It happens to everyone with social anxiety disorder.
After days, weeks, and months of exhausting work that sends your anxiety through the roof…you suddenly realize you feel just as anxious as you always did.
You feel like you’ve not made it anywhere.
You feel ashamed. Like a failure.
Why’d you even decide to try to change?
You’re not getting anywhere.
You get bitter at your friends and family. Getting a job, making friends, finding a date or spouse, and enjoying life seems to come with ease for them.
But you? No!
You work your rear end off, but still find yourself waaaaaaaay behind.
Life passes you by. While you struggle with an internal battle no one else understands.
So should you give up?
Why not just “pack it in?” Make the decision to remain an isolated hermit the rest of your life.
Never leave your apartment. Or live with your parents.
Real life was not meant for you (but really that lie comes from your social anxiety).
Why Social Anxiety Sufferers Get Stuck and Continue to Feel Anxious
You have your own mental traps. Yes…social anxiety is an insidious mental illness that constantly tries to deceive you (and me too).
See if you can relate to any of these reasons why you continue to feel anxious:
1. Knowledge Isn’t Power
You can’t think your way past social anxiety. Knowledge isn’t power when you use it against social anxiety disorder.
Knowledge works well for intellectual and rational growth. For example, you learn how to balance your checkbook. That allows you to pay your bills. You save money so you can go on a vacation. If you didn’t know math or how to balance your checkbook, those things wouldn’t happen. You’d lose your electricity. You’d lose your home or apartment. Life would be chaos.
But with social anxiety, knowledge of it does you absolutely no good. You know you have social anxiety. You know what you don’t want to do. You know it’s not good for you. But you find yourself anxious anyway.
2. You Want to Do It All Yourself
I’m guilty of this one bigtime. I’m fiercely independent. I have strong will power. I’m going to do it. Or die trying.
Try as I did, and with all my might, I wasn’t able to beat social anxiety on my own.
I could get bits and pieces of progress here and there.
…But that’s about it.
For a long time, when I saw those flashes of confidence and relaxation, I fooled myself into thinking I was winning the war.
But I wasn’t. I made temporary progress. And eventually, I fell back into my anxious habits.
Crazy how social anxiety works sometimes, isn’t it?
3. You Treat It Once and Think You’re Cured (Using Tactics, Not a System)
Many social anxiety sufferers think counseling, therapy, CBT, or medication will cure them. That’s all they have to do.
Start taking medication, and you’ll be fine. Go see a therapist for a few months, and you’ll be healed. Do CBT for three months, and you’ll never struggle with social anxiety again.
Don’t get me wrong. All those things help.
…But it’s not like the movies where you see the main character plagued by enormous personal difficulty one day, doing something about it the next, and then completely cured and living happily ever after.
Movies work that way. But your psychological life doesn’t.
You can permanently heal a broken leg with a cast.
But your mind works differently.
100% permanent healing isn’t possible (although 99% is).
4. You Want to Get On with Your Real Life
“I just want to have this social anxiety out of my way so I can start living life,” you think. Or maybe you’ve heard a friend say that about a problem weighing them down.
Seems good on the surface…doesn’t it?
Let’s get this problem out of the way so you can be happy and get everything you want.
‘Cept there’s a teensy-wheensy problem with that…
Social anxiety disorder never goes away 100%. At least not now. Not until geneticists create nanotechnology to cure it.
Social anxiety is you. It will always be you (and that’s okay).
But don’t worry!
It doesn’t need to define you.
You don’t have to feel so anxious that your own feelings plow you over and run your whole life.
You can take your social anxiety from a 10 to a 1. And you can feel 100% relaxed and confident many days.
You’ll always have to deal with it because it’s who you are.
…Welcome to the human condition, friend!
Truthfully, every other human deals with this too. Most just don’t realize it because their own issues haven’t caused the same extent of pain that social anxiety has in your life (and mine too).
So, they easily brush their issues under the rug. They focus on their kids, spouses, houses, and jobs. But they don’t really deal with themselves as a person and become the best version of themselves they can be.
