For as long as I can remember, I have been scared.
Growing up, I didn’t know what the words “social anxiety disorder” meant. It wasn’t until many years later I’d find out I had it.
- It was the reason I couldn’t make or hold eye contact with most people.
- It was responsible for me feeling constantly tense and worn out if I wasn’t by myself.
- It was the thing which made me so quiet, shaky, insecure and withdrawn.
- It was what made me so nervous and awkward around people…
- …To the point that I couldn’t even hold a regular conversation or have friends like a “normal” person.
IT took over 20 years of my life away.
Over 20 years of nervous sweat dripping down my armpits every time I stepped outside my door. Years of avoiding people every day and staying in every weekend night. Not because I wanted to, but because I was afraid and couldn’t make friends. Years of believing that I would never get a girlfriend.
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Then I feel for you. I really do.
And I can tell you that finding this website is probably the best thing that’s ever happened to you.
So bookmark this page and come back to it often, because I’m going to show you new insights into the cure for social anxiety that you won’t find anywhere else.
Definition Reality of Social Anxiety Disorder
Occasionally someone will ask me what it’s like to have social anxiety. Here’s what the academics say:
Social anxiety is the fear of social situations that involve interaction with other people. You could say social anxiety is the fear and anxiety of being negatively judged and evaluated by other people. It is a pervasive disorder and causes anxiety and fear in most all areas of a person’s life. It is chronic because it does not go away on its own. –socialphobia.org
You know the problem with this definition? It’s too boring. Too abstract. Instead, I’m going to describe to you what social anxiety is like because I still remember my darkest days vividly.
You’re taking an innocent walk in the park. It’s a beautiful day. You’re really enjoying yourself. The grass is green, the birds are singing, life feels great.
Suddenly, you see some people coming towards you in the distance. Your heart skips a beat. You start to freak out inside. You try to figure out if it’s someone you know. Immediately you want to turn around and avoid these people, but they’ve already seen you. It would look weird.
So you keep walking towards them.
It’s a couple of cute girls and they’re getting closer.
Your heart starts racing, your stomach is turning over, and you feel clumsy and awkward. You start to analyze every little thing you do, becoming paranoid about what the ‘right’ way to walk is, or where you should look as you walk by these people.
In an instant, your social anxiety has taken over the way you feel, the way you think, and the way you act. You went from being perfectly okay to completely terrified in an instant. Then the cute girls pass, and slowly, slowly your heartbeat returns to normal, you relax a bit and breathe a small sigh of relief.
At least until the next person walks by.
That’s what it’s like to have social anxiety. Things that most people can do easily, like buying a bag of chips at the grocery store or picking up the phone, become enormously stressful. In the end, you often avoid any unnecessary social contact because it just makes you feel so terrible.
I struggled with very bad social anxiety, and now have spent the better part of the past 5 years teaching others how to overcome it. In this article I’m going to give an overview of the different treatment options available for you, and which ones are the best in my opinion.[Note: this article is still under construction. More writing and references will come soon.]
1. Pharmaceutical Medication
The first social anxiety treatment option that comes to mind for most people is medication. Many people, even experts, usually have strong black-and-white opinions about medication. They fall into 2 tribes:
- They believe medication is the ONLY way to cure social anxiety disorder, because the issue must be either genetic or a “chemical imbalance.”
- Or they believe medication is evil, only created by Big Pharma to get people hooked, and it should be avoided at all costs.
I believe the truth is somewhere in the middle. Medication can help some people who have severe social anxiety get started on their way to getting better because it makes you feel more relaxed. However, it’s extremely rare for medications to cure social anxiety on their own, like pop culture often believes.
The reality of someone taking medication for social anxiety looks more like this…
They first have to try out a few different types of medications to find one that works for them. The drug often does lessen the anxiety they feel, but rarely makes it go away entirely. Their goal is usually to slowly lower the medication dosages by using other strategies like CBT or exposure to overcome their social anxiety.
