Taking the Easy Way Out When You Have Social Anxiety

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As readers of my articles at Verywell will know, I often encourage doing things that push the boundaries of your social anxiety. While this will be uncomfortable in the moment, the long-term effect will help you to feel reduced anxiety in those situations that you confront. What this  means is that I am not a fan of “taking the easy way out.” If I were to meet with you today and give you one piece of advice to overcome your social anxiety, it would be to avoid doing that.

While that might sound harsh—as though somehow having a mental illness is taking the easy out (it’s certainly not)—it’s meant to be a bit compelling in a challenging kind of a way.

If I were to ask you right now what some of your goals are in life, would they include avoiding that which makes you afraid and aligning your aspirations with the path of least resistance? Probably not. Or maybe yes, but deep down you might know that leaves you feeling a bit uneasy.

Take a moment right now, and write down five things you would do if you felt less anxious in social or performance situations.

  1. ___________________
  2. ___________________
  3. ___________________
  4. ___________________
  5. ___________________

That list is obviously going to vary depending on where you are in your life, where you fall on the introversion/extroversion continuum, etc.

But let’s say for argument’s sake that your list looks something like this.

  1. I would apply for a job that pays better/has more responsibilities.
  2. I would have more friends/spend more time with people.
  3. I would speak up more in conversations.
  4. I would go to more events/parties/gatherings.
  5. I would go on dates.

Remember, these don’t necessarily have to match yours either in content or level of difficulty.

While it may feel less scary, anxiety-provoking, and fear-inducing to “take the easy way out” and ignore these goals, doing so keeps you at a certain level.

It keeps you among the people that are not serious about overcoming social anxiety. People who are serious about not letting social anxiety rule their lives can do these things. And then some.

Allow me to explain why I don’t agree with living within self-imposed limits such as staying at a low-paying job because it feels easier or staying silent because then you “know you won’t make a mistake.”

What do you learn, or what are you telling yourself, if you take the easy way out?

1. It teaches you to be afraid. If you set limits on what you can or should do based on your anxiety, you are subconsciously telling yourself that your fear is warranted. What’s the worst that would happen if you spoke up in a meeting at work? Could you approach situations from the perspective of trying to make a fool of yourself? What if you allowed yourself to look anxious, made your hands shake on purpose, or tripped over your words just to see how other people would react? Try it sometime, you might be surprised how little of a reaction you get.

2.  It does not allow you to learn from your mistakes. Mistakes are the great teachers in life. Without mistakes along the way, you won’t learn. Why do we learn best from our mistakes? Once you’ve learned what not to do, the chance of repeating the same mistake twice is lessened. What social mistake have you made lately? Think back on that mistake and what you learned from it. Appreciate it as a teacher rather than a negative aspect of yourself.

3.  You develop a reputation that is hard to shake. You won’t hear this said often about social anxiety, but it does tend to be true. Once you start avoiding people, you will develop a reputation as being standoffish or unapproachable, even though it’s ridiculously untrue. This creates a vicious cycle that you can’t escape. People will stop inviting you to events, stop trying to bring you into the conversation, and even stop thinking of you for promotions at work. It’s movement in a direction that is hard to reverse once it’s started. So start small, and begin to build yourself back into someone you want to be—not someone you’ve become because of who you were afraid to be.

4. You will find your options greatly narrowed. Similar to developing a poor reputation, your options will become narrowed the more you try to take the easy way out. While at first you may not notice what you’ve done, eventually you may wake up one day and wonder who you will talk to that day. Don’t let that happen to you. Don’t bank on friends and family being there when you finally make it out of your shell. While the good ones will stay, your relationship with them will be taxed.

While all of this might sound a little harsh, it’s meant to be that way. I don’t want you to keep going down that path.

Think of it this way—you don’t have to change overnight. You don’t have to change in a day. But you want your trajectory to be “up.” You want the slope of the line to be positive, as Susannah Cahalan writes in her book Brain on Fire.

But, if you are not taking the easy way out, what are you to do?

