For those who suffer from social anxiety, self-help books can often feel like clinical prescriptions. Yet, Tobias J. Atkins new book, How I Overcame Social Anxiety (And You Can Too): An Introverts Guide To Recovering From Social Anxiety, Self-Doubt, and Low Self-Esteem is as useful as it is readable.
Atkins is not a clinical psychologist, counselor, or therapist; he is a professionally diagnosed social anxiety sufferer whose turning point came several years into his own treatment. He writes, “After spending well upwards of $35,000 on treatments …. The catalyst for change came after meeting a man who had recovered from social anxiety himself.”
This fortuitous meeting, and the recovery that ensued, motivated Atkins to write his book, in which he shares the very day-to day practices that not just helped him find more confidence, but also more happiness. The book is divided into four sections: Thoughts & Beliefs, Actions & Exposure, Healthy Diet, and Lifestyle Choices.
Atkins begins by telling us that his book is not a cure-all, and that to overcome social anxiety, we will have make a daily practice and continue working on it. However, the first hurdle we have to overcome is the belief that social anxiety and shyness are a life sentence. On the contrary, Atkins writes, “Genetics play a large role in social anxiety but it has been scientifically proven that genetic expression can be changed by thoughts, environment, emotions, and beliefs.”
Overcoming social anxiety starts with changing how we think about anxiety. Accepting where we are is important for Atkins, but he also underscores the idea that our self-consciousness in any situation will eventually subside. But Atkins emphasizes that we should be careful about “shoulding ourselves” as this only exacerbate feeling of shame, self-rejection, and self-hate, which often linger longer than the anxiety itself.
What we can do is focus less on the problem of anxiety and more on the solution. Some key steps Atkins offers are to let go of disempowering stories about ourselves, especially those that keep us in the “victim mentality”, and no longer give others the power to make us feel worthless, inferior, nervous, or embarrassed. Some examples Atkins points to of ways we can give our power over are through people pleasing, accepting other people’s opinions as facts, and approval seeking behaviors. A helpful exercise Atkins shares to mitigate this problem is stopping and asking ourselves if we are honest. For most of us, the answer will be yes, but if we review the times we may have said yes when we really meant no or agreed to something we didn’t really want to do, we will often recognize a contradiction.
But we may also harbor negative beliefs rooted in perfectionism, lack of self-love, or looking for self-worth outside of ourselves. When we do these things, Atkins tells us, we collect a host of damaging thoughts, such as believing that we are inferior to almost everyone, believing that others have to like us, and believing that in order to be liked we must be perfect and do everything others ask of us. Again, Atkins shares a helpful exercise: first list all of your negative thoughts, ask yourself if they are proven facts, and then create more realistic, helpful thoughts.
On improving self-image, Atkins suggests consistent visualization, along with remembering our good points, avoiding social comparisons, choosing our company more wisely, and giving thanks. He writes, “When we visualize, we’re giving our brains a blueprint of the person we want to become.”
Developing the right mindset, Atkins tells us, is the prerequisite to taking the action necessary to truly overcome social anxiety. To begin the process of taking action, however, we must first have a strong reason why we want to gain confidence and feel freed from our anxiety. From this point, confidence develops with regular practice outside of our comfort zone. But operating out of our comfort zone also means recognizing there will be pain, which goes against instinct for most people. Atkins writes, “Our whole lives we try to run from pain. It’s one of our fundamental survival principles.” To combat this tendency, Atkins shares several techniques, such as acknowledging our rationalizations, holding ourselves accountable, and stopping our excuses. To cement our motivation, Atkins suggests asking ourselves what our life would be like in twenty years if we didn’t change.
On the topic of lifestyle choices, Atkins offers both the staple advice — eating healthy, cutting out stress, exercising regularly, meditating — as well as the insightful — stop reading comments on blog posts (they often harbor negative threads, complainers, and trolls), working fewer hours, and getting thirty minutes of sunlight every day.
With practical steps and sound advice, How I Overcame Social Anxiety doesn’t promise any glamorous results. What is does offer is recognizable relief for anyone willing to work hard enough to overcome social anxiety.
How I Overcame Social Anxiety (And You Can Too): An Introverts Guide To Recovering From Social Anxiety, Self-Doubt, and Low Self-Esteem
Lifestyle Entrepreneurs Press, April 2016
Paperback, 162 Pages