Some people who take pharmaceutical drugs have their quality of life dramatically improved. Other people cannot find a drug that works for them very long, or one that works without side effects that outweigh the small improvements. This being the reality, I decided to overcome my social anxiety without using any pharmaceutical medications. What you choose to do is up to you.
- Scientifically studied to help.
- Generally do provide relief to social anxiety sufferers, if not a cure.
- Not a magic bullet for social anxiety, almost always combined with other forms of long-term treatment.
- Takes trial and error to find a medication that works for you.
- Can have long lists of bad side effects.
- Social Anxiety Support Medications Forum – Many real person reviews of different types of medications.
Sidenote: Be Careful Using The Word “Cure”
It’s human nature to want quick fixes, instant relief, a simple and sure solution to your problem. But when it comes to social anxiety, one single cure that works for everyone simply doesn’t exist.
Pharmaceutical medications are often marketed as a magic bullet that will “fix” whatever chemical imbalance is causing your anxiety or depression… but that’s simply not how it works. The human body and mind are a complex system with millions of moving parts.
This is why scientists are often confused and bewildered when studying social anxiety.
For example, the main drugs used to treat social anxiety now are SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors). These drugs supposedly work by increasing the levels of serotonin in your brain. The theory was that people who suffer from anxiety, depression and other mood disorders have a low “chemical balance” of serotonin, an important neurotransmitter.
Yet a recent study has found that the opposite is true! People who have social anxiety actually produce too much serotonin in the fear part of the brain, the amygdala. Now here’s where it gets really confusing… the SSRI drugs did actually help. Even though they increased serotonin, many scientific studies found they definitely helped people with anxiety feel more relaxed. Why? Part of it is certainly the placebo effect, or SSRIs may affect some other part of the brain we don’t know about yet to decrease anxiety.
So here’s the lesson from this…
Don’t look for one “magic bullet” to cure your anxiety. The most effective strategy is to find several regular lead bullets to shoot at your problem. This means you need to TRY OUT for yourself the different strategies I’m talking about in this article, and see which ones work best for you.
Most people I work with who overcome their social anxiety usually find relief using a combination of different strategies. It’s never just one thing that made them feel 100% better, it’s more like 5 things that each made them feel 20% better. That’s why my system for overcoming social anxiety is basically a combination of the best techniques from many different areas of psychology I’ve studied. I believe attacking the problem from several different angles is most effective.
2. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
This is the most well known non-drug treatment option for social anxiety. If you go to a therapist, they will probably use CBT because it’s the “standard approach” right now for most anxiety and depression disorders.
The truth is that CBT is actually a combination of 2 different things: cognitive restructuring (a scientific way of saying “changing how you think”) and exposure therapy (doing the thing that you fear).
So what does CBT look like?
- Your therapist first teaches you different “cognitive distortions” that are common to people with anxiety. This means learning that it’s usually your automatic thoughts (which are unrealistic or negative) that trigger your emotions. A few examples of cognitive distortions:
- magnifying negatives,
- minimizing positives and
- You learn the definitions of a few of these different errors in thinking, and then you journal your thoughts everyday to see when you are making these errors. Sometimes the CBT goes deeper, analyzing how your thoughts may come from deeper underlying core beliefs or assumptions that you have.
- They often teaches relaxation techniques like guided imagery or deep breathing.
- And the “behavioral” part of CBT is getting exposure to the situations you fear. You do this by following a gradual hierarchy, where you slowly face scarier and scarier situations, while practicing the new thinking and relaxation techniques you’ve learned.
I’ve read most of the top CBT books for social anxiety. In fact, many parts of my approach to overcoming social anxiety come from CBT. In general, this type of therapy does help people. Many people have even been permanently cured with dedicated and patient practice of CBT. But there are some big drawbacks to CBT that almost no therapist knows or will tell you…
- Scientifically proven to be effective for treating social anxiety disorder.
- Easy to find a local therapist trained to guide you through the basics of CBT.
- Even easier to find loads of books and websites teaching the main ideas and techniques.
- CBT is about half (!) as effective as when it first came out in the 70s. This is a dirty secret of CBT: scientists have measured a big decline in the effectiveness of CBT since it first came out, and they’re not sure why.
