Recovering from Social Phobia - Free Self-Help
Instalment Two: Disagreements, Worry, Dating, Feeling More Positive, Relaxation and Job Interview Tips

By Diana Holbourn

Article Summary


This article describes several techniques for dealing with disagreements and criticism confidently. It also gives advice on dating for someone with social phobia, relaxation techniques, other ways of calming anxiety and distress, ways of increasing confidence, and advice about job interviews.

Skip past the following quotes if you'd like to get straight down to reading the article contents and self-help article.

Things People Have Said About Problems Common to Social Phobia Like Worrying and Fear of Standing Out From the Crowd

The only thing you will ever accomplish by worrying is to elevate your stress levels.
--Catherine Pulsifer

Let our advance worrying become advance thinking and planning.
--Winston Churchill

Nature made us individuals, as she did the flowers and the pebbles; but we are afraid to be peculiar, and so our society resembles a bag of marbles, or a string of mold candles. Why should we all dress after the same fashion? The frost never paints my windows twice alike.
--Lydia Maria Child

Do not follow where the path may lead. Go, instead, where there is no path and leave a trail.
--Ralph Waldo Emerson

The only man I know who behaves sensibly is my tailor; he takes my measurements anew each time he sees me. The rest go on with their old measurements and expect me to fit them.
--George Bernard Shaw

Perhaps the most important thing we can undertake toward the reduction of fear is to make it easier for people to accept themselves, to like themselves.
--Bonaro W. Overstreet

I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence.
--Frederick Douglass

If I despised myself, it would be no compensation if everyone saluted me, and if I respect myself, it does not trouble me if others hold me lightly.
--Max Nordau

The Main Contents

Background Information About This Article

The Self-Help Information in the Article

  1. One Thing Some People Find Helpful in Their Recovery
  2. The Disastrous Date

One Thing Some People Find Helpful in Their Recovery


Louise thinks:

It's not a necessary thing to do by any means; but this self-help book says one thing we might find helpful is to think about a few of the things that happened to us recently that caused us anxiety, like social events, and try to remember everything we can about how we were feeling and thinking before they happened, during and afterwards, so we can think about whether the thoughts we were having were accurate, or whether in hind-sight, we can realise we blew things out of proportion, or were worrying about things that weren't really likely to happen at all. We can write our memories down, and go through what we've written bit by bit, examining all the distressing thoughts and worries we had, to decide whether they were really true, or to consider whether it would be useful to change the way we think after realising we were worrying when we didn't need to, or our fears were really exaggerated, or we thought we couldn't handle things that we will be able to handle in the future easily if we can get more confident and think of ways to handle them. It says we can think about things from the self-help book that could help us in the future, like advice on changing our thinking patterns.

OK, I think I will. I know there's some advice in the magazine articles as well as in the self-help book that could be useful.

Here's one social occasion I could think through, my recent disastrous dating experience:

The Disastrous Date

Yes, risk taking is inherently failure-prone. Otherwise, it would be called sure-thing-taking.
--Tim McMahon

A "Normal" person is the sort of person that might be designed by a committee. You know, "Each person puts in a pretty color and it comes out gray".
--Alan Sherman

My theory is that the hardest work anyone does in life is to appear normal.
--From the movie Ed TV

When in doubt, make a fool of yourself. There is a microscopically thin line between being brilliantly creative and acting like the most gigantic idiot on earth. So what the hell, leap.
--Cynthia Heimel (Lower Manhattan Survival Tactics)

If fifty million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.
--Anatole France

The Story Itself

Ugh! Horrible story!

Skip past the story if you'd prefer; it isn't necessary for understanding the self-help information.

That was that embarrassing time a few weeks ago when Ian at work invited me out on a date. I was nervous, but I wanted to get out of the house and quite liked the idea of going out with him. So I agreed. We went to the cinema. I didn't think I'd like the film particularly, but I worried that if I said so, he might disapprove, and so he might not go out with me after all.

He came to my house to drive me there, but I was nervous about not being able to think of what to say, or that I'd trip over something and make a fool of myself, or that people wouldn't like what I was wearing and would think I was unattractive. I'd been worrying for ages about that. I was worried that once he found out what boring company I really am and how clumsy and unsophisticated I can be, he wouldn't want to know me any more. And I thought that maybe the reason he'd asked me out in the first place was just because he felt sorry for me because he thinks I'm timid and haven't got any friends.

I know that being anxious makes me worse, and I was sure I'd get anxious, so I was sure I'd make a bad impression. I knew I didn't have to be anywhere near as anxious as I was, and that just made me feel inadequate, because I thought there must be something wrong with me, especially as everyone else seems to manage allright. I feel that way every time Dad criticizes me for not having left home or got a boyfriend or a better job yet as well.