Learning to break free from social anxiety is a topic for another day. I’ll be writing about ways to break free from the easy path soon.

For now, just make a commitment that you will try.

Tips on Using Self-Help Workbooks (for Social Anxiety)

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If you’ve stepped inside a bookstore lately, you’ve probably noticed a proliferation of self-help titles. The list of things you can improve about yourself is literally endless—and it can be hard to know who to trust or whether any of these books will actually help.

In the case of social anxiety, self-help books hold a special significance, as they can be accessed by anyone regardless of your current fears. If you’re too afraid to pick up the phone to call your doctor, ordering a book from Amazon might feel like a smaller first step that you can take.

At the same time, there is a risk with self-help books that you expect too much. A book is never going to replace an interaction with a mental health professional. What it will do is provide knowledge upon which you can act.

A study published in 2008 in the journal Professional Psychology: Research and Practice examined 50 self-help books for anxiety and depression and rated books on four main qualities believed to reflect books that would help:

  • grounded in science, brings the knowledge of experts to you (e.g., cognitive-behavioral therapy)
  • realistic in their expectations (not promising a complete cure)
  • offered specific guidance (step-by-step instructions, user-friendly)
  • did no harm (did not provide false information)

The 10 top-rated books from that study included Dying of Embarrassment by Barbra Markway and The Shyness and Social Anxiety Workbook by Martin M. Antony.

What they found was that the best books (based on their criteria) had the following characteristics in addition to those listed above:

    • focused on a limited type of problem
    • were written by doctoral-level psychologists, often affiliated with academic institutions
    • offered a chance to monitor your progress
    • addressed relapse or setbacks
    • discussed co-existing disorders or problems
    • talked about when to seek professional help

Although that study touched on it briefly, I think one of the more important qualities of a good self-help book is that it is not overwhelming.

We are all busy, and it is often easier to keep doing what we are doing than to try to make a change. While self-help books are more convenient than visiting a therapist or life coach, if they are not put into practice, they are likely to have minimal effect. You need to apply the advice in the book to make progress.

I think there are two types of books that impede translating knowledge into action.

Those that provide too much information (overload) and those that provide no plan (lack direction).

Of course, it’s possible for a book to have both of these qualities—that would be the worst of all worlds.

When choosing a book, after you’ve narrowed it down to those that meet the above criteria (as best you can, based on reviews or referrals from others), try skimming through (in a bookstore if you can, or the library or online) and read a bit. All other things being equal (as described above), I’d choose the one that is easiest to read with the best action plan (often a workbook style). I’d also choose a book that you find inspiring.

Once you’ve chosen a book, how can you get the most out of it?

  • Keep a journal. Add your own thoughts and insights. This will bring the book to life for you.
  • Complete the exercises. This might seem obvious, but don’t jump ahead. Take the time to do any exercises in the book fully. Change involves thoughts, feelings, and actions all interacting. You might learn new things about yourself that you can use as you move forward in the book.
  • Take stock. At the end of each chapter or section, take stock and think about the impact of what you’ve done. Do you need to adjust or make changes?
  • Get an accountability partner. This could be a friend or family member, or even an online group. Meet once a week to discuss what you are reading.

In the Huffington Post article, “Why self-help books rarely work,” life coach and personal growth expert Matthew Jones writes “The book can change your perspective, but you must change your life.”

I’d like to relate an example from my personal life, not about social anxiety, but that shows how books can impart knowledge, but it is up to you to take action.

A couple of weeks ago, I was scrolling through Facebook and came across a video called “The Secret Reason We Eat Meat.” I was interested, so I started watching, but soon realized that the video was over 20 minutes long and I didn’t have time to finish all of it. It started out with Melanie Joy, a social psychologist, explaining the premise of what she terms “carnism,” or the ideology that creates a meat-eating society.

So I set the video aside to return later. Unbeknownst to me, it contained graphic videos of animal slaughterhouses midway through. Somehow, I managed to jump back into the video during one of these videos. It was as though I’d accidentally clicked on a slasher film—it really was that bad. Nervously I jumped ahead a bit and watched to the end. And then I read Dr. Joy’s book, Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows.

