I’ve been dealing with social anxiety for my entire life, but I haven’t always known it.
I used to think I was just less confident in certain situations. Or I’d think it wasn’t that bad and everyone probably had some of it.
It wasn’t until I moved to a new city (where I knew exactly 1 person) that I finally faced my social anxiety. I wanted to share 3 examples of how social anxiety shows up in my life, along with a few tips that can help you if you’re experiencing it too.
The anxiety of the cafe
When I first moved to Austin, I wanted to find a place that I could write from while being among people. So, I hopped around and explored a few different cafes.
It’s during one visit that I come face to face with my anxiety: I’m sitting outside at a café in South Austin. I don’t know anybody, and my mind starts racing. Luckily, I brought a journal with me.
As I begin writing down my anxious thoughts – “Everyone’s LOOKING at me,” “everyone thinks I’m weird,” “everyone knows I’m not from here,” “everyone knows what I did last summer” – I start to feel a memory emerge.
I’m in elementary school. I don’t know how to have friends because I’ve always been the black sheep among my cousins and brothers. So, I walk around during recess alone, feeling like everyone can see that I’m deficient when it comes to making friends.
Another memory comes into view- I’m in 2nd grade and I punch my friend Erik for being cooler than me. Then he tells Mrs. Harvey who is disappointed in me, especially as I was supposed to become student-of-the-month that same day.
These childhood memories float back to the surface as I struggle with my anxiety in the present day.
All I can do is write them down and try to breathe until the emotions fade.
The anxiety of the gym
As I get more used to living in a new city, I realize I should try a new hobby.
I’ve been interested in UFC for the last few years, and I’ve already tried Jiu-Jitsu. So, I think, “let me try Muay Thai Kickboxing.”
I sign up online and get to the gym for the evening class.
As I walk in, I make eye contact with a few of the regulars, and they look meaner than your average person. I start shaking inside as I walk to the counter and look away to avoid getting my ass kicked.
At least, that’s what my brain tells me will happen.
Over the next few months, I start to feel more confident in the gym. Thanks to meeting more people seeing that the regulars aren’t so bad, I start to loosen up.
But one thing I never get over is my anxiety at seeing all the beautiful, badass women who train at the gym. I want to talk to them so bad, but if they look at me, I look away and act like I’m not interested. The truth is just that I was anxious to my teeth!
To make a long story short, I can never shake the anxiety I feel walking into the gym each day, and I quit after a few months.
I know that social anxiety contributed to my quitting this sport, despite enjoying it. It doesn’t feel good when social anxiety gets the better of you like that. But that’s not all.
The anxiety of dancing
Back in my hometown Las Vegas, I learned how to dance salsa. So, naturally, I want to use what I’ve learned to meet people in Austin.
I go out to The W Hotel to dance, and I’m gripped by fear as I stand on the sides.
My mind is telling me to ask someone to dance, but social anxiety gets the better of me. I don’t want to have to look anyone in the eye, or get rejected, or look silly as I shake off the rust of not having danced in months.
I go home and come back next week. I’m only dancing with the women who get there early and who are less intimidating. But by the time 11pm comes around, I’m feeling the social anxiety creep in.
So, I go home and wish I did better.
Why am I the one who has to fight every day just to be normal?
Why am I the only person who isn’t going on dates because he’s too socially anxious to talk to attractive people?
And why am I so peaceful at home yet so anxious among people?
What changed in my relationship with anxiety
Each of these examples come from my first year in Austin, which as I mentioned was a brand new city for me where I knew exactly one person.
I knew that I didn’t want to have anxiety for life, so I decided to tackle it with meditation and challenging myself to do things that make me anxious.
It took a long time, but I think I have a handle on my anxiety. It’s undoubtedly lessened since the first year. So, in a spirit of breaking free from anxiety, here are my top 3 tips that I learned from first-hand experience:
I developed self-compassion
Look. Anxiety is hard enough without beating ourselves up about it.
Instead of feeling bad about having anxiety, try being there for yourself. Talk to yourself like you would a friend or a younger version of yourself.
Say things like “It’s okay to experience anxiety Brandon,” “I’m here for you,” and “you’re safe with me, just breathe.”
If that sounds cheesy to you, I also thought it sounded cheesy at first. But the important thing is that it works.
Once I started being a friend to myself in anxious moments (rather than thinking there was something wrong with me), I cut my anxiety in half.
Think about it like this: By developing self-compassion, which is just being nice and kind to yourself, you’ll only have to fight anxiety. Without self-compassion, you’ll be fighting anxiety AND self-judgment.
I know what I’d rather do.
I started meditating
Using mindfulness meditation, I’ve been able to make amazing progress on my anxiety and mental health.
The cool thing about mindfulness meditation is that it undoes the root of anxiety. What do I mean by that?
Let’s look at another quick example. Recently, I’ve been feeling anxious before seeing my good friend Miriam. It never made sense to me because we’re so close. So, finally, I sat down to meditate, and what came up was amazing.
It turns out that I was anxious about seeing Miriam because she reminds me of my sister. Growing up, I bullied my sister, and this caused a fear of retaliation that I wasn’t consciously aware of.
Once I realized this, I sat through the emotions until they dissolved. And when I saw Miriam, we had an awesome time!
So, mindfulness meditation is amazing for reducing your anxiety progressively over time. And not only that, but all negative emotions: anger, guilt, fear, sadness, jealousy, etc.
If you do it long enough, you realize that your fears aren’t random. They come from past experiences that you’ve lived through but not shaken off.
I stopped fearing anxiety
As FDR said, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
One thing I learned about dealing with anxiety is to not fear it. It’s not always true. In fact, it’s mostly negative programming from one’s past, being projected onto present day experiences.
By not fearing anxiety, you can have more self-compassion, and more resilience. If you realize that you don’t have to believe all the thoughts anxiety will tell you, you’re immediately less controlled by it.
So, let go of fearing fear. It’s just an emotion and some thoughts. It won’t hurt you to breathe through it.
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