I turned out to be right about not having anything to say, and when we got to the cinema, I thought I'd made a mess of the journey by not having anything to say, and he must think I was really boring.

I couldn't concentrate on the film, because I was worrying all the time about whether people thought I was too fat or ugly, or they didn't like my clothes, or my make-up had got messed up, or I was doing something wrong. I know I was feeling all tense, and I think that's the reason I had aches and pains in several places.

I made myself so anxious that when we went to a bar afterwards for a drink, I probably drank more than I should have. I wanted the alcohol to relax me and hoped it would make me more fun to be with. But I think because I was feeling upset to start with, it made me feel worse, and then I started crying. I'm so embarrassed about it now. It wouldn't have happened if I hadn't had anything to drink. Ian didn't say anything bad; He just drove me home. But he can't have been impressed, and he hasn't asked me out since.

Since then, I've been going over and over in my mind how stupid I must have looked and what a mess I made of things. It's so humiliating.

I must have made such a bad impression that I don't think I'd go out with him again even if he asked me. I'm sure it would make me even more anxious.

And I hope no one asks me to another big social occasion. I think I'd have to try to find a reason not to go, because I'm sure it would be the same as last time, and I might make an even bigger fool of myself. It'll be a pity though, because I do wish I could be more confident around people.

Point 1: "I didn't think I'd like the film particularly, but I worried that if I said so, he might disapprove, and so he might not go out with me after all."

Dealing with Disagreements and Confrontation


Thinking about it, it might be that he'd have liked me for standing up for myself. I was thinking that no one would want to go out with me if I didn't go along with what they wanted. It might be that I think of myself as less talented and nice to be with than I really am.

If I think of all the good qualities I do have, and write a list of them, maybe I can stop myself thinking things like that.

Anyway, would I really want to spend much time with someone I thought I had to agree with all the time? If they didn't like me disagreeing with them, they'd only drop me at the point in the relationship when I did, so it would be far better to disagree with them before we started and not go through the hassle of a relationship break-up if they were like that.

But I have a problem with standing up for myself in all kinds of situations, all the time. Like the other day, when the people I work with invited me to that party, and I said I didn't want to go, but they said I was boring and said it would be good, so I agreed even though I didn't want to go, but then I phoned them up on the day saying I had a stomach bug so I couldn't go. I only said that because I didn't have the courage to stand up to them. I hate doing things like that.

And then there was the time a couple of days ago when Dad threw some of my old books away, and when I asked him why, he said he was sure I wouldn't need them anymore and the place was too full of junk. But I was fond of them. But I wasn't sure how to stand up for myself and didn't have the confidence. I wish I could learn to stand up for myself more and be happy doing it.

One of these magazine articles talks about how to be assertive, expressing our wishes without antagonising the other person. It says that if we don't express our wishes, people can get confused about what we really want, and that can cause them to be annoyed, and that can make us feel more anxious, so it's best to stand up for ourselves really.

It gives us an example of the way to speak to someone when they've done something we thought was inconsiderate. It says that if someone borrows our books without asking, for example, then it wouldn't do us any good to angrily say something like, "You took my books again. You're always doing it. You have no consideration for me or my privacy. Don't do it again". It says that if we said that, we'd be making accusations against them which might be a bit extreme, like saying they have no consideration when they might have some sometimes, and giving them an order when people don't like orders. So they'd probably just get angry with us and think about what to say to retaliate against us, rather than thinking about what we actually said.

But if we use a different tone, they might think about what we said more. If we say, for example, "When you take my books without asking, I can't find what I need for my work. Because of that, I feel really annoyed. I'd like you to ask me if you can borrow my books", it's not actually accusing them of anything. It's explaining why it inconveniences us when they take our books, telling them how it makes us feel without accusing them of causing our feelings, and asking them to do something else instead in the future; or we could make a suggestion as to what they could do, which might make them think ahead, instead of focusing their thoughts on how to defend themselves.

It says that if we can try to put all those ways of speaking in our sentences when we tell someone we don't like what they're doing, then the conversation will probably stay much calmer. It says that if we said that to someone instead of using a tone of accusation against them, the other person would probably be more in the mood to explain why they'd done it, how they think of the situation, and what they're willing to do in the future to change.

The magazine article suggests we imagine people doing things we're not pleased about, and imagine using that kind of sentence to tell them what we think. Then we'll be rehearsing it, so we'll be practiced when we come to do it for real. It says it can be good to practice with a friend or understanding family member if possible, with them pretending they've done something we don't like.

