Well, I struggled with social anxiety for 15 PLUS YEARS of my life.
Actually I think it was more like 20 years.
It was hard.
Especially because I didn’t know there was help out there for me.
I thought I was just socially awkward (and I was, very).
I thought I’d always be that way – shy and awkward.
In fact, I had learned to “fake it” to some degree.
Meaning – I pushed myself to learn the behaviors of someone who has an outgoing and extraverted personality type.
I learned how to network with people better, and improve my social skills to a certain point. But, I was never consistent, especially at being outgoing all the time. This just compounded the fact that I was having a hard time determining how to overcome shyness and social anxiety
Sometimes I was great at being social, though it was more rare than typical. Other times the social anxiety I felt was crippling and paralyzing, like there was nothing I can do, and I’d be sulking in a corner or have to leave.
Why was I like this? Why couldn’t I just be social, like most everyone else, except for the very few like me?
I just wanted to know how to overcome shyness and social anxiety once and for all!
Well, I discovered that I had the condition known as social anxiety in May of 2011, by reading the symptoms and case descriptions of people that had it.
I couldn’t believe my eyes…my jaw literally dropped on the floor – the description fit me almost exactly – I’d say 95% of it.
I was blown away. The solution recommended was traditional Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT).
So I began a 4-month audio program trying to figure out how to overcome shyness and social anxiety by Dr. Thomas Richards based on traditional CBT. For the most part it worked very well. I felt great, I had convinced myself I had gotten over social anxiety (and really, mostly I had).
I was on a high of self-acceptance.
But the high didn’t last, and then it came back as nearly as strongly as before. What the heck was going on?
I soon discovered something I call the “bounce back” effect. Some call it setbacks, but bounce back pertains to having done a course of therapy and then feeling like you were back where you started.
Then I learned that with traditional CBT, challenging and distracting yourself from your thoughts directly, and directly reprogramming your beliefs to more rational ones, was the primary approach.
This means you are constantly having to convince yourself that you are self-accepting and confident, instead of just BEING self-accepting and confident, without constantly having to try to force new beliefs on top of old ones.
I’m not saying that we don’t need to consider and try out new beliefs, however they shouldn’t be forced upon us as the “right beliefs” and that our negative beliefs are the “wrong” beliefs.
Seemingly out of nowhere, something called “Acceptance and Commitment Therapy” (ACT) and also “Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy” (MBCT) came onto my radar.
I was intrigued because I had done a lot of meditation, acceptance and awareness practice in the past.
This is exactly what these mindfulness-based therapies use, along with discovering your values and the life story that YOU want to create.
Something really clicked for me. So I bought the books and dove in.
Mindfulness-Based Therapies Defined
MBCT & ACT are in the “next wave” of cognitive therapies – based on something called “mindfulness”.
The concept of mindfulness comes from Eastern traditions, but in no way do you have to believe in those traditions for it to work.
Western cultures also have it. Mindfulness is a different way of viewing the world with non-judgement and acceptance of what is happening, right now.
One can use meditation to increase mindfulness, but it isn’t actually required. Mindfulness isn’t a technique but a way of viewing and interacting with the world so you have more flexibility of choice in how you respond to situations that cause emotional upset.
Social anxiety happens to fit right in there, perfectly.
Why Mindfulness Based Therapies?
How these mindfulness-based therapies differ from traditional CBT is this – you don’t always try to change the content of the negative thoughts themselves.
For example in traditional CBT you would try to directly refute and change thoughts or beliefs like “Why can’t I get over social anxiety” or “people are always staring at me and judging me, something must be wrong with me” to a “better”, or more rational thought like “I can get over social anxiety, I can be socially normal” or “People do like me, I just have beliefs in place that create social anxiety, and I’m working to overcome them everyday”.
I do like this approach and it does work sometimes.
However, there are times where it doesn’t work, and you’re stuck with no way out, because it comes from a place of battling the mind directly.
However, in a mindfulness based therapy approach, we don’t try to change the thoughts directly.
We change OUR RELATIONSHIP TO THEM.
We attempt to observe and step outside the negative thought, without fighting it, but without also believing it. It is with a curiosity and non-judgment we see the thought, watch it and not buy into the negative thought.
It is very subtle, but EXTREMELY powerful to learn this. In ACT it is called “thought defusion”. By practicing mindfulness we get good at letting thoughts go so they no longer have power over us.
But there is also another powerful component to ACT and that is…
Values and Committed Action
What matters to you in life? This is where values come in.
When we are focused on our social anxiety thoughts and feelings, we aren’t living from our values. We are focusing on the beliefs, thoughts, feelings, sensations and how to get rid of them.
So we use mindfulness to make space for them, but then what? Where do we go from there in completing the process of how to overcome shyness and social anxiety?
We follow and act from our values. There are many powerful exercises that ACT brings to the table to get really clear on your values.
Values, unlike goals, are something we CHOOSE to live from. Goals are something we attain like “to be more socially confident” or to “make new friends”.
Values would be ways from which we can act like courage, openness, friendliness, compassion and ambition. This is called living a value-based life, instead of living a life based on social anxiety and how to get over it.
From values we can create a story of how we want to show up. This is similar to positive thinking however we aren’t married to our values or our story.
We hold it lightly and continue to live with it as long as it serves us.
But without action nothing happens. This is where the process of committed action comes in.
It simply means to make room for any social anxiety thoughts and feelings using mindfulness, and committing to live and ACT from our values.
Live from a place of ACTIVELY CHOOSING CONTINUOUSLY instead of default automatic negative thinking, or positive delusional thinking i.e. narcissism.
The Art of Being Present
One of the best ways to overcome any fear, and also enhance your performance at your job, in social situations, public speaking, at sports and in intimate relationships – is the art of being present.
There is no better way to learn to be present than practicing mindfulness throughout your day in learning how to overcome shyness and social anxiety.
Focusing on what you are doing, being present, being right there…instead of what you are thinking, how you are doing and if you are good enough or not…which is what most of us have spent our lives doing instead of knowing how to overcome shyness and social anxiety.
Find Out More on the Mindfulness-Based Approach to Overcoming Social Anxiety
Books like the “Mindfulness Workbook for Anxiety” and “The Confidence Gap” are fantastic resources to learn the basics of ACT, and to start implementing them in your life.
You can get links to those books on the Social Expression resources page.
If you want the full immersion experience of the mindfulness based approach to overcome social anxiety, you can also check out my 12 week online recovery program called “Dissolve Social Anxiety“.
Alternatively, you can contact me for social anxiety coaching anytime and we can set up a free evaluation session (limited coaching spots available).
I also have a free eBook you can download when you subscribe to Social Expression, if you haven’t done so already.
Whatever you decide to do, best of luck in your social anxiety recovery and in figuring out how to overcome shyness and social anxiety.
I firmly believe that if I can do it, you can, too.