The book presented a logical argument regarding veganism and the secret ideology that promotes eating meat. It all made sense to me, from a logic standpoint. But if I had put that book down and went to eat a hamburger, would anything change? If I knew differently, but continued to do what I’ve always done, what was the point?

I hope that if you do pick up a self-help book, you will realize there is little point in just reading. You might gain knowledge, but you won’t change, and what you’ve learned will much more easily slip away.

If you find it hard, be accountable and then reward yourself in some way for taking action.

If you find it really hard, find a therapist to help you work through the book.

As for me, it’s been two weeks and I still haven’t eaten that hamburger.


Huffington Post. Why self-help books rarely work.

Psychology Today. What you should look for in a self-help book.

Redding, R. E., Herbert, J. D., Forman, E. M., & Gaudiano, B. A. (2008). Popular self-help books for anxiety, depression, and trauma: How scientifically grounded and useful are theyProfessional Psychology: Research and Practice, 39(5), 537-545.

Wood, G. 3 top tips: How to get the most from a self-help book.

A Social Anxiety Advent Calendar

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Advent calendars run the gamut from ornate wooden houses with doors that open to reveal small vignettes to inexpensive mass-produced dollar store chocolate in cardboard boxes. Whatever the package, children tend to enjoy them, but as adults we often lose this tradition.

The “Make Today Happy” blog offered a twist on the advent calendar to encourage children and adults alike to make the 25 days of Christmas more about giving than receiving.

In their “Kindness Advent Calendar,” each day you are instructed to complete a task that spreads a little bit of kindness out into the world.

Imagine if you could take that premise—an advent calendar about kindness—and convert it into something that would help others but at the same time help you to work on overcoming social anxiety?

Below you will find instructions on what to do each day for 25 days both to challenge your social anxiety and to spread some kindness into the world.

Dec 1:

If you are on social media such as Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, share this article with your friends and let them know what you are up to this month. You might be surprised how much support you receive—and it’s an easy way to share a bit about yourself and the fact you may be coping with anxiety.

Dec 2:

Bring a special homemade treat to a friend, neighbor, family member, or colleague. Say something like “I am practicing kindness for 25 days, and I thought you might enjoy this batch of cookies.”

If you struggle in the kitchen, consider picking up something from your local bakery. This gives you two opportunities to practice social interaction, and also supports a local business.

Dec 3:

Help those less privileged than yourself by donating unwanted winter coats, hats, or mitts to a local shelter or the Salvation Army. You might even find a way to turn this into a chance to make new friends.

In my hometown of London, Ontario, Canada the group “Just a Bunch of Friends” travels the streets of the city once a month to hand out food, drinks, clothing, etc. to the homeless. Find a similar group in your area and ask if you can participate—or at least pass on items to be given away. You’ll be practicing many skills such as using the telephone and meeting new people.

Dec 4:

Some days are for reflection and rejuvenation in this advent calendar. Listen to your favorite upbeat song either on a pair of headphones or blasting through your living room and dance.

This is good practice for when people actually are watching, though for now this is just for you. (If you really enjoy dancing and have a game console, you could even consider investing in the Just Dance series to step up your moves)

Dec 5:

Be friendly with people that you meet. While your natural tendency is probably to used closed body language—head down, arms folded in front of you, turned away, standing at a distance—try doing the opposite today.

Stand straight, keep your head level and eyes straight ahead, relax your arms at your sides, turn toward people, stand close, and most importantly, smile.

Dec 6:

Talk to someone about their problems. Do you know someone who has been struggling with something recently? Perhaps you’ve noticed a friend or relative posting about an issue on social media or talking with someone else about a problem they need solved.

Offer a listening ear to that person and expect nothing in return. This will give you a chance to practice your active listening skills, and may even help the other person decide on a course of action.

Dec 7:

Give blood. Donating blood is a simple charitable act that most people can do. In the United States you can do this through the Red Cross Blood Bank.

