5 Steps to Overcome Social Anxiety

Our daughter has a complicated blend of generalized fear and social anxiety. We’re not sure how it all started, but it makes life at school quite challenging. People expect her to speak up, like every other child in school. Her anxiety shows up as a condition called “Selective Mutism”. It’s basically about being “mute” (not speaking) in selected situations or environments. At home, she is the center of attention – she’s the loudest at the dinner table and she provides the daily news updates about everything that happened in school. Most of us don’t get a chance to put a word in, because she is so starved of talking by the time she comes home that she talks our ear off.

Life is ironic. Here we are – running social-oriented events for singles, while at home, our child struggles in social situations.

I think this is why we are so passionate about leveling the playing field for all singles. We know how hard it is to step out of your comfort zone and put yourself out there when it is so much easier to just stay home and sit behind a computer screen. But in our own lives, we know you really won’t get to experience the joys of human relationships and connections if you close your world. That’s why we designed Secret RSVP to be a socially comfortable experience.

It isn’t easy for sure. We know that because we have been there. But here are 5 fundamental steps that might help you open up your world and make meaningful connections.

  1. It all begins with a thought.

When I came to Canada as a postgraduate student, life was hard. I hated project work because that meant I had to find people I could partner with to form a team. That was way harder than just attending lectures where I just had to find a seat. My first year was miserable. I was tens of thousands miles away from home, extremely lonely, and honestly, suffering from social anxiety. But then one day, I had an epiphany! I realized that if I wanted a friend, I had to first BE a friend. This revelation totally changed the trajectory of my life in school because I realized that I had the power to influence the rest of my time in school.

When it comes to finding a significant other in your life, you have to first BE a significant other.  But how do you do that?

2. Follow up your thought with actions.

Actions. They start with a decision to make a thought happen. Without actions, everything is status quo. Nothing changes. When I had the epiphany that in order to have friends, I had to first be a friend, I had to follow that up with certain actions like actively greeting people; starting a conversation; joining a group; offering help. These are actions that sound so basic but as a society, these actions are in danger of becoming extinct as technology equips us to do all that online. When I started “being” a friend, the world started opening up to me. I started making friends; people approached me; people offered their help in return; and I had no problems forming project teams. But it only started because I decided to take the first step.

When it comes to being a significant other, take the first step: go out to places where you will get to meet real people. Choose to intentionally participate in activities or events where you will get to interact with others, and they can see whom you really are as a potential mate.

3. Rid your mind of untrue, unfounded thoughts about yourself.

When my daughter was old enough to communicate about her feelings, I asked her why she wouldn’t speak up in school. Her answer was that she was worried about others hearing her voice. When I dug deeper, I realized it was because she was afraid of what others would think about her.

If I were really honest with myself, one of the reasons I was struggling so much socially at that time, was because of what I thought about myself – the kind of thoughts often known to be negative. I didn’t think I was special enough, or smart enough, or pretty enough, or good enough… To be someone anyone would care about. It’s easy to feel small in a world so big. But just as you can have these thoughts that can make you feel so small and insignificant, what if you turned those thoughts around and entertained thoughts that affirm how purposeful and significant you really are? I mean, in a world that is so big, with so many people, do you realize that you are the only one who is uniquely YOU? If you are the only one with a unique set of fingerprints that only YOU have… In this big, big world… That must mean something! I think you are here for a reason. Only you can be YOU. And if that is the case, you are certainly not small and insignificant. And if you ever have thoughts that pull you down, very intentionally, turn them around so they will pull you up.

4. Remember: you’re not the only one.

If we were all really honest, we would realize that at any point of our lives, we all have the potential to feel small and insignificant. Most of us are just really good at keeping those feelings under wraps. It’s just a reality of life and we have all been there. If you know you’re not alone when it comes to being socially anxious, you would know that most people we meet are compassionate because they have also been there. This is why we design our events to build teams.

5. Practice. Practice. Practice. And Push the Boundaries.

Social anxiety is not an easy thing to overcome. With my daughter, consistency and persistence has helped her build confidence in social situations. We’ve also had to push her to try harder in small, incremental steps. For example, she has to go to the till at Tims to buy the donuts. Sometimes she’s successful. Other times, she is overcome by her fears. But the more you place yourself in social situations, the easier it gets to open up. It takes courage and persistence. Don’t expect perfection because no one is perfect. No one has it all figured out. If they look like they have it altogether and are social butterflies, it’s because they have simply mastered the art of concealing what they are really feeling inside. No one on the face of this earth is social all the time.

At our last event, I learned something surprising about one of our event hosts. She appears to be one of the most confident persons I have ever met. She runs a successful marketing startup, used to work in a large consulting firm, and is funny and charming. As we were chatting, I learned that she really has social anxiety. Through the years, she has learned to manage her anxiety and conceal it really well. On the outside, she appears to be the life of the party. But in the inside, she sometimes feels terrified, alone and vulnerable.

If you feel terrified, alone and vulnerable sometimes, remember you’re not alone. This world is filled with many other people who at some time in their lives, have also felt terrified, alone and vulnerable. Let’s decide to take action, get rid of any untrue thoughts that you’re not good enough, and come out of that shell that’s holding you back from making real-life, human connections.

Remember: you’re not alone.