- CBT has a very high drop-out rate (source) compared to other treatment options, even other types of therapies. This may be because the process is dry, repetitive and boring. Many people don’t stick with writing down their thoughts every day very long, especially without the accountability of a therapist.
- CBT is a tool designed to be general, not specific. It’s general enough to work for any type of depression, anxiety, and many other problems. This means you basically use the tools to dig your own way out of social anxiety. Because of this, I find that people following CBT do not get specific enough advice for the problems/situations a social anxiety sufferer might face.
(In my advice I try to do as much of the work for you as I can. For example, in my video “13 Things Confident People Don’t Do” I give you the exact mindset shifts you need to start being more confident. Instead of telling you to pay attention to your thoughts and work it out on your own.)
- Overcoming Social Anxiety Step By Step by Dr. Thomas A Richards
3. Mindfulness and Meditation
Just like yoga, meditation has become a trendy topic. And someone who has anxiety may be frustratingly told by relatives or friends: “Have you tried meditation?”
Yet it’s not just religious woo-woo nonsense. Meditation and mindfulness have now been studied by science and proven to help with problems like anxiety and stress. Here’s what a scientific study said about the results of mindfulness:
In patients with anxiety and mood disorders, [mindfulness-based therapy] was associated with effect sizes (Hedges’s g) of 0.97 and 0.95 for improving anxiety and mood symptoms, respectively. These effect sizes were robust, were unrelated to publication year or number of treatment sessions, and were maintained over follow-up. Conclusions: These results suggest that mindfulness-based therapy is a promising intervention for treating anxiety and mood problems in clinical populations.
– The effect of mindfulness-based therapy on anxiety and depression,
Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology
In fact, several of the latest forms of therapy like Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) and Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT) are largely based on meditation techniques first practiced thousands of years ago. These new mindfulness-based therapies have been found to be at least as effective as the more traditional CBT. (source)
What Is Meditation & Mindfulness?
Many people think it means closing your eyes and shutting yourself off from the world, usually in some weird posture. Not true. I usually meditate for 10-20 minutes every morning, sitting comfortably in a chair, usually with my eyes open the whole time.
In a nutshell, mindfulness means paying attention, having awareness. It helps us get distance from ourselves. It allows us to step back for a few moments from the chaos of our own minds and bodies and observe them from a more neutral point of view.
One simple meditation technique is to pay attention to your breath. And whenever you get distracted by your thought, by remembering the past or imagining the future… you bring your attention back to your breath. You’d be surprised how difficult this is when you try it.
“Meditation Doesn’t Work For Me”
Some people sit down to try meditation, and after trying a technique a few times inconsistently, they conclude that “my mind is just too active” and “it doesn’t help me.”
To get benefits from meditation, you have to make a habit of doing it every day for the long term. The change is gradual, but give it a few weeks or months and you’ll probably experience a huge difference.
The Best Type Of Meditation For Social Anxiety
Meditation will help you the most if you take the techniques and use them in the real world as you are living life. Not just sitting alone in your room.
For example, many people who have social anxiety tend to daydream, think a lot and live inside their heads. They live inside their minds, constantly remembering the past or imagining the future… and rarely living in the here-and-now. By practicing mindfulness in your daily life, you’ll find yourself becoming more present, and this was one of the huge things that made me feel more calm and relaxed in general.
- Scientifically studied to produce many benefits to the person who does it, even beyond reducing anxiety.
- Can do it anywhere, just need some time set aside.
- Takes daily practice to see results, something many people don’t do.
- Many meditation teachers combine the techniques with their own religious and spiritual beliefs.
One of the too-quickly overlooked approaches to decreasing social anxiety is making positive changes to your lifestyle. Your mind exists inside of your body. It is highly influenced by how you treat your physical health.
This section could be an article on its own, or maybe a whole book. There’s so much to learn and study when it comes to the effect food has on your mood.
Here’s a few quick bullet points:
- Eat unprocessed whole foods. Processed foods usually have a lot of unhealthy things added in, like sugar, salt and bad oils. If it’s a whole piece of food – like an apple, carrot or piece of steak – then it’s much more likely to be good for you.
