How to escape the vicious cycle of social anxiety
I used to be so scared of talking to new people, shit I was anxious in general. Meeting new people was the worst!
Honestly, trying to be ‘myself’ in a social circle was a foreign concept. Yuk! I tried going to parties or workshops. But I would just run out or distract myself with irrelevant shit. Mobile phones, best invention for the socially awkward.
Eventually, I didn’t even try anymore. Social events wiped off the agenda. Telling myself I didn’t care.
“People don’t need me, and I don’t need them.”
In the weekends I would wallow in pity somewhere,… distracting myself with porn, games, and movies.
Not exactly how I imagined my life,… Until a certain moment, when the misery switched into a realization, I have only one life, and shit HAD to go differently.
(Thanks, obsessive anime habit)
In the end. I got help and advice from old friends. As well found support on forums. Hel to slowly emerge from my misery. A tenuous process. But slowly I became more social, confident and relaxed.
It took time and energy – but it was worth it.
Social Anxiety Loop
So when I stumbled upon this post. – With a well laid out scheme of the anxiety process - I thought, let’s share what helps you escape this loop.
Using this framework to systematically tackle issues. If this scheme applies to you – try using the following tactics to leave this vicious cycle.
Note: I am not talking about anxiety problems that are not physiological in nature, like a serotonin deficit. But psychological and behavioral in origin.
It does mean hard work and commitment. Changing your behavior and thinking. But your current mode isn’t working. It’s time to flip the fucking script!
Start by Defining WHYyou want to learn this!
- Do you want to stop feeling lonely?
- Do you want to make new friends?
- Do you want to find a SO?
- Do you want to express yourself to others?
Whatever it is…. get it crystal clear. Slowly growing out of your limiting habits isn’t easy. So when the shit hits the fan and all you want to do is scream around and wave your arms. Remember your whyto stay on course.
So let’s take a look again at this Social Anxiety Loop.
Every step in the scheme is a chance to break free. There are tools and techniques to disrupt the loop. The more often you push the boundaries, the bigger the chance you will leave this depressing orbit for good. Let’s first take a look at the underlying basis:
0. Long-held beliefs about being no good in social situations
S0. Adopt a growth mindset and slowly change limiting beliefs
Main problem: you actually don’t believe you are any good in social settings.
We all have certain beliefs in our head. They dictate our behavior. Experiences, upbringing and culture imprint these.
Random incidents can create unshakable beliefs. Arguably not backed by statistical evidence. Yet you can live by them for the rest of your life. Referring to that one time you screwed up as why: “you are not a social person.” After that, it’s a bitch-ass self-fulfilling script.
You believe you are not social -> so you act unsocial -> you believe you are not social -> Et-ce-te-fuck-ing-ra!
It’s not a set characteristic. But a lack of skill - social confidence. A skill you can acquire. Are there not a lot of people that are socially confident? Are they any different? No, they are not,… except for how they think. But your inner voice will tell you – “I am just not social.” Time for a firmware update. Remould yourn gray jello! Your autonomous thinking should learn to ‘know’,… or ‘feel’, that you are social!
The way you are is not set in stone. That’s why I want to violently upload the book Mindset in your cranium.
Unfortunately, there is no neural uploading, yet… So, voila. the TLDR:
- There are two typical mindsets. A fixed and a growth mindset. The fixed mindset is believing who, what and how you are is fixed. A growth mindset is believing that you can develop, who, what and how you are. They are both real if you believe in them. If you want to grow in life, adopt the growth mindset is necessary.
Or to quote an older mofo, who evidently got plagiarized:
“He who says he can, and he who says he can’t, are both usually right”
– Henry Ford
So if your current beliefs are limiting – you can change them! Through studying, practicing, and fi- fa- fucking determination.
- “I’m no good in social situations” – will be – “I am totally comfortable in social situation”
- “I’m a poor mixer” – will be – “I am a great mixer and make friends easily!”
- “I’m just the quiet guy” – will be – “I can talk or be silent when I want – I feel comfortable anyway.”
- “I just can’t [action] because of [arbitrary reason].” – will be – “I can and I will do [action] DESPITE [arbitrary reason]!“
Now you might think: “Thanks for the motivational speech and all. But there is also reality.”