You get so many emotional rewards when you do. Satisfaction, meaning/purpose, fulfillment, knowing your true self, and a host of others come to you.
But most people miss out on those things because they’re too busy living their “real lives.”
5. You’re Not Really Ready to Change
I see this all the time at 12-step meetings:
Someone comes in, does a newcomer’s meeting, and spews out all their problems.
Their marriage is in shambles. Or they’re divorced (perhaps multiple times). They’ve lost their house. They got in trouble at work. Or they lost their job entirely.
Some live out on the street. They clearly feel devastatingly low. They hate themselves.
Their life has fallen to pieces. No one says things are going well.
Nothing wrong with that. Great they have the honesty and courage to share it all. Chaos like that brings addicts in and gets them ready to recover.
…But between 90-95% of those who come in for the first time never return. You don’t see them again.
A handful come back. And things have gotten worse.
Prison. Suicide attempts. More divorces.
With social anxiety disorder, you don’t usually sink that far (although some do try suicide or become addicts).
But, the same process happens.
Your life becomes unpleasant. You don’t like it. You can’t do what you want. You’re not happy. Others see you’re not happy.
You’ve only got 80 years to live…so why should they be so difficult?
There’s got to be something better out there.
Are you really ready to change? You can say you are.
But your actions will tell the true story.
It’s okay to balk. At times, you may not “feel like it.” You’d rather do something less painful.
100% okay to have that thinking.
But, you can’t let it set in to the point where you live your whole life that way for the long term.
6. You’re Not Sick and Tired of Being, Well, “Sick and Tired”
What drives change?
Why do you want to get better from your social anxiety?
It’s causing you distress.
You want to change because you feel like a social outcast. You want to have a family. You want a new job. You want to make new friends. You’re annoyed with staying in your room or home all weekend.
…But everyone has their own limits.
Some people hold on much longer than others.
I’ve had teens contact me, trying to figure out how to connect with others and win dates.
Other people are 35, living on disability, sitting in their apartment all week, but they’re still not sure if they want to try something different yet.
No judgment here.
Live life however you want.
I’m just saying everyone defines “bad” their own way.
Each changes precisely when they’re ready.
You will too.
7. You’re not Accountable
You, I, and every other person on planet earth have things we hate doing.
The thought of them makes your skin crawl.
You don’t want to initiate conversation. You don’t want to call customer service and argue the mistaken charge on your bill.
You don’t want to tell the waiter your plate wasn’t made right.
…That’s where accountability comes in.
To heal from your social anxiety, you have to sometimes do uncomfortable things.
When you make yourself accountable to another person, you’re more likely to follow through and do what you said.
But many try to be accountable to themselves.
And then what happens?
They rationalize and justify not doing what they need to do.
They stay anxious. Miserable. Unhappy.
And their lives don’t improve.
This process takes a few weeks or months. Or a year or two.
Then suddenly, they realize they’ve been in the same old place again.
…And they’re surprised!
Some people call it “sleepwalking,” “falling asleep,” or “going through the motions.”
8. You Focus on How Others Need to Change for You
Your human nature wants to find what everyone else can do for you. I’m the exact same way. And since I’m an addict, I’ve taken this to extreme levels in the past, thinking only what others can do for me (and never what I can do for them).
A big trap your social anxiety sets for you is trying to change your circumstances to fit your social anxiety.
For example, if you just had the right boss, the right job, or whatever it is, you wouldn’t be so anxious and fearful.
Now, there is a grain of truth to that.
Some bosses and jobs are so awful they’ll drive anyone nuts.
At the same time, if you never think of what you can do to change, you’re set up for failure.
Because you can’t change other people or situations. Not easily anyway.
But you can take action to change yourself.
Go ahead and make a concerted effort to change your boss, spouse, or family member. Someone with a longstanding pattern of poor behavior.
Do or say things to show them where they’re wrong and why they need to change. Correct them every time they’re wrong.
Keep showing them the solution they need to aim for.
…Then report back to this blog in six months when you’re drained, angry, stressed, and frustrated as hell.
During that time, you may get some outward compliance. But eventually, you’ll see that person revert back to their old ways.
