Overcoming Social Anxiety

It took me a long time to recognize that I have some degree of social anxiety. Not recognizing it may have helped me. Without the label, I just saw it as a personal trait that I could work on and develop. Had I been formally diagnosed, there's a chance that I may have been medicated and left it well enough alone.

It may surprise people that I have social anxiety, as I go out of my way to put myself in uncomfortable social situations (sometimes). To put it in perspective: I refused to go to clubs during the entirety of my life until I was in my final year of undergrad. Even now I feel a tinge of anxiety if we have plans to go to the club - and this is after I've forced myself to overcome that fear for years.

Simply put: Fear is a liar. 

It distort things, and make you feel like you should avoid new situations.

Here is the progression that helped me expose those lies.


I'm going to start by dipping a toe into philosophy. It is that is related to Decartes' "I think therefore I am" argument. Put simply:
Solipsism is the philosophical idea that only one's own mind is sure to exist.
This means that the only thing we can be sure of is that you exist, and everyone else could simply be an illusion, a simulation, or a dream. I wouldn't recommend fully buying into this belief; use it as a tool to convince yourself that other people's opinions can't hurt you. Try using it in the following way:

Alone in a Crowded Room

Nothing Wrong with Being Self-Dependent
God forbid I had to go to a club. I would be very uncomfortable if the plans changed last minute. I also hated malls. The food court was particularly bad because I'm 6'7", and people sometimes stare. I was uncomfortable with the attention, and a food court has the ingredients to make me uncomfortable.:

  • Packed with people
  • An open space where I'm easily within view from everyone there
  • Waiting in lines
How does Solipsism help here?

I pretended either that I was completely alone in that room, moving through a big, empty space. Or I'd take the perspective that these people don't matter. If I am the only real person, these people are figments and can't have an impactful opinion. This isn't to speak on compassion or the value of life, but more to free myself from my perception of their judgments.

If you practice the second stance enough, you begin to realize that their opinions don't matter that much, even if they are real people with valid opinions. Unless you actually care about them - and you shouldn't if they're a stranger - then they can't actually do anything to you. That is, unless you allow them.

I'll hedge this suggestion by saying it should be used sparingly, and at the beginning of facing your social anxiety. I use it as a tool for...

Exposure Therapy

Exposure therapy is a method of overcoming fears and phobias. The way it works is that they put you in a situation where your fear is present - and you're safe. My interpretation of the underlying theory is that your subconscious mind will learn that you can - and will - survive when put into the situation that provokes your anxiety.

In the case of social anxiety, it would be to put yourself in progressively more difficult social situations while you become accustomed to the levels. For me, I could generally handle being in public, but malls and clubs would freak me out.

I started taking the above perspective, and forcing myself to do things that made myself uncomfortable. Standing up, waiting around in plain view, or holding a conversation in front of random people. I went to clubs, approached random people, forced myself to dance on the empty dance floor at the beginning of the night, and did it all while...


If you take the same route as me, using clubs to overcome your social anxiety, it is essential that you do it without the aid of any drugs/alcohol. If you go to the trouble of putting yourself in that situation, but choose to get crunk, you will waste whatever growth you are aiming for.

Your mind will learn that you can accept and handle this situation while chemically assisted, but won't learn that it's OK when you're sober. You may become more socially adept while intoxicated, but it will lock off that part of yourself from everyday situations. In other words, your anxiety will be easy when drunk, but stay difficult while sober.

What We Most Fear is What We Should Most Face

I was afraid of travel, and still have some apprehensions about it. As of the time this is posted, I will still be in the air, on my way to Beijing. People have been asking how excited I am. Truthfully, I should be. But instead I'm avoiding thinking about it and focusing on what needs to be done now.

Why? Because focusing on being there will more likely deter me from taking action. I know I'll enjoy myself once I get there, but my emotions lie to me about that fact, focusing on the potential danger or hazards.

Logically, I know that everything will likely be fine. The plane will arrive safely, I won't immediately collapse from their smog problem, and the food won't immediately make me bedridden. Emotionally, it's a harder sell.

That's why, as I mentioned in my last post, I find focusing on what needs to be done next - babystepping - until you reach the point of no return. Like jumping into a pool, all you have to do is jump and gravity will take care of the rest.


1) Use solipsism as a tool to allow yourself to endure social anxiety
2) Continue to endure social anxiety - sober - until your brain learns better ways to cope
3) Use fear as a compass toward what you should do most
4) Do increasingly scary things and the small things no longer phase you

For now, I'm not 100% free of social anxiety. I still feel a tinge of it when we are going to go clubbing, but it disappears as soon as I step into the place. All that's changed is my ability to shut it up when it comes nagging.

We just get stronger while the world's difficulty tends to stay just as hard as ever. Push yourself! The harder problems you face, the easier the everyday ones will become. Keep at it long enough, and you're sure to achieve great things!

Do anything that scares you enough, and you'll see fear for the liar it is.

Editing Music: Say My Name - Peking Duk (Ft. Benjamin Joseph)

No comments:

Post a Comment