I know there is a real world beyond your screen. One we have all have to deal with every day. But, this reality you experience is shaped by your thinking. Think about how negativity influences your life. Yet how on a good day, that same ‘reality’ seems so beautiful.
More constructive thought patterns can improve your experience. I understand it doesn’t feel like that at all. But it is true, changing your thinking will change your perception and your feelings! For know now, adopting the growth mindset, will help you grow more socially confident.
Practice peace of mind
For some mental peace and clarity. Consider using the following strategy. The ancient trick in becoming self-aware and accepting. Meditation.
Bet you heard that one a thousand times before, hahaha. This is 4000+-year-old tradition works! Meditation shows you your monkey mind. Seeing it screaming stupid shit all the time. You become aware of your thoughts. You experience what underlies said thoughts.
Any more verbal explanation would do a disservice to the experience. It’s not something easily explained – because it goes beyond concepts. You have to experience it to get it.
All right, enough theoretical shit. Let’s talk about actionable steps.
1. Before the social situation
S1. Prepare to get in a good mood
So there is some meeting you need to go to. Making you anxious just thinking about it. Prepare emotionally. Instead of fretting about it in advance, actively get yourself in a good mood.
Do what lifts you up. What injects you full of feel-good hormones. Do some gaming, listen to awesome music or knit a sweater. Whatever works for you. Get pumped up with your natural drugs: dopamine and endorphin.
Uncomfortable acts like taking an ice-cold shower get your blood rushing. It can feel awful, but you will be invigorated, so you are ready to take on another challenge.
Do whatever works for you.
Especially aerobic exercise has been repeatedly proven to reduce anxiety! (in the long and short term.) So go running, cycling or swimming in advance.
Get yourself out of fretting mode, into fuck yeah mode!
2. Automatic negative thoughts
S2. Actively re-frame your thoughts
So this happens. It’s out of your direct control. And it sucks. Having your thoughts telling you demotivating shit like:
- “I am just the quiet guy, not like others”
- “I am not going to cope, better not try”
- _“People will judge me and think I am stupid” _
These thoughts stem from your limiting beliefs. Setting you up for failure. Nothing is decided yet! But being stuck in these thought patterns ensure you won’t have a good time. Let’s change the way thoughts pop up like that.
Thoughts in your mind, are like ingredients in a bowl of soup. (A sophisticated metaphor, I know.) The surface is your consciousness – underneath are your unconscious thoughts. At the surface are a bunch of ingredients. But underneath the surface, various ingredients are bubbling up.
The same happens in your mind, under the surface, is the bulk of the content. But you can only see what pops to the surface. Ingredients have been put in your mind by what you have been told. But also what you have been keep telling yourself.
In the soup, relative quantity determines the chance of a certain ingredient floating up. There is a lot of onion in the soup – you see lots of onion at the surface. Pick up the onions throw ’em out. Replace them with meatballs. Voila, you will see more meatballs popping to the surface.
It’s time to change the ingredients in your mind. You can’t control what pops up in your mind. But you can change what you do with your thoughts. And what you put back in the bowl.
So how can you change the ingredients?
Changing the recipe
First of all, cultivate an objective awareness. Become conscious of your thought process. Take note when negative thoughts pop up. Use a notebook where you write them down.
As soon as you realize you have a negative thought. Redefine it!
Rewrite it in your mind and notebook. Literally, change the story you tell yourself. Replace the ingredient! Switching up your mental habit for the better. Use one of these two methods.
Mindshift 1. Take YOURSELF out of the equation
If a thought pops up like: “I am just shy” – rephrase it.
Instead of embodying the shyness in your thought. Tell yourself:
- “I acted shy”.
Redefining just your actions as shy – not yourself. A subtle way to change the story you tell yourself.
Replacing ‘being’ with ‘having done’.
Mindshift 2. Change the perspective
If you think something negative, in the line of. “People are going to judge me”
Rephrase with positive potential. Change how your minds evaluates a situation.
So instead rephrase in your head:
- “People haven’t gotten the chance to get to know me – I will try to express myself better”
By actively changing the ingredients in your head – you influence your unconscious process. So the story you tell yourself. Changing how you act in the short term – while conscious of it. But also in the long run, rewriting your unconscious thoughts.
