So you have social anxiety...
Updated: Jan 28
Why that means you might be a perfectionist, and how to counteract it.
Have you been told your whole life that you are "quiet", "don't talk much", and need to "put yourself out there more". Well if you're reading this blog post, then there's a pretty good chance that's the case.
What I failed to recognize was that other people have the same experiences all the time - The difference is, they don't base their self-esteem and self-worth on one interaction. They realize that there are often many moving parts at play, and the common denominator is not always them.
There's also a good chance you think you know what the root of your problem is. However, what if I told you that might not be the case?
What is social anxiety?
According to the Mayo Clinic's website
"In social anxiety disorder, also called social phobia, everyday interactions cause significant anxiety, self-consciousness, and embarrassment because you fear being scrutinized or judged negatively by others. In social anxiety disorder, fear and anxiety lead to avoidance that can disrupt your life. Severe stress can affect your relationships, daily routines, work, school, or other activities."
If you are anything like me you probably just read that and went "You got it dude" in your best Michelle Tanner voice. I have spent the last few years of my life avoiding most social settings and situations because I didn't want to deal with the emotions and overthinking that came with them. The simple act of going to the grocery store and trying to buy milk and eggs would generate so much fear and anxiety that I would often consider whether or not food was really a necessity.
Any time I knew I was going into a social situation I would imagine every possible scenario that could take place. I also thought of every possible way I could get out of each situation (eat some bad seafood, get in a boating accident, move to another state). However, once I realized what was really at the root of my social anxiety, it completely changed my frame of mind.
What's the root cause?
After some therapy and deep diving, I realized that my fear wasn't stemming from where I thought it was. Part of my fear was that any conversation I had with anyone was going to be awkward, which would cause feelings of embarrassment and negative self-judgment. However, I realized the real problem was that I had unrealistically high expectations of what to expect out of a social situation. If the conversation did not go 100% as expected then that meant I was a social failure. The average person does not set these types of expectations for themself. However, the person with social anxiety; does it almost compulsively.
If I could not think of something to say, felt like the other person did not like me, said something awkward, talked too fast, talked too slow, started sweating, or moved my hands a certain way then I was inadequate. I told myself I might as well crawl back into whatever hole I came out of and continue to isolate myself from the world.
The problem with this type of thinking
What I failed to recognize was that other people have the same experiences all the time. The difference is, they don't base their self-esteem and self-worth on one interaction. They realize that there are often many moving parts at play, and the common denominator is not always them.
You are allowed to have awkward moments and say "stupid" things because you are human. Perfectionism is a funny thing because the joke is, it is unattainable. We strive so hard to achieve something that we can't. Then we base our sense of self on how well we compare to those impossible standards.
In the book Dare to Lead by Brene Brown she writes:
"Perfectionism is not self-improvement. Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval. Most perfectionists grew up being praised for achievement and performance (grades, manners, rule following, people pleasing, appearance, sports). Somewhere along the way, they adopted this dangerous and debilitating belief system: I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it. Please. Perform. Perfect. Prove. Healthy striving is self-focused: How can I improve? Perfectionism is other-focused: What will people think? Perfectionism is a hustle...perfectionism hampers achievement. Perfectionism is correlated with depression, anxiety, addiction and life paralysis, or missed opportunities. The fear of failing, making mistakes, not meeting people's expectations, and being criticized keeps us outside the arena where healthy competition and striving unfolds."
When I read this, my mind was blown, and I am willing to bet a couple of your minds might be blown right about now too. I grew up with two Nigerian parents and in Nigerian culture self-worth and success are often based on your achievements and what others think of you. Hence, how I've ended up where I am today. The truth is that most cultures are like this, and that needs to change. However, in the meantime, while humanity is awakening to this truth, we have to learn to change our mindsets.
What can you do about it?
I recommend talk therapy along with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Talk therapy will give you a non-biased and objective listener to "vent to", as well as someone who can help you see things from a different perspective. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is helpful for people with social anxiety because it focuses on changing your thought patterns and beliefs to change your behaviors. CBT will provide you with coping mechanisms and usually forces you to face your fears head-on with exposure therapy. However, you will also have traditional talk therapy as well.
I know a few of you are probably rolling your eyes right now, but meditation is a great treatment and coping mechanism for almost all anxiety disorders. Most cognitive-behavioral therapists will likely recommend it to you, so why not get ahead of it and start now? There are a lot of misconceptions about meditation, but the biggest one is that the point is to have no thoughts. While this would be great, it is almost impossible unless you are a highly enlightened monk.
Meditation is really about learning how to observe your thoughts, so you don't get consumed by them. If you practice enough, eventually, you will be able to have a thought, observe it without judgment or trying to force it out of your mind, let it go, and be present.
Social Media Breaks
This is probably one of the BEST things you can do for yourself. I love the internet, and it can be a great place for people like us. However, there is also a lot of stuff on here that does not serve us, particularly social media. Social media has gone from a tool to keep in touch with friends and loved ones to a hub where acquaintances, influencers, and businesses try to make you feel inadequate to sell you things.
The overall negative effect of social media on people's mental health has only recently, come to light. However, it is especially detrimental to those already suffering from mental health issues. So, delete your Facebook and Instagram every once in a while, and go take a walk out in nature. You won't regret it.
Online Support Groups
Human connection is important, and it is even more important to find people dealing with the same issues you are. Loneliness is something that people with social anxiety are prone to, and it can be a real killer. As I mentioned before, the internet isn't all bad and there are plenty of spaces where you can go to find support. I highly recommend online chat forums and groups. This way you already have a database of questions and topics that you can look through.
Books are a great source of information and motivation on a variety of topics. There are also a surprising amount of books on social anxiety and introversion. Do a google search and you will see what I am talking about. You can also check out the forum for a list of books that have been helpful to me on my journey.
Ignore Hustle Culture
In recent years, hustle culture has become increasingly popular. It's the idea that every second of your day should be filled with trying to find ways to make money and "level up". While it is healthy to have ambitions and goals, I think this mindset has been damaging to a lot of people my age. It has caused us to value productivity and money over our mental and emotional health.
It has also left people like me feeling very inadequate. Introverts and people with social anxiety are often not very great at multitasking and our energy is easily drained. As a result, we are not natural-born hustlers. We often need to take our time performing tasks and take breaks to do things productively. So it's not you that's the problem, you are just built differently.
When I say create, I mean it in a very broad sense. Create a dance, a meal, a story, a drawing, a business, scarf, candles, or even a blog. The world is your oyster. It does not matter what it is, just do it. There is a lot of power in creating and it can often give you a renewed sense of self-worth and importance. Especially when you create for others.
Be gentle and patient with yourself
This is the SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT thing for you to remember! It took you a long time to get the way you are, so it is going to take you a while to unlearn those behaviors. Don't beat yourself up when things don't go perfectly. Just accept how you are feeling; because fighting it will only make you feel worse.
Just remember that you are enough, just as you are. No one is perfect, not even Oprah. Although, she's pretty damn close.
<a href="https://www.freepik.com/vectors/people">People vector created by stories - www.freepik.com</a>
Brown Brené. Dare to Lead Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. Ebury Digital, 2019.