- Lower the refined carbs. Studies have found that high carb, low protein, low fat, low calorie diets contribute to depression (source). I try to eat a diet that resembles paleo, which is mainly meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, nuts, some fruits, etc. I generally don’t eat carbs like bread, pasta, wheat, etc.
- Eat more veggies (that are not potatoes or corn!). Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale, brussels sprouts, etc are exceptionally good for you. I drink a smoothie with kale in it almost every day during lunch.
- Eat the good types of fat. Contrary to what health “experts” said the past 10 years, low fat doesn’t mean healthy. Your brain needs fat to function well. Not the fat you find in a McDonald’s burger… but fat rich in omega 3 found in wild salmon, sardines, herring, anchovies, and mackerel. Other good types of fat are coconut oil (what I cook everything in now), avocados, grass-fed butter (if you can find it), etc.
- Avoid so-called “healthy” vegetable oils like canola, soya and corn.
- Avoid processed sugar. Too much of it wreaks havoc on your mind in many ways.
- Fermented foods. A recent study found a link that the more someone eats fermented foods high in probiotics, the less worried or neurotic they tended to be. These are foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, etc.
- The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth by Jonny Bowden
5. Natural Supplements
Beyond your basic diet, which is the foundation for how you feel, your mood is controlled by the neurotransmitters in your brain.
Studies suggest that an imbalance of certain neurotransmitters (chemical messengers in the brain) may contribute to anxiety disorders. The neurotransmitters targeted in anxiety disorders are gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), serotonin, dopamine, and epinephrine. – University of Maryland Medical Center
If you want to keep it basic:
Zinc, vitamin b6, magnesium supplements can help improve your mood and make you feel relaxed. Low levels of these have been linked to depression.
There are also herbs like Valerian Root, St. John’s Wort and Passionflower which are claimed to reduce anxiety, though there is little scientific evidence behind it.
If you want to go advanced:
In The Mood Cure, Dr. Julia Ross explains the 4 different types of neurotransmitters, how you can tell if you have low levels of each one, and specific doses of natural supplements you can take to fix it.
Here’s a very quick summary:
- Serotonin – the most common neurotransmitter deficiency. This is a feel good chemical that makes us happy, outgoing and enthusiastic. Many pharmaceutical drugs (SSRIs for example) work by artificially increasing the serotonin levels in your brain… but you can achieve similar effects by consuming 5-HTP or L tryptophan. (These are serotonin precursors. When you eat these, they get converted to serotonin in your brain.)
- Catecholamines (norepinephrine) – This brain chemical helps us feel energized and focused. The natural supplement to increase it is L Tyrosine.
- GABA – This is a natural stress reliever, muscle relaxant, and helps you sleep. Benzodiazepines (medications such as valium and xanax) reduce anxiety through the way they interact with the GABA receptors. You can increase it by taking GABA.
- Endorphins – Another feel good chemical, it is raised through exercise, which I’ll talk about more in the next section…
- Very low chance of bad side effects at regular doses.
- Have helped many people feel better.
- Natural supplements are not regulated, may be low quality.
- Not well studied scientifically.
- The Mood Cure by Dr. Julia Ross
Less Computer and Social Media Time
8. EFT or energy/trauma healing
3 Big Reasons Why You’re Still Socially Anxious
1. Nobody Ever Gave You Specific, Actionable Steps To Cure Your Social Anxiety
The first reason why you still have social anxiety is because of bad advice.
When I had really bad social anxiety, the only advice I heard was:
- “Just talk!”
- “Just be social!”
- “Just pretend to be confident!”
- “Fake it ’til you make it!”
The problem is, advice for overcoming social anxiety is 99% garbage.
It’s usually given by people who have never had the problem themselves. Your parents, friends, or teachers simply don’t understand it. That’s why they tell you the types of useless phrases I listed above.
Even the published books and articles on social anxiety usually suck. They’re usually written by psychologists who know a lot about the causes of social anxiety, but don’t know how to cure it. Or they’re written by people looking to make some quick cash.