Add your own ingredients for a delicious meal!
3. Physical Symptoms
S3. Meditative breathing
Anxiety doesn’t only disturb your mental peace. Your physical balance get’s wrecked as well. Tension, sweating, a parched throat. What is that all about?
Well, your body got scared. It gets in fight-flight-or -freeze mode, your autonomous stress setting. This tension is due to your emotions. As said, it is hard to directly influence your emotions. Try an indirect approach.
Influence your physical body – which in turn influences how you feel. In this case, you want to calm your body by meditative breathing. Sit down if you can – close your eyes. And breath in deep and slow breaths. 4 seconds in 4 second out.
Really deep and slow breaths.
While doing that, listen to the sound around you. Experience feeling the chair, feeling your feet on the floor.
Feel what happens in your body – and focus on your breath…In,….. out,…. in,…. out,…. try maintaining this rhythm for a few minutes.
Notice how much calmer you are.
Feels better right? By breathing this way you get your body out of a stressed state. Into a relaxed state. Use this whenever feeling stressed or anxious.
4. Avoid social situations
S4. Reward or blackmail yourself
Creativity peaks when finding excuses. But if you want to overcome anxiety, you need to practice and go to events, meetings and parties. But if you don’t motivate yourself, you simply won’t go.
You need a stronger motivator than your anxiety. Since there is little reasoning with emotions – create an emotional incentive.
Why not give yourself a reward if you go? Treat yourself! Buy yourself a new book, game or clothes if you face your fears. Or better yet, punish yourself if you don’t do it. Sounds a bit sinister, but blackmailing yourself works.
Loss aversion is a very effective way to motivate yourself. How about making a bet with a friend. You give your friend 100 bucks. If you don’t pull through on your commitment, your friend will give it to a charity.
Still not motivated enough? Make it even more devious, by agreeing to give it to an organization you strongly oppose! You don’t go? That’s 100 bucks for Scientology! Motivated yet?
Outsource this hassle by using a service like Stickk! Set up this blackmail when feeling no pressure, but are committed. So if push comes to shove – you have an incentive to learn. Or be very willing to lose money. (Fuck you if anything gets donated to Scientology ;), haha!) I know it is cruel. But, hey that is why it will work.
You need to get out of your cycle any means necessary.
5. During the social situation
S5. Prepare social situation
So there we are. Now you HAVE to be social. Not knowing how to act is a primary reason for your anxiety. Though luck – you have to practice this skill by doing it. But you can prepare! Here is a whole 5000-word post on practicing and preparing small talk. In short:
Be considerate – ask questions – focus on the conversation – truly listen – share vulnerabilities.
Well, it says much more – so if you are serious in preparing, give it a read.
Often while anxious you don’t know what to say. So in preparation, practice some opening scripts and questions. Practice these in your mirror. Try it so, much the lines will just fall out of your mouth. Go full Mr. Miyagi on yourself. Practice this shit a 1000 times, not knowing why. Wax on, wax off! Do it until it becomes second nature.
What to prepare? Some openers:
- “Hi, how are you?”
- “Hi, who are you?
- “Hi, I don’t believe we have met”
- “I am [player 1], nice to meet you [player 2]”
Practice these questions:
- “So tell me, what is your story?”
- “Hey, I love your [item], where did you get it?”
- “What was your highlight of the week?”
- “What personal passion project are you working on right now?”
As well as follow up ‘why-question’ to practice
- “Why do you feel that way?”
- “Why was that your highlight?”
- “Why are you passionate about that”
The first few sentences are the most difficult. But I bet you, no matter how anxious, after 1000 iterations, you can say these sentences in any situation!
That gets the hardest part out of the way. Want to have even better questions in advance? Try looking up something about the people you are going to meet.
**Regard the social event as practice! **You are there to practice your social skills. No pressure. So whether you fail or succeed. Doesn’t matter! You are learning from the experience.
6. Negative focus on self
S6. Re-frame thoughts and focus on others
Confronted with negative thoughts again. Annoying – out of control – mental chatter!