That’s because they don’t really want to change. True change comes from within when people feel ready.
9. You Don’t Take Responsibility for Moving Forward
Society today talks a lot about “rights.” But no one likes the word “responsibility.”
Heck, sometimes I don’t like it, either.
“Rights” are yours whether you want them or not. You don’t have to do a thing for them. Once you’re 18, you have the right to vote.
Nothing special you did for it. It’s simply yours.
“Responsibility,” on the other hand, means it’s on you. You have to deal with it. You have to do something about it. Not anyone else.
It’s much easier to blame someone else and try to get them to do something for you, isn’t it?
Because then, that means you don’t have to do anything.
If you think this, you’re human.
I thought it for years in my late teens and early twenties. It was everyone else’s fault I couldn’t hold down a job. Women didn’t date me because they couldn’t see what was good about me. I wouldn’t be so anxious if the other person wasn’t such a jerk.
…So of course, I didn’t change a lot during that time.
I kept doing the same thing and expecting different results. That’s the definition of insanity!
Fast forward to today, where I take responsibility even if the other person has most of the fault, and I’m a much different person. Far more relaxed and confident.
By the way, I don’t take responsibility for the other person’s actions. If I have 10% of the responsibility, and they have 90%, I only focus on my 10%. That’s it.
It Turns Out…You’re Having a Normal Experience
Yeah…everyone with social anxiety goes through rough times. Heck, even people without social anxiety have down times where they feel like they’re going nowhere.
First, realize you’re caught up in social anxiety at the moment…but it’s only a feeling.
Feelings, and especially social anxiety, often don’t fit the facts.
Just because you feel ashamed, guilty, afraid, and useless doesn’t mean you actually are.
The fact is you’ve worked hard. You’ve tried your best. And you feel the way you do.
…But that’s it. Stop there.
You’re not responsible for having the feelings you do. But you do have responsibility for what you do with them.
Will you hide in your bedroom, afraid to face the world for the rest of your life, giving up and realizing you have no hope?
Or, will you try a healthier coping strategy?
So Then, What Can You Do?
Relax. You’re never left without any solutions. Positive actions you can take.
You always have something you can do to get better.
If you don’t know, just ask. Kinda scary. So make sure you ask people you feel safe and comfortable with.
You have a lot of options when you feel tired, overwhelmed, and stuck in the same old place again:
1. Stop Thinking And Start Doing
To succeed, you must have a daily plan of action. Taking new actions changes your thinking over time.
Thinking about new ways to get better from social anxiety does nothing.
Let’s say you’re afraid to go to a restaurant. You’re afraid of everyone’s eyes being on you. You’ve stopped eating in public for years.
So, you go out with supportive friends one day. You feel more anxious because you’re challenging your social anxiety.
But it fades. You don’t feel completely relaxed. But you do enjoy yourself.
This gives you enough confidence to eat out again. And again. And again.
Eventually, eating out becomes just another thing you do. In fact, you even look forward to it.
You made this progress not because you understand social anxiety. Rather, you took the actions necessary to grow past it.
2. Get Accountable (But Not in the Way You Fear)
I used to hate the word “accountable.” But now I like it.
To me, it meant someone would ream my ass out when I messed up.
Not a pleasant experience.
While “accountability” often works that way, it doesn’t have to.
With my 12-step groups, it works like this:
I make myself accountable for a certain action. For example, I said I would set a boundary with a client.
They would have to pay me more if they wanted certain tasks done. But, they could also not like that and take their business elsewhere.
And right then, I needed business.
Then, the member, or my sponsor, simply asks me if I did what I said. Knowing that someone will ask makes me much more likely to do the unpleasant thing I fear.
…But they don’t rip me a new one if I fail to follow through.
Instead, they ask,”Why didn’t it happen?”
I may say,”Because I was afraid.”
Then the discussion turns to what I can do to make sure it happens the next time.
No big deal.
Just a friendly, gentle conversation between two people.
3. Get Supportive People in Your Life
I made lasting and sustained progress once I had a safe and supportive social network to return to.
