How to develop basic communication skills for someone suffering from Social Anxiety Disorder for 20+ years
I've had Social Anxiety for years now, and I've overcome it. I can start conversations easily with nearly anyone. My secret? Homelessness. It forced me to interact with people even though I wouldn't choose to. But there are similar solutions that are less extreme that will do the same thing.
- Go to a bar that also has music you like, and drink. I'm serious! Get drunk and chatty. Try dancing, if you feel like you want to. It lowers inhibitions for everyone, not just people without Social Anxiety Disorder.
- For a less extreme version of what I went through, have a friend drop you off in a large city at least fifty miles away from where you live, with only enough money on you to make a phone call in an emergency. No cel phone, and no wallet. Now get yourself home. How you do it is up to you, but I guarantee you will learn to strike up conversations with people, and then you'll know you can do it.
- Consider for a moment just what you're anxious about. I'm not suggesting countering anxiety with logic; that doesn't work. But in my case, I was anxious about other people's opinions of me or my behavior. "Oh no! They're all scrutinizing me!" Well, so what? Have you seen most people? These are the same people who subsidize human torture and the war in Iraq. I'm not saying that people aren't fundamentally valid - because that's never the case. But the level of hypocrisy of most people's choices stinks. Are you seriously worried that those people are going to think badly of you? Seriously. If you're anything like me, your anxiety comes from a sense of perfectionism you have about yourself. Somewhere inside you, you know that you should be better. Or perfect. And you're right. It's part of your dignity and grace as a spiritual being. But you can't manifest it totally overnight, you can just be better and better, to the best of your ability. And if you're closer to perfect than most people who live essentially thoughtlessly, they have a loooooong way to go before they're doing well enough to look down on you. So frag 'em and their opinions about you - which aren't your business anyway - and just get on with being the best person you can be. Starting with letting loose and having fun every now and then. You certainly deserve it.
- There is something called a Toastmasters Club. They encourage and develop social and public speaking skills by getting together and taking turns having one of their members give a speech over lunch. Check for a chapter in your area. You're hardly likely to find a more supportive environment to bring out the New You and start showing it off.
- Avoid coffee and other stimulants. They only make it worse. It's kind of obvious, but I don't know your habits.
- Do something outside your comfort zone that has nothing to do with approaching people socially. Take skydiving if you're so inclined. Or scuba diving. Something "out there" - maybe even something a little kinky. Whatever it is, make sure it's something that you're interested in or curious about, and that it's something outside your normal comfort zone. You'll discover that just because something is outside that comfort zone, it isn't the end of everything. And you can then take that first-hand experience and apply it inside yourself to your social comfort zone.
- Don't give yourself an emotional breakdown over this. There's no sense in building up even more anxiety about your anxiety issues. Ask yourself honestly if you feel that you're giving a fair amount of effort to getting past your anxiety, and if you are, let it go and don't worry about it. Respect yourself and take the time you need to work through it. You deserve that too.
- Remember that the people in stable and healthy emotional places in their lives - and that means the people that should matter to you - will love and accept you regardless. Would you really want to pin your hopes on someone who's so fickle or shallow that they'd think less of you for an honest mistake? I wouldn't either. =)