There are certain eligibility requirements, so it’s probably best to call ahead and ask if you meet the criteria. Or, you can visit the website and read up on the process. Either way you’ll be working on your social anxiety in three ways:

1) Helping others has been shown to be related to lower social anxiety;

2) Using the phone is good practice if you’ve got phone phobia; and

3) Talking to  health personnel is a good chance to expose yourself to a new situation.

Dec 8:

Compliment someone indirectly. An indirect compliment can have just as much of a positive impact as a direct one. Choose between in-person, telephone, or electronic delivery, and then praise someone you know—without contacting them directly.

For example, you might tell a friend about how your sister has great style, email your mother about how your father’s help around the house has been a blessing, or post on Facebook about the delicious desserts a coworker brought in to work.

Word will eventually get around, and an indirect compliment can sometimes carry more weight. In the meantime, you’ve also practiced an important social skill.

Dec 9:

Leave something inspirational in public for others to find. Examples might include an envelope with a $5 bill and the note “Hope this makes your day a little brighter!” or a book (something along the lines of “The Secret”) with a note that whoever finds this book is about to be put on a path to success. Write a positive message on a rock and leave it somewhere to be found.

Here you challenge your social anxiety by getting out in public and risking possible embarrassment if someone wonders what you are doing. It’s okay to feel anxious while you do this—just keep going.

Dec 10:

Dedicate a half hour out of your day to mindfulness of your surroundings. It’s easy to get caught up in the busyness of the Christmas season. Perhaps you’ve rushed through a shopping mall or kept your head down as you go about your day, not paying attention to those around you. Be on the lookout for those struggling. Perhaps you can do something as simple as hold a door for a new mom. Bonus points for practicing mindfulness (which helps to conquer social anxiety) and helping others.

Dec 11:

Be kind to yourself and take the time to move your body today. Exercise is known to help improve mood and it’s likely to also help your social anxiety. Yoga, running, and a group exercise class are good options to challenge your anxiety while also getting oxygen pumping to your brain.

Dec 12:

Today, practice patience. This could mean patience with yourself, patience with others, patience with the world—all of which are going to help put your problems with social anxiety in perspective. Perhaps you’ve been impatient with finding work, making friends, or waiting on the world to change (as John Mayer says). Change takes time and that’s okay.

Dec 13:

Anonymously send a postcard of positivity. The website “Postcards for Positivity” allows you to register your name to be on a list of people who wish to receive an anonymous postcard with a positive message.

Add your name to the list, and you could soon find an inspirational greeting in your mailbox. Or, ask them to give you the name and address of someone from the list, and you can send your own greeting of positivity.

Dec 14:

Find a long-lost relative. Sign up for a program like Ancestry DNA or 23 and Me and discover your heritage. These programs also allow you to connect with far-flung relatives—people that you would otherwise never have the chance to meet. Challenge your social anxiety by actually reaching out to someone and learning what you share in common.

Dec 15:

Offer an item you no longer need for free on Kijiji or Craigslist. Conquer your social anxiety through challenges like emailing potential recipients, taking phone calls and meeting in person. Just remember to stay safe and meet in a public setting. This can be especially great to do with kids toys right before the holiday season!

Dec 16:

Write a letter of appreciation to groups that are helping the community or the environment, such as the “Just a Bunch of Friends” collective mentioned earlier. Your positive words may inspire them to continue doing good, and the act of reaching out will increase your confidence in giving compliments.

Dec 17:

Ask how a person is doing. This seems quite simple on the surface, but how often have you taken the time to ask this question and actually listen for the answer? Match it with direct eye contact and a genuine smile, and you’ve practiced open body language and active listening all in one shot.

Dec 18:

Buy yourself flowers.

Or chocolate.

Or a new tie.

Or a favorite magazine.

Choose a small indulgence you might not normally allow yourself, and realize that you deserve to feel good and rewarded once in a while. Consider this your reward for all the hard work you have been doing this month.

Dec 19:

Go to a tourist location and offer to take photos with other people’s cameras. What! I can’t do that, you think. That’s exactly the point! You can do it, if it weren’t for your social anxiety holding you back.