Actually, the people who help me belong to the 12-step group I joined to recover from the addiction I developed.
…But they’re just as supportive in relation to my social anxiety, even though they don’t always understand it.
This supportive foundation allows me to share anything, including my sometimes over-the-top fears of people, without fear of judgment.
When I share my most intimate thoughts, feelings, actions, and mess-ups, they lose power in my life. Eventually, they go away entirely.
Long-standing cycles break.
I haven’t stuttered in front of someone for years. I no longer get so anxious that my limbs shake. I don’t get a massive pit of dread in my stomach before meeting strangers or going to large social gatherings with unfamiliar people.
I was never able to get that far on my own.
By the way, this works with any personal habit or flaw you want to change.
4. Build a New Way of Life
To really recover from social anxiety, you must make a complete lifestyle change. Look at every last thing you do during your day. Keep it if it relieves your social anxiety. Get rid of it if it doesn’t. And you replace what you get rid of with something healthier.
That’s the path to sustained success and relaxation.
Think about it: you are the sum of your actions and choices. You have 24 hours per day. And you decide what you do with that time.
All your choices and actions eventually create outcomes in your life. It may take months or years for those outcomes to happen. But eventually they become reality.
So everything you’ve done up to this point has led to you feeling anxious and fearful, right?
It only makes sense you have to do something different to get to a place of happiness, relaxation, and joy, doesn’t it?
That’s hard to discover on your own. You can do it. But you waste years of your life and cause yourself extreme anxiety…when other people already have the answers.
Better to build a support network, listen, and learn from others’ mistakes and successes.
Of course, your life is unique too. So not everyone will have all the answers for you. But building relationships with others who’ve already been where you are takes a lot of work and suffering out of your life.
5. What if You’re Not Truly Ready to Change? Can You Make Yourself Ready?
I’m not sure. This is a deep and profound question. Some people are ready to change at 13. Others are 60 and still aren’t ready to do things differently.
I’ll share a story that may help:
3 years ago, I had just relapsed in my addiction. It was horrifically painful. I felt hopelessness. Despair. Dread. Hated waking up in the morning. Hated living. Hated the day. Hated myself.
I was terrified of others. Acting on my addiction magnifies my social anxiety 100 times. Even the slightest thing could send me into a 2-3 day shame and guilt spiral.
Uggh…why had I done this again?
Was I truly done?
…Or would I do it again?
I wanted an answer. I had to know.
So, I called other group members who had relapsed many times in recovery. They now had extended sobriety, in some cases 10, 20 years, or even more.
How did you know if you were done?
My sponsor, with 30+ years of sobriety, insisted you can’t get ready. It’s really a mysterious thing.
I didn’t want to hear that. I thought it meant I was doomed to relapse again. And I didn’t want that.
After several phone calls, it hit me:
I can be done anytime I want.
Simply talking about the pain and despair of relapsing helped me realize the utter foolishness in relapsing again.
So I decided from that point there would never be another excuse for me to relapse – ever again.
Of course, that question gets answered one day at a time.
For now, nearly three years later, I’ve stayed clean and sober.
I’ve come close to relapsing. But I didn’t do it. I chose something healthier instead.
Can you get yourself ready to change?
Simply focus on what you need today to live your life differently. And do that all 365 days per year.
That’s inhumanly difficult to do on your own. But with help from others, you can do it.
Over time, you feel more willing to take action on your social anxiety. Eventually, there’s nothing to it. You simply do the next right thing. Even if it scares you.
6. Find Someone to Be Accountable To (And Tell Them the Honest Truth)
This was easy in my 12-step program because accountability is a key component to successful recovery. You can’t live sober without help from a sponsor.
Now with social anxiety, that’s trickier. You don’t have social anxiety groups available in abundance like you do with 12-step programs.
Here’s some ideas to get around that:
- Have a counselor you see once per month (well worth it)
- Go to online anxiety forums, announce what you want to do, and take the relationship offline. The challenge here is most people in online forums are stuck in the problem, just bitching about their situation. They may not know how to help you get to the solution.
