‘No excuses’ approach to his social anxiety symptoms – an account from Germany

Social anxiety is a highly individualised and contextual issue and no one person’s experience will match another’s. It may be experienced to different severities, in very different situations, with differing symptoms and with differing aggravating comorbidities, between people. In this account, a young German man, Sebastian, shares his experiences of challenging and overcoming his social anxiety difficulties.

So, as far as I remember I was always prone to social anxiety (maybe always had it). But it only became really bad during my early teens. I realized I was “different” from other guys as I didn’t like going to clubs and parties, and other stuff like that.

When I was about 18 I came across an article on social anxiety which basically started my “healing journey”… It took me some time to talk about it with my parents and my family doctor, but ultimately neither was able to help me.

Eventually I finished school and tried to study computer science, but that was a huge struggle with all the people. Though, I managed to build up courage and take a chance to study game development in the Netherlands. In the beginning that actually worked, and I learned more about psychology, even had my first girlfriend. But eventually I spiraled back into the heaviest social anxiety yet. And after several months of depression I had to abort and go back home.

The months after I used to recover, and 1 or 2 years later I tried studying once again, moving to a different city. In the beginning again it was fine, but soon did I notice the same issues with paranoia, anxiety,… But I had learned more about anxiety and psychology in general. So, I asked myself: What kind of future do I want? Until that time I was not able to hold any type of job for long, I was not able to enjoy anything publicly and on my own. I had 1 girlfriend but the relationship was hell. Though I wanted to have a family… So, I forced myself to answer this question: Do I want to live a happy life? Or do I want to be a slave to anxiety for the rest of my life?

The answer was obvious, but the way not so much. I only knew: No matter what I need to do to achieve my happiness, I will do it. NO EXCUSES. I bought books about self-esteem (fake it till you make it; body language concepts), read everything I could find about therapy (I used exposure therapy on myself), stoicism (something I was luckily interested before in; stuff like Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations), and many videos from Alan Watts especially on the topic of “Ego” and how to let go of it (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5NK3oe5eQmQ and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iZC3lKpF5To as example).

I used all of them in tandem with a “workout plan” as if I was training my muscles. For instance I would have “daily tasks” like “hold eye contact while passing by people”, “ask someone for the time or directions”, “properly say ‘Good day’ and ‘Good bye’ when buying something at the store”. And I would practice just talking basic social stuff at home. But I would also allow myself to go home if it was too much too handle and accept “setbacks” as part of progress. But that way I kept working on it consciously and consistently.

After just 1 month I was feeling much better already. I could walk through streets without feeling paranoid or “getting judged”. After 6 months it felt like I never had it to begin with. Now I’m able to enjoy hobbies on my own, before I would have never dared doing things like going to the cinema by myself. Now I don’t care at all!

~

One insight was with the “fear of being judged”: If you struggle with the feeling that strangers judge you, remind yourself that people don’t care. How many do you pass by when going down a street? Do you think about all of them? Do think about any of them? Do you judge them? Probably not. Neither do they. Even if they do, they forget about you just as fast. And if they have an opinion about you? Let them. Everyone is allowed to have an opinion. That doesn’t mean you have to care.

If you feel someone makes fun your style, don’t take to your heart, but embrace it. People might laugh (I like to wear knee high socks with flip flops xD), so rather than being ashamed of your “weird” choice, allow people to laugh. And agree with their laughter. They will either stop or you will both laugh. And what’s not like about making somebody have a good time?

Also, Bruce Lee’s quote “It’s not about the daily increase, but the daily decrease. Cut away the unnecessary,” is very hand when you apply it to actually try to “fight” the anxiety. Focus on what’s important and disregard everything else! NO EXCUSES.

~~

Maybe figuring out WHY you suffer from that anxiety can help as well (but refrain from blaming others, even if they are the cause!). A woman from the US on here has a nice video on that topic https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GvJPy0nBfxY

Social anxiety is very much a “paradox” in how to overcome it. It takes strength and courage to fight against the anxiety. Everyone has the strength, but not everyone has it “unlocked”. Building up your courage and desire to overcome it is very important imo. Maybe realizing a specific goal can help shutting down the thinking process and focusing more on the doing process, like “you have your goal in mind, now turn off your brain and just go!” 😀

I would recommend learning about “social behaviour” in general. One book that comes to mind that I read is “Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion”. There is a lot of good stuff in there, especially cultural differences when it comes to “eye contact”. For instance Germans hold much longer eye contact compared to Americans, which makes it seem like Germans would be “staring too much” (when passing by for instance). If you realize that all this simple social behaviours are “learned” and cultural, you can actually practice them!

I just remembered, one thing I would do in the beginning to learn looking at people while passing by is: wearing sun-glasses! It’s a very simple psychological trick that somehow “masks” you, because somehow are the eyes “the entrance to the soul”. But wearing a mask (or sun-glasses) acts like protection to some degree.

Another trick is actually not looking people in the eyes at first, but looking between their eyebrows. It’s something I picked up from holding presentations.

Maybe, depending on the severity, even looking at images where people stare at you (or video chats) could be a start? Or something like this can work https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5w3cYtJekpw ?

Experiment! Keep it simple. And don’t feel bad when it doesn’t work.

I used to “overthink” these situations (where should I look? where should I put my hands? should I nod? should I smile?), which would cause a lot of stress and even trigger a flight response. For me it was very important to learn “to let go”. Instead of “resisting” the moment, I needed simply let myself “flow with it”. Not sure if I’m making sense xD But if you’re familiar with aikido, they practice similar concepts (even though it’s related to martial arts).

~~~

And the reason [my first relationship] … was so bad was because not only didn’t we fit together, but also because of my anxiety it was very hard to deal with intimacy. But I also needed a lot of time on my own, which she didn’t give me. So, there was a lot of conflict and psychological pressure.

Getting into a relationship after social anxiety is definitely hard from what I experienced so far. I just started “dating” for real for the first in my life, and even though I don’t have social anxiety anymore, there are still some left-overs (like not feeling “worthy”) which are old habits I wasn’t even aware of I still had. But that, too, is something I’m currently working on.

Yeah, getting intimate and being vulnerable takes courage, because in these moments were as naked as we can get, literally and metaphorically. So, it takes courage. But with time and practice you’ll get there.

~~~ ~

For me, the goals I had were things like “I want to have a family one day, so not only do I need to find a fitting girl and be able to talk to her, but I also need to be a father to my children and deal with all kinds of issues which will involve talking to people. And I’ll have to be a role model to my kids.” While I don’t have kids, I do have a niece and a nephew for whom I have to be a role model. So that motivated me a lot.

The tense feeling while coming across people. Don’t worry, you’re not looking unfriendly, I’m quite certain. But greeting the people in the park is good excercise, especially if you meet the same people there regularly. You could practice at home, really imagining what it would be like greeting the people. Wishing them a good day and really meaning it from the bottom of your heart. Like, think of the nicest memory you have that brings a smile to your eyes, and greet them that way. If you really feel happy in that moment and wish people a good day, they’ll appreciate even if they don’t show it, because sincere happiness is contagious.

And if you doubt yourself and feel nervous or stupid, just imagine if someone would wish you a good day. What would you feel? Probably appreciated, right?

Author: Workers' Archive

Covering sensitivity at work and beyond on my website: https://samuelaliblog.wordpress.com/

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