My Triumph over Social Anxiety
I was already half-way through my recovery when I learned about social anxiety.
Until my late 20s, I didn’t know what social anxiety was, let alone that I was suffering from it.
Yes, I always knew that I didn’t have a “normal” social life. Without friends. With being constantly bullied. But I never thought I needed to go to therapy or could experience peaceful relationships.
It’s just how my life has always been.
Kicked around in school and psychologically abused at home, I believed that I was that dumb, ugly idiot my classmates and mum told me I was.
I was not scared of people. I was terrified. And it showed.
I was that girl who blushed when you asked her a question. Racing heart and sweaty palms, she looked down, avoiding your gaze. She was terrified to say something wrong.
I was that girl who couldn’t recite poems in front of the class. Too paralyzed to speak.
That girl who left the dinner table hungry. Too afraid to ask for a second helping.
That girl that peed herself, because she didn’t dare to ask if she could use the bathroom.
Yes, that girl that quit high school only because the mere thought of going on that class graduation trip was terrifying.
I am not that girl anymore.
Over time I became a more socially confident person, living today without this intense fear of being watched, judged, made fun of, and rejected.
The following 3 habits were essential for my progress.
When I picked up the habit of running every morning, I lay the foundation for my growth and healing.
But I didn’t know it back then. Back then, I started running to lose weight.
Of course, I wondered what people would think of me when they saw me plodding along the forest trails. I was incapable of running for more than 10 minutes at a time, and I had to convince myself every morning to head out.
But I kept at it and started to enjoy my daily morning session on the trails. Running magazines began to land in my shopping cart. Through these, I discovered articles about goal setting, habits, and mental strength.
My increasing fascination with the idea of “becoming a better human” led me to settings goals for running, my studies, and implementing habits that would support my quest. And with every success, the trust in my capabilities grew.
Soon reading articles about habits and goal setting wasn’t good enough anymore. I wanted more in-depth knowledge and started to search for books.
Fueled by my desire to improve my running performance, I started to seek out books that had the category “self-help” attached to them.
Books on habits, goal setting, and productivity started to fill my bookshelves. At that point, my self-improvement was focused solely on running and my studies.
However, my increased self-esteem impacted my social life in subtle ways I didn’t realize at that time.
My academic success earned me respect from study colleagues and professors. People who knew me from university knew I was a long-distance runner, and some started to tell me how much they admired my self-discipline.
Feeling respected instead of rejected and laughed at gave me the confidence to interact with people.
I even developed a friendship with a girl in the same study program.
We were close friends for a few short years, and I will always remember her as my first real friend, like other people remember their first romantic partner.
As time went on, I forged my way deeper into self-help land and discovered books that leaned more on the spiritual side.
I learned about self-love and self-care. I read about successful people who experienced trauma and how they transformed their lives. I learned more about the power of the mind, our thoughts, and about self-talk and affirmations.
I learned that not everything my mind tells me is correct.
People started to scare me less and less.
Then, I wanted more.
I wanted to learn how to have more friends, how to interact with confidence, how to have a “normal” social life. It was a conscious decision that I would turn my social life around, just like I turned my fitness around.
I turned to books on relationships and communication. I learned the basics of body language and tried to apply what I learned in the real world. I learned to look ahead when walking. I started to look at people when talking.
Eventually, books on anxiety and social anxiety disorder caught my attention when I googled the sentence “I am afraid of people.” As I read, I realized on a deeper level why I was “afraid of people” and that it’s not merely a matter of improving how I walk or talk to shake this fear.
I also realized that I can overcome this thing called social anxiety.
Journaling at first was purely to log my runs. I would scribble down how the run felt, what the weather was like, and if my clothing was right for it.
Once I discovered the self-help world, I used to set goals, plan my days, and finally write down my thoughts.
My self-awareness reached a new level, and eventually, I used writing a daily journal to free myself from the fear of connecting with people on a deeper level.
I wrote down when I felt anxious about going somewhere and wanted to talk myself out of it.
I celebrated my courage to send off that mail to the club, where I wanted to join a dancing group. I wrote down whenever I went out to meet new people. I debated with myself on paper if I should go to an event or not. I recorded all my doubts and fears in my journal and told myself they will have to stay there, and I will go nevertheless.
I cheered myself on through writing.
Of course, I was still anxious, but the pep talks pushed me to go out. With each social interaction, with each evening with my dance group, with each party I went to, I increased my level of confidence.
But what about therapy?
I am positive that it is possible to overcome social anxiety without the help of medication or therapy sessions.
Would the process be quicker with the help of a specialist? Possibly.
However, for me, seeing a therapist was never an option. How could I talk to someone I don’t know about my deepest fears?
The first step for overcoming social anxiety is developing self-awareness. These 3 habits — running, reading, journaling — were the tools that I used to create this awareness.