I was 6 years old when I asked the girl sitting next to me in class if she wanted to be my friend. Her snappy reply, “I already have friends,” tore into me like a knife. A scar I internally carry to this day — even though it happened decades ago. And recently, when I took a trip down memory lane to pinpoint moments that were conducive to my social anxiety, I realized I’m still holding on to her retort.
I still remember her name — that’s how much of an impact she had on me.
Now that I think about it, the academic environment is where the biggest shifts occurred. Being homeschooled from the age of 13 to 19 probably aggravated my state of mind. I was already tethering on the edge of being asocial due to my parents uprooting me from Canada to the United States that same year. Homeschooling was the last drop. It would be another eight years until I’d find myself again in a classroom. By that point, I couldn’t even bring myself to ask a question in class. I had a severe lack of confidence and an inferiority complex that permeated my whole being.
I could not make one move without over-analyzing every thought I had and how it would come off.
It didn’t help, either, that I ended up in a quite emotionally volatile relationship for two years. I was consistently told that I wasn’t good enough for the dreams I envisioned. I was voraciously torn into pieces should I dare speak to anyone else of the opposite sex. That relationship further exacerbated my lack of self-worth. It made me question myself even more in every possible situation I found myself in.
It’s countless moments such as those, accumulated over time, that gave this introvert social anxiety. Serious social anxiety. It’s something I became acutely aware of as I went through college and then through my first entry-level position as a financial analyst. I was quite thankful to land a job that didn’t require much contact with the external world. It was just me and spreadsheets for the better part of two years.
My Social Anxiety Symptoms
These were some of my symptoms:
- Not being able to have an impromptu conversation with anyone. If I didn’t map out the conversation prior to meeting with someone, I’d have a panic attack thinking we would have nothing to talk about.
- Time and time again, I chose to keep quiet instead of voicing my truth because I was worried about how it would come off.
- Here I was, at the prime of my life, not able to speak out (or ask questions) for fear of being judged.
But then I had enough. I had enough of feeling debilitated.
Enough of not having the courage to speak up or to lean in. Enough of caring about what everyone else thought of me. No matter how many self-help books I read, I wasn’t making any progress with my mental state. I made myself feel so small for so many years that I created such an impenetrable box around myself. I had to find a way out for my own sanity. I couldn’t make friends, have healthy relationships, properly communicate, or handle my insecurities. The day I decided enough was enough was the day I sat down and wrote out an action plan.
My 5-Step Action Plan to Beat Social Anxiety
An action plan to stop letting things hold me back. Specifically, to stop letting what others think about me hold me back. Or what I believe they think about me. Once I started putting pen to paper, a skill I’d honed during my years of solitude, I found the confidence I lost at 6 years old.
This was my action plan. I’m hoping it helps you, too.
Step 1. Write down my ultimate goal
Ultimate goal: Not care about what anyone else thinks about me. Be free of all the baggage and reservations I carry around with every decision I make.
Step 2. Write down three actions that take me closer to my goal and the gained benefits of it
Action 1: Ask questions in meetings at work, so that I could stop being scared of sounding stupid. I carried this fear from college into the workplace, and it was time to let go of it.
Action 2: Give others the benefit of the doubt, so that I could stop taking things personally. I used to feel slighted by the smallest gesture, such as a coworker not saying good morning as they passed by my cubicle. I spent many sleepless nights internalizing such behaviors that had nothing to do with me.
Action 3: Say no, so that I could get rid of the guilt trip I imposed upon myself. I knew my time was just as important as anyone else’s, so I needed to get the confidence to say no more often.
Step 3. Break each action down into two or three steps
- Raise my hand.
- Ask a question I know the answer to.
- Write down the questions.
- Create a (believable) story for someone’s behavior that has nothing to do with me.
- Leave that person and behavior at work — do not let them affect me at home.
- Go interact directly with that person (to either remove the anxiety that they have it in for me, or to push more to see if they are indeed acting that way on purpose).
- Begin with a white lie to ease myself into the last step (excuse).
- Decline unnecessary meetings, invitations, etc. (no excuse, just say sorry can’t make it).
- Just say no outright and be real (I’m drained, will take that time for myself, etc.).
I had an outline for each one of these actionable steps with reasons behind them and how to go about completing them.
Step 4. Come up with a mantra or two
For each one of those actions, I needed to come up with a few mantras to tell myself over and over so that I could calm myself down mentally when I was about to complete an action.
Mantra for Action 1: There is no such thing as a stupid question.
Mantra for Action 2: Not everyone will like you — and that’s perfectly fine.
Mantra for Action 3: My time is just as important as anyone else’s.
Step 5. Write down what I’ve accomplished and what I’m still working on (90 days later)
This step was an evaluation of whether I’d accomplished the actions and steps I laid out for myself. But more so than that, it was about taking the time to dig deep and think about how I felt within. I also wanted to write down what else I needed to do to get to where I wanted to be.
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This action plan liberated me and allowed me to finally breathe in and take up space at the table. It’s what ultimately motivated me to write e-books and create courses that help other introverts who face such similar emotions and challenges.
There are many things I would change down memory lane, but one thing’s for sure — I’m beyond grateful for my introverted nature. It gave me the self-awareness I needed to get out of my own head. It allowed me to reflect upon what’s important to me. And it really helped me to finally be part of this world.
Here’s to getting rid of social anxiety — and replying with, “You can always have one more friend.”