I’ve been on a quest to overcome Social Anxiety for the longest time.
When I was 6 years old, I asked the girl sitting next to me in class to be my friend. Her snappy reply of “I already have friends” tore into me like a knife. A scar I internally carry to this day. I realized I’m still holding on to her retort as I went down memory lane to pinpoint moments that were conducive to my Social Anxiety.
Imagine the impact that had on me if I still remember her name.
Now that I think about it, the academic environment is where the biggest shifts occurred. Being homeschooled from the age of 13 to 19 probably aggravated my state of mind. I was already tethering on the edge of being anti-social because my parents uprooted me from Canada to the United States that same year. Homeschooling was the last drop. It would be another 8 years until I’d find myself again in a classroom. By that point, I couldn’t even bring myself to ask a question in class. I had a severe lack of confidence and an inferiority complex that permeated my whole being.
I couldn’t make a move without over-analyzing every thought I had and how it’d come off.
It didn’t help either that I ended up in a quite emotionally volatile relationship for two years. I was consistently told that I wasn’t good enough for the dreams I envisioned. I was voraciously torn into pieces should I dare speak to anyone else of the opposite sex. That relationship further exacerbated my lack of self-worth. It made me question myself even more in every possible situation I found myself in.
It’s countless moments such as those accumulated over time and turned me into a socially anxious introvert. Social Anxiety dominated my life. It’s something I became acutely aware of as I went through college and then through my first entry-level position as a financial analyst. I was quite thankful to land a job that didn’t require much contact with the external world. It was just me and spreadsheets for the better part of two years.
These were some of my symptoms for more clarity:
- Not being able to have an impromptu conversation with anyone. If I didn’t map out the conversation before meeting with someone, I’d have a panic attack, thinking we would have nothing to talk about.
- Time and time again, I chose to keep quiet instead of voicing my truth because I was worried about how it would come off.
- Here I was, at the prime of my life, unable to speak out (or ask questions) because I was scared of being judged.
But then I had had enough. I had enough of feeling debilitated and needed to overcome Social Anxiety.
Enough of not having the courage to speak up or to lean in. Enough of caring about what everyone else thought of me. No matter how many self-help books I read, I wasn’t making any progress with my mental state. I made myself feel so small for so many years that I created such an impenetrable box around myself. I had to find a way out for my own sanity since I didn’t know how to make friends, have healthy relationships, properly communicate, or handle my insecurities.
The day I decided enough was the day I sat down and wrote out an action plan.
A 5-step action plan to overcome Social Anxiety
An action plan to stop letting things hold me back. Specifically, to stop letting what others think about me hold me back. Or what I believe they think about me. Once I started putting pen to paper, a skill I had homed in during my years of solitude, I found the confidence I lost at 6 years old.
This was my action plan to overcome Social Anxiety.
Step 1. Please write down the ultimate goal (the result I want).
The ultimate goal: To not care about what anyone else thinks about me. To be free of all the baggage and reservations, I carry around with every action I take and every word I say.
Step 2. Write down 3 actions to reach my goal.
Action 1: Ask questions in meetings at work (to overcome the fear of sounding stupid).
I carried this fear from college into the workplace, and it was time to let go of it.
Action 2: Give others the benefit of the doubt (to stop taking things personally).
I used to feel slighted by the smallest gesture, such as a coworker not saying good morning as they passed by my cubicle. I spent many sleepless nights internalizing such behaviors that had nothing to do with me.
Action 3: Say no more comfortably (to get rid of the guilt trip I impose upon myself).
I knew my time is just as important as anyone else’s, so I need to be confident and say no more often.
Step 3. Break each action down into two or three steps.
Steps to complete Action 1:
- Raise my hand.
- Ask a question I know the answer to.
- Write down the questions.
Steps to complete Action 2:
- Create a (believable) story for someone’s behavior that has nothing to do with me.
- Leave that person and behavior at work — do not let them affect me at home.
- Interact directly with that person (to either remove the anxiety that they have it in for me or push more to see if they are acting that way on purpose).
Steps to complete Action 3:
- Begin with a white lie to ease myself into the last step (provide an excuse)
- Decline unnecessary meetings, invitations, etc. (don’t give an excuse, say sorry can’t make it)
- Just say no outright and be honest (I’m drained, I need time for myself, etc.)
I outlined each of these actionable steps with reasons behind them and how to complete them.
Step 4. Associate each action with a mantra.
For each of those actions, I came up with a related mantra to calm myself down at the moment.
These were my mantras:
1. There’s no such thing as a stupid question.
2. Not everyone will like you, and that’s perfectly fine.
3. My time is just as important as anyone else’s.
Step 5. Write down what I’ve accomplished and what I’m still working on (90 days later).
This step is to evaluate whether I accomplished the actions and steps I laid out for myself, but more so than that, it’s about taking the time to dig deep and think about how I felt throughout the process. I also wanted to write down what else I needed to do to get to where I wanted to go.
This action plan to overcome Social Anxiety liberated me and allowed me to breathe and take up space at the table. It motivated me to help other introverts with similar emotions and challenges. Now, I’d love to tell you that all you need to do is follow this action plan to beat your Social Anxiety, but unfortunately, this is only the first step in your journey. It took me a decade to be able to free myself from its grasp, and even now, I’m still triggered by it. It’s an ongoing process that has many ups and downs, and just like anything else in life, it requires ongoing practice and dedication. This is why I’m taking everyone on my journey as I keep challenging my Social Anxiety.
There are many things I’d change down memory lane, but one thing’s for sure, I’m beyond grateful for my introverted nature. It gives me the self-awareness I need to get out of my own head and reflect on the next right steps to overcome my shortcomings.
I feel like I’m finally part of this world without Social Anxiety tagging along every step of the way.
This article was featured in Introvert, Dear.