’s wedding."

At which point, Lynn felt a panic attack coming on and whizzed off to the bathroom, making sure she made no eye contact.

This is the painful experience of social anxiety.

It ruins anything you try to do to mingle with people. It stops you from participating in life.

And even if you do manage to pull off sticking through any event you attend, once you are alone, you are so exhausted from the pretence that you simply burst into tears.

What’s more, the whole ordeal leaves you drained for days.

This is because you can't stop thinking...

What does this say about me as a person? Am I just a disappointment to everybody? Who’s going to want me around if all I do is feel anxious on the most important days of their lives? I’m sure they are all thinking that I wasn’t trying hard enough. Like I was just being lazy and as usual not putting much effort into things that are important to others.

You spend so much time beating yourself up until it feels like you have the word pathetic chiselled on your forehead.

When you recover from your ordeal, you then make two mistakes which everyone who suffers from social anxiety makes.

Mistake 1: You move on with your life trying your best to forget the ordeal.

You get on with living and spend very little time on learning how to prevent the problem in future.

Sometimes, this is because life gets so busy that you have no time for you. Or because remembering what happens causes you so much pain that you simply avoid the memory like a plague.

Mistake 2: You only prepare for battle when your brain is compromised.

A week or two to the next social event, you notice your anxiety beginning to rise. Because you fear you're going to do or say something wrong again which would make people think you are weird.

Fast forward to the night before the event.

That's when you start frantically looking for solutions to help you cope. Sadly, at this stage, your brain's ability to think straight is totally compromised. You can't make head or tails of anything you read or any advice you get.

This is how you enter into a battle with social anxiety totally unprepared. And this is why social anxiety wins every single time.

But to gain the winning ground back…

All you have to do is plug the following three steps in. And after a few weeks of mastering the exercise, you will suddenly realize that your social anxiety has become loads easier to manage.

So here are the three steps that can stop social anxiety in under 3 minutes.

Step 1: Spy on the enemy like Caleb

There's an old Bible tale about 12 spies sent to spy on a land Israel wanted to overthrow.

Some of these spies came back with tales of woe. They spoke about how strong and gigantic the enemies were. And predicted that they would certainly be going to their death if they proceeded.

In their fear, they went as far as spreading lies amongst the Israelites saying that the land literally eats people up.

However, one of the spies named Caleb maintained that there were so many reasons why they could win the battle.

But his positive predictions fell on deaf ears.

And because of the rumours from the negative spies, there was a massive riot in the camp. Things got so heated up that people threatened to overthrow their leaders for putting them in such a dangerous predicament.

Now, what's this got to do with defeating social anxiety?

Here's the connection...

Do you tend to predict disaster before going to events, social gatherings or parties days or weeks before the event?

Perhaps you have an event coming up in a few days. And like the negative spies you've begun to concoct mental stories and disasters you are bound to experience.

Some old friends will be there and they might just ask you what you've been doing with yourself. And then you'll have to reveal how uneventful your life has been.

But the bigger question is this…

When you are thinking through what might happen at social events like this, do you ever mentally focus on things going well?

Chances are that your answer is no.

And the truth is that…

There's just as much of a likelihood that things could go well as it is that things might go bad.

But like the negative spies in the story, your worry literarily turns your mind into a riot of anxiety, frustration and self-criticism.

Doing this turns you into a feeble soldier before you even step foot in the battle.

So in order to counteract this social anxiety trap

Follow Caleb's example.

Whenever you catch yourself predicting a negative experience, make a conscious effort to think about the potential positives that could occur as well.

How will this help?

Practising positive predictions regularly like this taps into your brain's "habit making machine" and helps you turn positive predicting into a habit.

Do this for some time, and you will naturally build brain muscles that enable you to remain calm and positive with very little effort. This then extinguishes the torment of anxiety you suffer every time you have to go someplace special again.

This is your protective armoury against anxiety.

And this brings me to the second step of our strategy…

Step 2 Investigate the crime scene like Sherlock

The second step is to copy Sherlock Holmes,

What was that?

Did you just say you don't know who Sherlock Holmes is?

Shame on you!

Only kidding.

But just in case you don't know him, Sherlock is a fictional character who uses his genius to crack crimes within minutes. The depiction of him doing this in the recent TV series is simply exquisite.

Go watch one of his movies and check out how the screenshots zoom into the things he notices.