Wouldn’t you at least like to try. If you happen to live close to a natural wonder of the world (such as Niagara Falls) go hang out for an hour and see who you can help. Otherwise, keep this one tucked away in your mind for when the opportunity presents itself.

Okay—we are in the home stretch now, so we’re going to keep the last 6 days short and sweet.

Dec 20:

Drop off a toy, game, or magazines to a hospital waiting room.

Dec 21:

Drop off a grocery store gift card to a homeless shelter.

Dec 22:

Take teddy bears to the Children’s Aid Society.

Dec 23:

Tape change to a payphone with a note gifting it to the next person who needs it.

Dec 24:

Give a lottery ticket to a stranger.

Dec 25:

Call a relative who may be alone just to say hi.


About Social Anxiety Gets Its Own Website!

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I’m excited to announce that this website, About Social Anxiety, is the new home for my blog! Let me back up a bit, for those who are not familiar with who I am and what I do.

About 10 years ago, I saw an online ad for writers for a site called About.com. At the time I was working for the local school board, it was summer time, and I had some extra time on my hands. I thought, “what the hey,” and sent in my application.

Given my background in mental health, I was interested in writing for one of their health sites. At the time, the two topics that were available were, as I recall, social anxiety disorder (SAD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). I had more knowledge of SAD than ADHD, so I chose to apply to that topic.

I heard back shortly that I was being considered for the position, but that I would need to “audition” for the part. This involved essentially creating a test site, complete with articles and blogs that would cover the basics.

I remember this process being an incredible amount of work. Had I not been on summer vacation, pre-children, and I think even husbandless for a week, chances are I would have quit. In fact, I remember talking to family members about how I felt like quitting. After all, if I wasn’t chosen, all that work was in vain.

Well, guess what? I did get chosen, and the rest is history. I remember the person who was my initial contact at About.com telling me that my blog was my strong point and that my articles needed to sound less like a textbook. Perhaps they should have just told me to write everything in the blog voice? I’m not sure.

Anyway, fast forward 10 years and a few changes of ownership…. actually maybe only one, but feels like more—when I started the company was owned by the New York Times and is now headed by IAC.
An aside—I wish I’d kept one of my cheques with the New York Times logo on it. I guess at the time I didn’t realize how cool that was!

Bottom line, things have changed a lot at the old About.com. We’ve branched out into what they call “vertical” sites, which means that each content area gets its own domain.

The sites are:
The Spruce
The Balance

So, I now write for Verywell. Many other things have changed. I used to write a weekly blog post for About.com, but we are no longer required/supposed to do that. That bloggy voice, which I was told was my strength, is not part of Verywell. Instead, on that site you will find informational articles written in the third person with a consistent tone across the vertical.

There’s nothing wrong with that! It’s just that… I liked the blog.

The blog was a chance to be timely, to keep up with current events related to social anxiety, report on new studies that came out, do fun things like have polls, and oh my gosh even comments from readers! Imagine that!

So… I guess what I’m trying to say in a long-winded way is that I missed my old About.com blog about social anxiety disorder.

This is what I am going to try and recreate here at About Social Anxiety.

And if it goes well, I hope this site will serve some other purposes as well.

An added reason for writing this blog is to have a home for my books on Amazon. I’ve written a self-help book “7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety” as well as a short story, “Silent Night” about a socially anxious university student who must work through her anxiety to find her missing sister.

In addition, I’ve written a couple of short books in the vein of “What to Expect” regarding therapy. The one about CBT for social anxiety is complete and can be purchased from Leanpub.
If there’s anything you’d like me to write about or topics you’d like to see covered, just leave a comment below.

Also, I hope you’ll like me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, and help me understand how to use Instagram and Pinterest! Honestly, I haven’t yet got the hang of those last two. From what I can tell, Instagram is great for artistic types and Pinterest is most useful for graphic-type illustrations. Or maybe I’ve totally misunderstood them!

Till next time!