- “I am sweating so much”
- “I look so stupid”
- “People think I am weird”
Refer to point S2 again. Keep actively re-framing your thoughts. But next to that – I implore you to focus more on others. Don’t stand there thinking of what you are doing ‘wrong’. Instead, focus on how you can make sure other people have a good time.
Shift your attention away from yourself. Say hi to people, introduce yourself, ask questions. Try offering people a drink or helping the host.
You might feel like wallowing in pity. But don’t make this about you. It’s a social event – not an ego event. Be interested instead. Think how other people might want to be treated. Maybe they feel anxious as well. You’ll see, by focusing on others, a lot of your symptoms will subside.
7. (Increased) physical symptoms
S7. Meditative techniques again
Still experiencing stress symptoms? It sucks. But again – you can calm yourself. Revisit point S3 – do some meditative breathing.
Can’t go full lotus seatduring a meeting? Only focus on your breath. Breath slowly – and focus on the sensations of your inhalation and exhilation. Consciously slowing your breath. Reducing anxiety and relaxing through slow deep breaths.
Focusing on the physical sensations will also reduce your mental chatter.
8. Safety behaviours
S8. Learn eye contact and initiating conversations through practice.
So as you tackle these issues. It’s probably already easier for you to handle yourself. But you might still want to avoid eye contact or other intimate behavior. You are out of your comfort zone – the need to feel safe is natural.
Practice and preparation can get you a long way. In due time, you will feel more comfortable in social settings.
But until then – you do need to put yourself out there. There is no easy way to do it. It feels easier, more comfortable to avoid eye contact. Or to sit in the corner playing with your phone. But you are here to tackle your social anxiety.
9 After the social situation
S9. Evaluate and prepare
You did it! You went out there and tried to better yourself! Now take it easy and unwind. It was hard and exhausting. But props for you, you did it anyway! Whether it went well or not – you practiced and learned!
Time to evaluate. Objectively reflect. It is essential for deep learning. Don’t judge yourself harshly. Instead, analyze what went well and what didn’t.
- How did your negative thoughts influence you?
- How did you act, in spite or due to stress?
- How did that influence your feelings and thought?
Analyze and learn. Learn what you should keep doing and what you can do better next time. Reflect and write your thoughts down. So you know what you can improve next time. Recap your motivation and be proud of yourself. You pushed your boundaries! Which is an awesome accomplishment!
10. Negative thoughts
S10. Don’t identify – reframe thoughts – reiterate your battle plan
You still find yourself stuck in an abusive frame of mind? Still punishing yourself with thoughts like:
- “I looked so stupid!”
- “I am such a loser”
- “Other people don’t get me”
Reframe: Again, again, and again! Keep on redefining your thoughts.
- “I did something stupid, I will learn and do better next time”
- “I may have failed, but by trying I learned”
- “It’s cool people don’t get me, next time I give them the chance to get to know me”
Take hold of your thoughts. Don’t be a slave to this uncontrollable process in your mind. Feed your subconscious more constructive views. As long as you keep on trying, you will keep on learning and will overcome this!
Use the off-ramp
So there they are. Ten different exits out of the loop. This will help growing out of your SA habit and your limiting beliefs! It takes time and grit – but it’s so worth it! Still wondering where to start? Still questioning why your bed feels better than laughing with new found friends? If you have any questions. let me know in the comments or at
This will help growing out of your anxious behaviors and beliefs! It takes time and grit – but it’s so worth it! Still wondering where to start? Still questioning whether isolation is better than laughing with new friends? If you have any questions at all, let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For the speed-readers and hyper scrollers:
S0. Adopt growth mindset, and get a grip on your thought process through meditation
S1. Get yourself in a good mood by doing what lifts you up.
S2./S10. Actively reframe your thoughts to be more positive.
S3./S7. Use meditative breathing to calm yourself down
S4. Start rewarding and or blackmailing yourself to practice being social.
S5. Be prepared how to handle basic social conduct, this is your time to practice.
S6. Actively seek out others and focus on bringing them comfort and joy.
S8. Remember it is practice. Despite noticing your problems – take it easy and learn pro-actively.
S9. Evaluate without judgment. Learn and adapt – so you will do better next time.
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