Most of my adult life, I suffered from severe social anxiety. I never thought I could break the chains of this very sad and debilitating chronic disorder. Not only did I let it rob me of many wonderful experiences and opportunities, most people (including my own family) didn't realize I even had it. Ironically, I didn't exhibit outward symptoms...or rather, I "hid" my anxiety very well. If I did anything social, I would need days of recovery and alone time afterwards.
The worst episodes resulted in panic attacks, where I thought I was experiencing a heart attack. I felt like I had no control over my body or my emotions. Several things led to successfully overcoming my social anxiety, and I wanted to share those things with you in the hopes that you can help someone you know and love who may be silently suffering.
Your own thoughts are your worst enemy when you have social anxiety. When I began to meditate daily, I learned to quiet my racing, self-critical, negative looping thoughts. If you can't do traditional meditation, try brainwave entrainment programs like Zen12 (short 12 minute audios) or Holosync -- or a zillion free binaural beats on YouTube. You literally put on headphones and listen. This technology allows your brain to enter an Alpha brainwave state and helps you become more relaxed and calm easily and effortlessly.
After meditating for a while, something miraculous happens. Some people think that meditation is about trying to banish your thoughts, but it's not. It's about observing your thoughts without attachment to them or judgment about them, which sounds strange. I get side-tracked by thoughts ALL the time during meditation. I could be thinking, "I've got to touch base with so and so," or "I need to work on x," or "Who's the genius behind cookie butter?" Seriously, I don't think I've ever meditated without having the most random, funny, or just plain weird thoughts enter my mind. No judgments please. :-)
CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) also opened the door for my own healing. I did this on my own by reading books, watching videos, and by participating in SMART's Facilitator Training Program (so that I could help people with addictive behaviors and their partners). Gaining insight into your fears and deconstructing your thoughts around them is a game changer. CBT uses a combination of methods, strategies, and techniques to help people overcome things likes anxiety and depression (which are often related).
There is a cognitive (pattern of thinking) component, as well as a behavioral (creating new habits, action oriented) component and they need to be done together. CBT requires repetition and reinforcement of rational concepts, requires doing a bunch of things that are uncomfortable (I laid down in the middle of a crowded street once - damn you Tim Ferriss for that idea!) As you begin to see that you can indeed "survive" these things that you previously thought would be worse than death...you strip away the fear and anxiety around them. I won't lie. It's not easy. It requires commitment and lots of repetition, and stepping outside your comfort zone many, many times, but the end results are worth it. You get your life back. You get to move forward in life with more confidence and self-belief. You get to live a life you never dreamed was possible...