How to Increase Your Self-Worth

african american photoWhat is self-worth?

According to Merriam-Webster, it is “a feeling that you are a good person who deserves to be treated with respect.”

Let’s break that down for a second.

You might ask yourself, “well who would not think they deserve to be treated with respect?”

And, what does it actually mean to deserve respect?

A lot of people who are socially anxious fail this litmus test.

The story usually goes like this:

You believe that everyone else in the world is more deserving of respect than you.

Say, for example, you accomplish something really great. Maybe you get a good grade in school or are hired for a new job.

At this point, is when you start to downplay anything about yourself that may have contributed to that outcome.

Oh, well it was easy to get good grades. Anyone could have done it.

Or, that job, they just hired me because they needed someone. It’s not that there was anything special about me that got me hired.

The pattern goes..

Achievement – seeing it as not reflective of you in any way – lowered self-worth.


Anything positive about yourself – seeing it as nothing special – lowered self-worth.

What would you think/say/do if someone else accomplished the same?

Would you attribute that good grade to hard work, determination, goal setting? Or the job offer to a stellar interview, great background, or strong work ethic?

More importantly, what are you getting out of denying your self-worth?

Because, be honest, there’s a reason why you are doing it. What are you afraid of? Are you afraid of people expecting more from you? Afraid that people will discover you are not really that great (like something along the lines of Imposter Syndrome)?

What is holding you back from accepting your own worth?

While it may not seem that relevant to social anxiety, it’s actually a key part of the puzzle. Somewhere along the way you lost the ability to view yourself and others from the same objective lens. Do you know when that point was? Can you pick it out from your past?

Perhaps there was some event where you let yourself down.

That speech in fourth grade where everyone laughed. The time you did not get the job and you did make a fool of yourself in the interview.

But do you have to keep telling yourself you are that person?

I don’t think so.

So that’s the first reason. Reason #1. Fear.

What’s the second reason you might be denying your own self-worth?

Because of a need to be your authentic self.

Reason #2. Needing to be your real self.

Somehow along the way your social anxiety became entwined with your view of yourself. The need to escape the spotlight became part of a whole strategy of down-playing yourself, achievements and all. There goes that respect along with your self-worth.

I’ve talked a lot about assertiveness. But I’ve never talked about its relationship to self-worth.

You see, when you ask for the respect of others, you are actually showing them respect too.

When you say “no” because you don’t have time to do something, you are allowing the other person the chance to find someone else to do the job.

When you tell someone how you are feeling (or how they’ve hurt you), you are giving them a roadmap of how to make you happy in the future.

In essence, the cycle looks something like this:

self-worth = respect for self = respect from others = assertiveness = respect for others.

So, working on your self-worth is a proposition that helps everyone.

Let’s go back to that fear + needing to be your real self.

How can we work past these blocks?

Fear = being afraid of what it means to command respect.

Needing to be your real self = well, it’s the same definition as above.

What we are really talking about here is that you don’t feel like you deserve that respect. That piece of you, the self-worth piece, isn’t there, and it feels weird when you try to insert it. It’s not you. It feels wrong.

So like with anything, we need to take those baby steps.

Step 1. Every morning, write down three good things about yourself. Continue to do this throughout the rest of the steps.

Step 2. Make a list of things that would make you feel better about yourself. This can be anything, from as small as making your bed every morning or buying a new outfit, to as big as getting a new job or buying a house.

Step 3. Order that list from smallest to biggest. Each day, do one little thing that moves you closer to achieving the smallest item on the list. Once you’ve achieved an item, cross it off and move on to the next.

Step 4. Write down three problems in your life. They might be about social anxiety or something more general. Now, pretend you are a good friend offering advice. Tell yourself what you think you should do to solve the problem. Notice how you speak differently to yourself as a friend.

Step 5. Write down every bad thing you say to yourself in your head. Keep it in a password-protected Word doc or a note on your phone. Get tired of making this list. Make it easier on yourself by not saying bad things to yourself so that you have less to write on the list.

Get out there. Your value isn’t determined by anyone else but you.