Overcoming Social Anxiety & Redefining Success

Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind – even if your voice shakes. When you least expect it, someone may actually listen to what you have to say. Well-aimed slingshots can topple giants.

– Maggie Kuhn

When it comes to social anxiety, most people enter therapy thinking that they will be “successful” when they no longer feel those all too familiar jitters in social situations. That’s when they will know that they are making progress with social anxiety.

Those who cling to this measure, however, will ultimately view therapy and their quest to overcome social anxiety as failures.

That’s because “success” is a completely subjective measure and if we choose to define it with respect to social anxiety by whether our voice shakes or whether we appear nervous at a social function, then we are being unfair to ourselves.

The truth is that we don’t CONTROL the shakiness or nervousness. It’s purely a physiological response. When fight or flight is set into motion by our amygdalae, the body is going to do what the body is going to do. Anyone who has experienced even a moderate level of physiological anxiety in social or performance situations knows exactly what I’m talking about.

If we could control the physiological response, we would simply turn those “symptoms” off like a light switch and there would be no need for therapy, self-help books or the like.

When fight or flight has been triggered, it’s true that tools such as slow breathing and visualization can be used to lower us from near panic to a more functional place. However, those tools have to be put in the proper context. They are valuable only in that they can help us learn how to surf, not prevent the wave (or tsunami) from arising altogether.

If you suffer from social anxiety and/or performance anxiety, a quaky voice, knees literally knocking against each other and it feeling “a little hot in here” are part of the ball game for you when it comes to certain social situations.

As Reid Wilson, a renowned anxiety therapist, puts it — what the body and mind does is “the disorder’s job.” OUR job is to define what is important in life and learn to relate to our emotional and mental pain in a way that allows us to step up for those important moments.

This could be disheartening to realize or it could be the most freeing news yet. Again it depends on how you look at it. If we can learn to let ourselves off the hook for what we can’t control and start to focus on what we can control (i.e., learning how to surf and stepping up to what matters), we will start to finally make progress on the social anxiety front and we can stop beating ourselves up for not appearing calmer in social situations.

As the saying goes, “It’s not how much you shake, it’s how many steps you take.”

Success is not dependent on whether your voice is shaky and you ramble on during a round-robin introduction in a classroom or training (which has happened to me more times than I can count); success is that you attended that class or training because there is something to be gained from it that is important to you.

Success is not dependent on whether you had a deer in the headlights look on your face when you first introduced yourself to someone new at a party; success is that you showed up at the party because you were sick of spending Friday nights alone.

Success is not dependent on whether your hands were shaking when you gave a speech at your best friend’s wedding; success is that you stepped up to the plate to honor your buddy on his wedding day.

If you struggle with social anxiety, a “good week” is not one during which you do not experience anxiety. A “good week” is one during which you felt the wave of anxiety come over you and rather than flee, you allowed yourself to just be whatever you are in that moment while showing up for whatever is important to you.

Surrender your old model of success and redefine it as SHOWING UP to what is important to you while allowing that fear to be there all the while. Success is NEVER letting fear dictate your choices in life. That is true freedom.

If this resonates, I’d love to help you find success. You can reach out anytime at parke@richmondanxiety.com or feel free to text or call 804-210-7891.

To learn more, visit www.richmondanxiety.com.

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