Most books just tell you to “focus on other people” or stand up straighter. Rarely do they give any concrete techniques or steps that make a difference in the real world.
This is why I decided to make this website. I wanted to share the tips and techniques for curing social anxiety that I had proven to be effective. The difference is that I’m speaking from personal experience. I think that “shines through” in most of the articles I write here.
The second reason why you’re still have social anxiety is because…
2. You Believe Social Anxiety Is A Part Of Your Personality
When you were young, someone may have told you, “You’re shy” or “You’re quiet.” This assumes that social anxiety is a part of your personality or identity. That It’s something you were born with or have developed over time to become a part of you, like your hair or feet.
But the truth is, social anxiety is not a part of your personality.
Think about it: Are you anxious all the time? Are you equally nervous when you’re talking to someone new as when you’re talking to your closest friend? How about when talking to a group of people versus just one person?
No, you aren’t. So what does this mean?
TRUTH: Social Anxiety Is A Learned Behavior
Social anxiety is a learned behavior. It’s a set of mental and physical behaviors you’ve learned to use to react to certain situations. The amount and the type of reaction you feel depends on the situation.
The important thing to understand is that nobody has shyness or anxiety in every area, it always relates to specific situations. Here’s a few more examples:
- You may not be able to make conversation with strangers easily, but there’s probably one or two people in your life who you can talk to effortlessly.
- You may not be able to make a speech in front of many people without sweating and shaking, but you can talk to one person comfortably.
- You may not be able to make eye contact with someone you are intimidated by (like an authority figure) or someone you are attracted to, but with other people it’s much easier.
- You may be quiet and hard-to-hear when there’s lots of people listening, but when you’re in a private room you can speak as loud as you want.
So stop assuming social anxiety is a part of your personality and turning it into an unchangeable identity. Don’t say: “That’s the way I am.” Say: “In this situation…”
Social anxiety is a set of thoughts and behaviors you have learned to use in certain social situations. This also means you can unlearn these thoughts and behaviors and replace them with new ones. I’ll explain how a little later on this page.
3. You Think Social Anxiety Is An Illness Caused By Genetics Or A “Chemical Imbalance”
Social anxiety is not a real disorder or illness, despite the name sometimes given to it: “social anxiety disorder”.
99% of people out there who have social anxiety have nothing physically wrong with their mind or body that needs to be fixed through medication. (Of course, always see your doctor just in case you happen to be in the minority.)
Social anxiety can be fixed, but not by altering your body’s chemical balances through medication. Medication helps some people manage their anxiety better, but it will never make it go away. It can only be a temporary fix.To make it go away permanently, you’ll need a different approach, which I’ll share with you in just a bit.
By the way, the reason why so many people believe this myth is because big pharmaceutical companies want to sell more drugs to people. Think I’m kidding? Here’s what a Harvard professor of medicine has to say about it:
“If you watch television in the evening, the news shows, it’s marketing one drug after the other. And it not only markets the drugs–it markets the medical conditions they are used to treat. It convinces people who watch shows that there is a brand new drug, a miracle drug for every ailment and discontent they can come up with. And so if they are shy, suddenly they have Social Anxiety Disorder and they need Paxil.” – Dr. Marcia Angell, Harvard Medical Professor
What scientific studies have found is that drugs used to treat disorders like anxiety or depression are not as effective as the strategy I teach.
The drugs (sometimes) work as long as you’re taking them, but as soon as you stop, the anxiety or depression comes right back, because you haven’t fixed the root of the problem. You only masked the symptoms.
Anti-anxiety medication does help some people when it is used along with the type of strategy I teach. It is most useful for those who have extremely severe anxiety issues, to help them get started on their way to getting better.
Important Disclaimer: This being said, I’m neither a medical doctor nor a psychiatrist, and nothing on this website should be taken as medical advice. I’m just sharing with you the results of my research.
So what exactly is the strategy I teach? What is the cure for social anxiety?
Before I get to that, first I need to teach you something pretty cool…
[Note: Right now this page is under construction. I’ll be adding more in the near future.]