This is exactly what you are trying to achieve when you arrive at your social event.

The idea with this step is to pay attention to everything you see and hear around you in detail.

Why are we doing this?

Because once you get into the event, you will become engrossed will a barrage of negatives about how people see you. And this causes you to believe that people can see all the shameful things about you which you desperately try to hide… 

So as soon as you enter the venue, listen intently to people talking, what are they saying?

Look at people's clothes, hairstyles, shoes their faces. How are they talking?

Think of the different perfumes you can smell them wearing.

And the reward for doing this?

The more you can immerse yourself in what's happening around you, the less likely you will be to stay too much in your own head.

This helps to distract you from yourself. It puts a stop to your self-critical thoughts. It helps you to be present.

And the icing on the cake…

Doing this enables you to engage and actually have fun.

Now, for our third and final step…

Step 3: Run away as far as possible from the autopsy

The final step of the strategy relates to what you do after the social event.

And this is important. Very…Very… Very IMPORTANT.

Whatever you do…

Make sure that you don’t perform a post-mortem of the experience you've just been through.

You’ve got to avoid dissecting every single detail of what happened.

This is a big trap!

Why?

Because you would naturally only dissect with the negative content you perceived.

You will only remember that person who looked at you funny. Or that lady who didn’t laugh at your joke. Or that time when you almost tripped and felt so clumsy.

Because these negatives were all you noticed during the event. This would be the only content available for analysing the event afterwards.

And performing a mental autopsy like this only leads to one thing...

It feeds your fear cycle negatively. And this makes any future social event feel a hundred times more threatening

Refusing to do the autopsy will help you stay clear of this trrap.

And the result...

You will actually start looking forward to future social encounters instead of the endless cycle dreading them and whipping yourself for dreading them.

But now, you’re probably thinking…

Yeah right! This won’t work for me

You might be thinking. These steps seem rather simple to successfully help you stop your social anxiety.

And the truth…

You will only be convinced if you try the technique and witness it working. I certainly didn’t believe these strategies would work until I started experiencing success over my social anxiety too.

You see I used to struggle with the fear of talking to new people. The fear of looking silly because I didn't know how to start or maintain a conversation terrified me. And as such, I would be that person in the party sitting at the corner of the room petrified of people talking to me. At the same time desperate for someone to say hello.

But that’s all in my past now.

A few months ago, the strategies I shared with you in this article was put to the test.

I was asked to play piano for a particular audience full of professional musicians who I believed would spot the smallest mistakes. To avoid embarrassment and failure in front of this crowd, I practised the piece for months, got it to a point where it was smooth and beautiful.

Then on that day I got to the hall and noticed it was particularly full. There must have been about 250 people there.

They called me forward, I sat on the piano and... I drew a blank.

I couldn't remember my piece at all.

Honestly, you could have heard a pin drop from the quiet anticipation in the room.

At the back of my mind I was smiling to myself thinking this is the old anxiety coming back to haunt me again, but because I knew how to deal with anxiety in “Sherlock Holmes style," I took in a deep breath and focused my attention on the piano.  

I created something off the cuff. And I was able to hold my composure and played right through to the last note.

To my surprise, people came to me afterwards telling me how wonderful the piece was. They expressed amazement that they didn't realize I could play so well. I couldn't believe what I was hearing.

But what's my point for telling you this story?

Winning the battle over your mind

You no longer have to feel like you're walking a tightrope above a pond full of crocodiles because of your social anxiety.

The truth is that your mind has become a battleground set on course to drown the real you out. 

Your mind tells you that it’s not possible to break free of your anxiety…

Well, I am standing here for you as someone who felt it was not possible, but who has broken free from the heartache of embarrassing anxiety.

Your mind tells you that people will reject you if they know you struggle…

But please don’t believe that lie. As someone who has opened up my weakness and emotional struggle for all to see, I can tell you that opening up only drew people closer to me. Interestingly it made me more popular.

Your mind tells you that this might work for other people. It won’t work for you. Cause there’s something wrong with you. You are weaker than others…

 Lies… Lies… Lies…

These are all lies.

We are all equipped with brains a thousand times more powerful than the best computers in the world. All it takes is to consistently practise the right steps to retrain your brain to switch your social anxiety off, just like I did.

This way you too can successfully break free.

Written by Adewale Ademuyiwa
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