- Try the same process, but ask your counselor for free local support groups you can attend and meet others at.
- Identify a person in your own life who you feel safe and comfortable with and can talk to. However, they may not know how to help you.
- Call your county mental health department and ask for resources on anxiety groups in your area.
- Do the same with leading anxiety organizations like NAMI, ADAA, or the Social Anxiety Association.
By the way, I’d love to have the solution to this here at Anxiety Support Network. But we’re not big enough to support it (yet).
You also have to tell this person the 100% honest truth. That sounds scary because your social anxiety tells you that you will be rejected if you do.
That’s why you choose someone you trust 100%. Be ready to forgive them because no one’s perfect. But the only way anyone can help you is if you tell them exactly what’s going on with you.
7. Take Responsibility for Your Thoughts, Feelings, and Actions
Happy and confident people do this. Angry and miserable people blame the world for their problems.
Do you remember the cliche movie scene of the evil maniac angrily ruminating about all the wrong the world’s done him right before he shoots a laser that blows up a lot of stuff?
An extreme example. But, it contains the truth:
people who blame the world for their problems become angry and bitter.
Let’s say you’re anxious at your job. Extremely anxious. Your boss is a raving maniac. Your coworkers pick at you, constantly pointing out where you’re wrong.
And let’s say this is real. You’re not magnifying or distorting the situation through your socially anxious lens.
Then you get fired because you’re overwhelmed with people’s negative thinking of you. You get so anxious that you don’t perform your job well (my story).
Are you responsible?
…But not like you think.
You have somewhere around 30-50% of the responsibility. On the one hand, your coworkers and boss don’t make your work life easy or pleasant.
On the other, you have a responsibility to perform duties your employer requests.
Your employer also has the responsibility to treat you fairly and respectfully. But you can’t control whether they actually do or not.
So what do you do?
A couple things:
- Take responsibility for your own life. Leave the job for another one where you feel happy. Maybe you start your own business (what I decided to do…even though I had no money to do it).
- Set boundaries with what treatment you’ll accept from others. Do better self-care like exercise and sharing your feelings with others to reduce their power. Make the best of your situation, realizing most jobs are stressful.
8. Up Your Self-Care
When you feel down, it’s okay to do stuff to take care of yourself. Do things that rejuvenate you…not stuff that sucks your life away (like TV or video games). Maybe a little TV and video games are okay. But not too much.
You might take some time out, write down positive things about yourself (affirmations), and read them out loud. Maybe you take a hot shower. Go get a massage. Go sit in the hot tub at the YMCA.
Read a book purely for the fun of it. Eat your favorite ice cream. Spend time in your favorite hobby. Or take the time to develop one if you don’t already have it. Go for a swim. Walk around the lake. Take a blanket and sleep in the sun.
You know what revitalizes you. What brings you back to life. It restores your energy.
Do it. And keep doing it until you get through the funk that’s bringing you down.
9. Celebrate Your Progress
Remember how you “feel stuck,” like you’re in the same old place again?
But remember also how your feelings don’t fit the facts?
Truthfully, you’ve grown. You have. You just gotta look for it.
Social anxiety says,”Look what you’ve done. Jack shit. You’re in the same old spot. You can’t talk to strangers. You don’t stand up for yourself. You’re not good enough.”
Social anxiety lies. That’s why it’s considered a mental illness. It doesn’t help.
So…let all that thinking go. Focus on the positives. Even a small step is a huge victory. As long as you’ve made steps, you’ve done all right.
Maybe you went to the gym and worked out. In the past, you wouldn’t have gone at all. That’s a big step.
Or perhaps you go to the gym and feel less anxious than you usually do. Progress.
Maybe you made casual conversation with a stranger while out shopping.
Focus on that and grow. Don’t let social anxiety shift your focus to what you can’t do and undermine your confidence.
Famous UCLA Bruins basketball coach John Wooden won a record 12 championships, including seven in a row. The second greatest coach, and currently the greatest one, Mike Krzyzewski, has won 5.
Wooden was widely regarded for being an even better human being than he was a coach.
Anyway, he once said:
Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.