It says there are other ways we can be assertive. It says one technique is called fogging, where we can avoid arguing with people who tell us things we disagree with or want to ignore.

So, for instance, if we want to buy some cakes from a shop, and someone tells us we shouldn't buy them because they're fattening and we ought to be preserving our figure, instead of arguing with them, we can say something like, "I understand how you might feel that way, but I like them".
If they carry on telling us we shouldn't be buying the cakes, or they go into detail about what's so bad about them, we can use other phrases in sentences where we repeat simply that we like them, like, "I'm sure you believe that's true, but I like them", or "I can respect your opinion, but I like them".

Or we could use phrases that could make it appear that we might agree with them when we don't really, like, "That may be true", or "I understand that". Phrases like that allow us to show some understanding of the other person's view while not having to accept it or get anxious or defensive.

Point 2: "He came to my house to drive me there, but I was nervous about not being able to think of what to say, or that I'd trip over something and make a fool of myself, or that people wouldn't like what I was wearing and would think I was unattractive. I'd been worrying for ages about that."

Learning to Reduce Worrying

I know I didn't really look that bad. And if he'd dumped me for tripping over something, well really, he wouldn't have been worth having. I let myself worry far too much about these things. I know I worry and worry about lots of things every day I don't need to worry about.


One of the magazine articles says we can stop ourselves worrying a lot of the time if we set aside a specific half an hour a day that we call a worry zone, that we have at the same time and in the same place where we can be fairly sure we won't be interrupted. And then whenever we have worrying thoughts outside that, we should stop ourselves, write any we think are a problem down in a notebook, and save them to be worried about in our worry zone.

So if I'd thought about all the worries I had about the date the day before and made notes of them, I could have worried about them for a set half an hour, and then told myself that was enough for the day.

It says we can identify worrying thoughts by their negative content or the negative feelings we get when we have them.

It says that after we've made a written note of each worry when we've noticed ourselves having it, we can move on to thinking of something nicer and doing something that takes our minds off things, satisfied that we'll be able to worry about the negative thoughts in our worry zone.

Then if a thought comes back to our minds outside the worry zone, we should put it out of our minds, telling ourselves we're postponing thinking about it till our worry zone, and then move on to thinking about something else, like the task we're currently doing.

It says that in our worry zone, we should think carefully about each thought, and try to work out what it is we really fear, trying to work out how likely it really is to happen.

It says that with problems we can't do anything about, we should just dismiss them from our minds, since worrying about things we can't do anything about can't possibly do us any good and there isn't any point. But it says we should work out the problems we can do something about, and decide what we can do, what we'd like to do, and what we will do.

It says that if we've written worrying thoughts down but they still keep coming to mind, or if we're somewhere where we can't write them down, there are strategies we can use to stop them.
One's called thought stopping. It just means that whenever we notice ourselves having a horrible thought that probably won't really do us any good, we say firmly to ourselves, "Stop!" And if the thought might be worth thinking again, we can make a mental note that we'll think about it in our next worry zone.

Or we can write "Stop!" in huge red letters on a little card that we keep with us and take out and look at if we notice ourselves having a horrible thought that'll just make us miserable if we let it carry on.
Or some people put an elastic band on their wrist and twang it hard every time they notice they're having a negative thought, to put themselves off thinking it.
Or we could try to count five things we could do to change our lives for the better in the future.

It says that sometimes it can be helpful to practice thought stopping, by sitting down somewhere comfortable, deliberately letting a negative thought come into our minds, and then immediately saying "Stop!" It says if it doesn't go away immediately, we should say it again, perhaps out loud. It says that when we're practiced at doing it, it'll be easier to remember to do when negative thoughts come to mind normally. And it says the more we stop our thoughts like that, the less and less they'll come back.

It says we can try to stop our fear thoughts by doing or thinking about something else, or fantasizing about one of our favourite things, or replaying it in our minds, like if we can remember a time when someone appreciated something we did.

Point 3: "I was worried that once he found out what boring company I really am and how clumsy and unsophisticated I can be, he wouldn't want to know me any more."

A Few Reassuring Thoughts

I didn't need to worry about those things. I mean, Ian knows me quite a bit from work, and he must know I get anxious and that sometimes makes me clumsy. And it didn't put him off asking me out. I think I worried I might embarrass him and that would put him off me, since it was a special occasion. But I could have challenged my worries with the thought that there wouldn't be much opportunity to do things wrong when most of the time, we'd just be sitting watching something.

Now I come to think of these things, I feel a bit stupid for letting my worries get me into such a state when there's no need. But I think that since I've been thinking I'm such a failure anyway, I naturally pay more attention to thoughts that fit in with that view of myself. When I start to get more confident and can do more things, my view of myself will probably change.

