About 5 years ago, around the same time I started this blog, I managed to overcome social anxiety. In this post, I’m going to talk about what methods I used on my road to recovery and what part they played in helping me overcome social anxiety.
I was diagnosed with a severe social anxiety disorder at the age of 14, after a suicide attempt and ultimately dropping out of school. Social anxiety had been holding me back all through my childhood and had managed to completely rob me of my teenage years.
After being referred to a counselling service for young people, I spent 4 years have talking therapies, which helped me enough to leave the house but not nearly enough for me to break free from the rope that social anxiety had so tightly wrapped around me.
I even tried medication, which made me a little calmer (after it made me sick as a dog) but never became anything more than a stepping stone.
So what did work?
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT)
I did CBT twice, with two different therapists and it was hands down the best thing I EVER did, definitely light years better than talking therapy. When I first started the therapy, I couldn’t go anywhere on my own, I couldn’t work and I felt completely isolated and useless. After I finished my therapy, I had started my own wedding photography business, I had lived abroad and I felt confident and independent.
I lay out the exact techniques I used to overcome social anxiety disorder in my book and a lot of those techniques were from CBT. I found the techniques I learnt in CBT so helpful, that I STILL use them today.
Whenever I feel anxious about something (usually when a major change has happened in my life) and I feel myself slipping back into old habits, I implement the techniques I outline in my book, as well as using the worksheets and it helps me to manage my anxiety better.
Having a more social job
Another thing I’ve mentioned on the blog before, is how my job really helped me to overcome social anxiety.
After the CBT worked it’s magical wonders, I started my own business as a wedding photographer. Wedding photography is a highly sociable career and there’s a lot of pressure to get everything absolutely perfect (as there’s no do-overs) and while that would have set me back before my experience with Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, it actually helped me to excel!
I implemented all the CBT techniques into my work and filled out the worksheets every time I went to a meeting, or photographed a wedding or an engagement session.
Slowly but surely, the more I spent meeting strangers at weddings and being a loud voice in front of a huge crowd, with over a hundred pares of eyes on me, I started to become an extremely confident and ambitious person.
These days, instead of sitting in a corner hoping no one will notice me, I’m the one working the room and speaking to every guest!
Being more open to challenges
Avoidance was my favourite method of self-sabotage back when I had severe social anxiety. I’d make excuses not to go somewhere, I’d turn down opportunities left, right and center and I’d never try and do anything new.
These days, when an opportunity comes my way that I feel anxious about, I go for it anyway. I have proved to myself enough times, that no matter how anxious I am before a social event, that I’m absolutely CAPABLE of getting through it and usually ENJOYING it. So I remind myself of everything I have achieved and I say YES to new challenges.
This is how I’ve ended up doing presentations and being on the radio a few times.
The more things you do that scare you, the less scary they become and the more challenges you will be able to take on in future!
Talking about social anxiety
Two reasons why talking about my mental health has helped me overcome social anxiety:
- I’ve learnt that there are many people who feel the same way as me, even if they don’t have a social anxiety disorder. Feeling anxious is a normal human response.
- It has helped me deconstruct my own emotions and enabled me to process them.
I’ve really noticed how much more open I am with people since starting the blog and starting the anxiety group. I can now totally talk to anyone about feeling nervous, I can also do something embarrassing and not let it take over me. I laugh things off more and I own my awkwardness!
Always working at it
In the same way that if you stop eating healthy after losing some weight, you can put it back on… I believe that if you stop working on your mental health it can be easy to slip into bad habits.
I may have overcome social anxiety disorder but that does not mean that I won’t always have social anxiety. It will always be there, in the back of my mind, waiting to creep back in but because I am always implementing the techniques from my book, challenging myself and being open and honest about my mental health… I know exactly what my triggers are, what signs to look out for to make sure I’m not going back to my old patterns of thinking and I’m always managing my social anxiety so it’s at a normal level.
It’s always worth trying out a few different things to overcome social anxiety disorder but STICK TO THEM, at least for a few months. Overcoming social anxiety isn’t a quick and painless challenge, it can take time and patience. You also have to be dedicating to making it work. Therapy especially needs your input, a therapist can’t help you overcome social anxiety if you’re not willing to put in the work.
Slow and steady wins the race. You have a better chance of things working if you take it slow, work on your social anxiety STEP BY STEP and don’t rush into things that is far beyond your comfort level. I explain this more in depth in my book: Social Anxiety To Social Success but the principle is that you don’t want to set yourself up to fail and then confirm your belief that you can’t do something.
Be kind to yourself, give yourself time to recover after taking on uncomfortable challenges. Social anxiety can wipe you out and make you feel drained (I call that social fatigue), so you need some extra time to rest!
If you’d like to some ideas to get started, check out these social anxiety challenges to kickstart your recovery.
Pin for later: