Me, social anxiety, and a little night out (self-help books)

Over the years I have tried so many self-help books that I’ve lost count, I don’t even want to know how many there have been.

I’ve tried Claire Weeks and her “Pass through Panic” CD, the “Linden Method”, Paul McKenna books and CDs, online CBT courses, you name them – I’ve probably tried them. I’m not knocking them, I know these have worked for many people, just not me. Perhaps it wasn’t the right time.

Most of the programmes I’ve tried have been along the lines of starting with something which only brings moderate discomfort (e.g. for me, tea and cakes), and, as that situation becomes more comfortable, trying the next step up the ladder until that too becomes comfortable. This was ok on the first rung of the ladder, but I never got past the first rung because I didn’t have the confidence or skills to move on. I struggled because:

• It was too big a step – how do you move on from a café to a restaurant? Or from a cup of tea at someone’s house to a full meal? It was too daunting.

• The steps were too far apart in terms of timings. I needed to be able to build on these steps every day, or I’d be back to square one again. But how do you invite someone out for a cup of tea one day, then tea and cake the next day, then a meal the next day, without them thinking you are totally crazy? (for me the answer has been several things – by admitting I struggle, by blogging about it and receiving so much wonderful support, by building my confidence with my counsellor, and practicing mindfulness – learning to switch off the panic button).

• Authors would say I needed to drop my safety behaviours, such as having mints to stop me feeling sick, a valium in my bag in case of emergency, taking Mr Silver Linings with me, having an escape plan. The thought of this meant I couldn’t face it, I need these things. (However, my counsellor says that these are all fine, they’re not unhealthy, the important thing is that I get out there and try things).

• Claire Weeks (who has helped a lot of people), asks that you don’t escape anxious situations, that you stay and wait until the anxiety subsides. Escaping and avoiding are two things I am very, very good at.

My problem is that I’ve been BATTLING anxiety for over a decade. I’ve gritted my teeth and made myself attend things I haven’t wanted to attend. And none of this battling has worked – I figured I lacked the willpower and courage needed, and so I beat myself up even more!

The next post will look at the counselling I’ve had, and how it turned out I was doing it all wrong. No more battling, no more teeth gritting!

 

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10 thoughts on “Me, social anxiety, and a little night out (self-help books)

  1. I’ve never thought to use self help books. the next time im near a book shop i will have a good look and see what’s on offer. cant wait to see how you’ve been getting on with your councilling.

  2. Hey there. Lots of empathy with you again. That sense of fear is horrible, and ‘sitting with it’ is no easy task, particularly if you don’t have someone to ‘debrief’ with afterwards. I’ll wait to hear what your counsellor has to say before I go on 🙂
    One observation here is that tea and cake in cafe to meal in restaurant is a big step to make. Do you just have the anxiety around eating when you are out or is also when you are at home?

    1. What do you mean debrief, that sounds interesting? The anxiety is only when out, it’s all about the social situation, the more nervous I get, the more I can’t face food. And I love food! I’d love to know what helps you? x

  3. Ok. So I briefly attended a social phobia group. Each week we were set a task…a social situation that would make us a little anxious. In the group we had to predict what would happen. What thoughts would you have? What would you feeling physically? What signs might you display externally (blushing, shaking etc)? What would your anxiety level be? What safety behaviours might you use? What are your fears (might choke, stutter etc) You then ‘do’ your exposure. Afterwards you go through your predictions to see if any were true. Mostly you find that whilst some occurred, others didn’t. ..thereby what you are thinking is worse than the reality. We were also encouraged to sit with our anxiety until we felt it lessen.

    1. Sorry, I’ve only just seen your comment – not quite sure how I nearly missed it. Yes, this is exactly the sort of thing I talk about it with my counsellor, and how I always imagine it to go far worse than it does. The build up is always the worst part for me, the fear and dread and that chance to still back out. I really struggle with sitting with anxiety, that’s where I just can’t seem to get to the stage where it lessens. The more I try and sit with it, the more it feeds itself. Is this the key? How did you get on? Thank you so much for commenting!

      1. Sitting with the anxiety really is the hardest part. Rather than feeding the anxiety, the idea is that through deep breathing, your anxiety will lessen. I can manage this in certain situations, but not with others. What you have described with your ‘scaling up’ of activities, gives me the sense that you are missing out key steps. You seem to do steps 1 and 2 and then jump to 10. If you can sit with your anxiety at step 1, and repeat step 1, that will give you a stepping stone to step 2. You would then need to identify things to move you slowly from a cafe to a restaurant. Have you thought about any in between steps?

        With the social phobia group, we were told not to use our ‘safety behaviours’, which I think you have spoken about before. My thought is that you can only go little by little. If you are at the point when you aren’t going out….the first task is to get you out, safety behaviours or not. Once you have got that far, you can then start working on the safety behaviours. I have just read your next post, where you talk about finding the evidence to support your beliefs, and this is a really good one and where the ‘expected experience’ is compared to the ‘actual experience’. Generally, there is no evidence to support the ‘expected’ experience.

        The next piece is where I make a confession. I’m not doing so great on this either 🙂 I have made some progress (such as attending a friends 40th before Christmas) but there is lots I am still to achieve. My biggest challenge is that I don’t feel safe when surrounded by drunk people (unless I am also drunk!!) and most of my friends like a good drink. I panic that they are going to hurt themselves or get into trouble or that there is going to be a fight or something. This is within my friends, I then panic about what everyone else in the bar might do!! My ‘goal’ is to go out in a group of people to a bar, in the evening. I can sit and cry just thinking about it….and part of me thinks, why do I need to do this. I’m past the age when I need to spend my nights out in pubs. But, it would open my social life and would lend more opportunities for meeting a potential partner. My main safety behaviour has traditionally been to drink to numb the anxiety, which I hate doing. This year I have taken on the challenge of not drinking alcohol for the year, so it would be a great year to work on going out where I am clear headed and in control.

        This weekend, I am going to a bar in London to a friends 30th. It is during the day, so I feel more in control, and I have arranged to travel down with the birthday girl. There will be a few children there so I know it won’t get too rowdy. I will only know one other person, so it is going to be a bit tense for me and I will probably busy myself with tidying up the buffet or playing with the children. I am setting my limit at 2 hours, and after that I can leave if I want to.

        On the 8th Feb, I am making a start on going for the kill. I have joined a ‘Meet Up’ group in my local area, and they are going out for a meal which I have booked myself onto. I won’t know anyone there (which randomly will be easier). There is the option to go onto a local bar afterwards. My challenge at this point is just to go for the meal. What I am hoping I’ll find is that I end up going to the bar afterwards, but this isn’t my aim. I will obviously blog and let you know how I get on.

        Have you tried going into a cafe on your own, perhaps with a book to read to keep you company? That might be another way to fill out 2-10? You could start with just a coffee, and then move onto a bit of cake (at this point I am wanting to join you!!) next time and build that up?

      2. I know, I need to really work on those in between steps, otherwise I never get past step 2, and then suddenly there’s something huge like a wedding that I have to go to. But…I did stay round a friend’s for a Chinese takeaway on Saturday night, another box ticked. I don’t know why I find evening activities so much harder.
        I find drunk people can make me anxious too, and like you, having kids around can make for a good distraction. But you went to a 40th – that’s a brilliant achievement! I think your Meet Up group sounds a great idea, and strangely perhaps I find strangers less scary than people I know, I guess I don’t mind so much what strangers think of me?!
        The sitting with anxiety is proving hard because my mindfulness book says I need to notice but not try to change it. I think if I could breathe through it, perhaps that would work better. Who wouldn’t want to change it, that I cant get my head round.
        I hate sitting in cafes on my own, I can do it but I just get self conscious. You can definitely come for the cake!

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