Mar 19

“How to Be Yourself”: Social Anxiety

Just be yourself!” You’ve likely heard this advice and thought “But how?” Ellen Hendriksen’s How to Be Yourself is for the millions of Americans who consider themselves quiet, shy, introverted, or socially anxious. Through clear, engaging storytelling, she takes readers on an inspiring journey: from how social anxiety gets wired into our brains to how you can learn to live a life without fear. This book is also a groundbreaking roadmap to finally being your true, authentic self. Susan Cain, author of Quiet

Clinical psychologist Ellen Hendriksen has experienced and dealt with social anxiety herself. In addition to devoting her clinical career to this condition, another way she wants to help others lessen its effects is through her new book How to Be Yourself: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety.

What is this condition all about? “Social anxiety is self-consciousness on steroids, it highjacks our ability to think, speak and respond.”

Up to 12% of the population have reportedly dealt with this form of anxiety, which, incidentally, is not the same as introversion, though there can be overlap. The main differences between the two are outlined in an article by Hendriksen. Click on the link for details.

  1. Introversion is born. Social anxiety is made.
  2. In social anxiety, there’s a fear of being revealed.
  3. Perfectionism lays fertile ground for social anxiety.
  4. Introversion is your way. Social anxiety gets in your way.

Another list of four is Hendriksen’s types of social anxiety (see her website Resources):

  1. Physical appearance self-consciousness
  2. Physical symptoms (fear of them showing)
  3. Diminished social skills (fear of their obviousness)
  4. Worry one’s personality is “fundamentally deficient”

As for how to lessen the impact of “self-consciousness on steroids,” i.e., social anxiety, A. Pawlowski, Today, repackages the author’s advice in the form of six steps, the details of which are excerpted and/or paraphrased below:

  1. CHALLENGE YOUR INNER CRITIC: What are you afraid of? How bad would that really be? What are the odds this will happen? How will I cope?
  2. LET GO OF SAFETY BEHAVIORS: “To lessen anxiety in social situations, people often stare at their phones, wear sunglasses to avoid making eye contact, hide in plain sight, say very little or leave the room.” These just make social situations worse.
  4. YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE SMOOTHEST PERSON IN THE ROOM: Just be your human self.
  5. ACCEPT THE SHENANIGANS OF YOUR ANXIOUS BODY: “Embrace your racing heart and sweaty palms without judgment, Hendriksen said. A bit of self-compassion will help put some space between you and the anxious thoughts.”
  6. YOU’LL FEEL LESS ANXIOUS BY LIVING YOUR LIFE: “Patients often tell Hendriksen they want to be less anxious first so they can finally go out and do things they’ve been avoiding like traveling, seeing friends or dating. But that’s actually backwards. Doing those very things now builds confidence, leading to less anxiety down the road, she said.”

Not ready to buy the book? Another of the resources offered via Hendriksen’s website is a free 7-day course to get you started toward decreased social anxiety.