So, I had a pretty self-destructive introduction to exposure therapy.
I suffer from social anxiety and BPD, which affects my decision-making in some – erm – interesting ways. Like, for example, when I decided that the only way to cure my mentally-and-physically-debilitating social anxiety was to move to the other side of the world and go backpacking in party hostels.
It wasn’t the most informed plan of action considering at this point in my life I could barely leave my house without having a panic attack. And yes, it was overwhelming AF and the mental breakdowns were a-plenty – but – and this is a big but – I realised that the more I forced myself to socialise, the more used to it I became.
Don’t get me wrong, I was by no means cured. But with every day that passed, almost unnoticeably, SA’s screaming, judgemental voice in my head grew quieter and quieter.
And then I came home, the pandemic hit and I was forced into total isolation, AKA any SA sufferer’s wet dream. The lack of social obligations was liberating for a while but I began to notice – like many SA sufferer’s have – that isolation was actually making my anxiety worse.
I learnt that as much as I dreaded and despised socialising, it was absolutely essential for my SA management and recovery. So, after seeking professional help, I decided to try exposure therapy – but this time, I did it the responsible way!
Self-awareness, goal-setting and gradually pushing limits is a great way to make consistent progress with social anxiety. Even if I fail at a challenge – which I still do, a lot – having that goal to work towards is essential for my personal growth.
Start with the thing that feels easiest for you and try to do it on a daily/weekly basis, adding in a new challenge when you feel ready. Don’t try to rush through the challenges or jump in at the deep-end – go at your own pace and practise plenty of self-care in-between.
If these social anxiety challenges feel too much for you, Anxious Lass has a great list of social anxiety exposure challenges that may work better – definitely go and check out her list!
1 – Wish a cashier a good day or ask them how their day is going
2 – Practise talking louder than you normally would
3 – Reconnect with an old friend – maybe send them a friendly message or comment something nice on one of their social media posts
4 – Smile at a stranger
5 – Make a telephone takeaway order instead of an online one
6 – Say yes to a social event
7 – Ask someone if they want to hang out on the weekend
8 – Wear something you usually wouldn’t dare to wear – we often try not to draw attention to ourselves by dressing down. Try rocking an outfit, hairstyle or makeup look that may be a little adventurous for you
9 – Complete this free anxiety workbook
10 – Ask someone an open-ended question
11 – Practise maintaining eye-contact during a conversation
12 – Starting smiling at – and then saying hello to – a familiar face
13 – Talk to someone about your social anxiety – we often hold our social anxiety very close to our chests, scared to expose it to the world. Try talking to someone you trust about it – you’ll realise that people are a lot more understanding and compassionate than you might think!
14 – Practise a new grounding technique for stressful social situations
15 – Gradually increase the amount of eye-contact you make during conversation
16 – Speak your mind about something you’re passionate about
17 – Exercise in public – going to the gym or venturing out for a jog can be nerve-wracking even for people who don’t suffer from social anxiety. I find practising mindfulness really helps me to get through public exercise – I am a lot less conscious of what other people are doing and a lot more focused on my body sensations. Give it a try!
18 – Strike up a conversation with somebody new
These social anxiety challenges are not intended to replace professional therapy.