The Possible Drawbacks of Social Skills

I think one reason why I think I'm unsophisticated is because I view myself as not having any social skills. Some teachers at school used to tell me that. But thinking about it, I was too anxious a lot of the time to have the confidence to behave naturally with people. So even if I had social skills, they wouldn't know. So they didn't really have the right to make judgments like that. They were at fault for not noticing my anxiety.

But I would feel more confident if I knew more about social skills. There's a bit about them in this self-help book.

But it's interesting that it says that having social skills won't necessarily be an advantage to us, since learning lots of rules about doing things in the proper way can stop us being natural and spontaneous, because there are really lots of ways to do a lot of things, and people without social skills or who find them difficult can be successful and get on with people, while having them won't necessarily stop us from being criticized or make people love us more. It says we shouldn't worry too much about picking up social skills, because we'll probably just learn them naturally as we get more confident anyway.

Advice About Dating

Affectionate couple

But one of the magazine articles has a few general rules about dating.

It says that it's best not to say too much about our social phobia or other conditions at first, since the person we're with might wonder how much support we're expecting them to give us and feel a bit daunted and be put off.

And it says it's best not to say anything bad about previous boyfriends or girlfriends, because the person we're with will probably start worrying about what we might say about them behind their back to someone else, or wonder how attractive we really are if we're that negative. It says that the kinder we are about other people, the more we'll reassure them, although exaggerating the good qualities of former partners might put them off because they might think there's no way they can live up to them.

And it says it's best not to try to impress them by exaggerating our achievements, or lying about our tastes and interests, because they'll only drop us when they find out we deceived them, wondering what else we might have lied about; or if they don't find out, they'll think we're interested in doing things we aren't really, and so we might feel we have to do them when we don't really want to. It says it'll be more impressive if we can come across as honest from the start.

Another one of the magazine articles says that there are things wrong with conventional dating anyway, and we ought to do things differently from the way we're taught is the way to date, to take the pressure off ourselves and make it less likely that we'll end up hurt. It's interesting that some of the things it says are totally different from the usual way of thinking.

Maybe I got so anxious because I was going about things the wrong way with Ian. I'll think about what this says:


It says that one thing people can do that can end up with them getting hurt is getting emotionally or physically intimate with each other without making a long-term commitment to each other. It says that getting physically or emotionally close just for fun or for the pleasure of the here-and-now can mean that when the relationship breaks up, either because the couple didn't know each other well enough for it to be ever likely to last because they weren't compatible enough and they didn't find that out before getting intimate with each other, or because one partner never intended it to last anyway because they feel they're not ready for "serious commitment", and the other one didn't realise, it can deeply hurt one or both partners. So it says it's best to do other things on dates instead.

It says that too much pressure is put on people when they're dating because they feel they must perform at their best, because it's all about romantic attraction. It says that people just don't feel that pressure when they see the person as a friend. It says that if we do see the person as a friend rather than as a romantic partner, we'll feel free to be ourselves and do activities together, without spending three hours beforehand making sure and worrying over whether we look perfect.

Well, I'd appreciate not having that kind of pressure, especially since it makes me so anxious.

It says that if a romantic attraction develops after a friendship, people will move into it in a more relaxed way, and it's likely to be more healthy, because the people involved will be more sure they're compatible. So it says it'll be better if we try to build friendships first, finding out about each other's interests and going to places where we can develop shared interests and hobbies, rather than going on dates such as going to see films, where we won't be finding out about each other, and there'll be pressure on us to get romantic before we really know if we're suitable for each other, because we'll be thought of by everyone as a romantic couple. It says that relationships that aren't built on shared interests will fall apart when the romantic feelings fade away, so it's better to go out to places where we can develop our similarities to each other than it is to go to places where we won't find out that much about each other and will be feeling under pressure to be on our best behaviour, like to films or fancy restaurants, where we either won't have much of a chance to talk to each other, or we won't be behaving as we normally would.

It says that another good reason for focusing on building a friendship together and finding out as much as we can about the likes and dislikes of each other and developing shared hobbies and interests together, instead of focusing on how physically attracted we are to each other and getting physically intimate with each other, is that people can mistake physical intimacy for love, because it feels good. So after that, if we're trying to work out how much the relationship's really got going for it and whether it's likely to last, it can be very difficult to weigh up the pros and cons of it, because we'll be so focused on how much we have enjoyed the physical aspects. So we might not pay enough attention to danger signs, like being incompatible or wanting different things from the relationship, until we've made a commitment to each other, thinking we were well-suited to each other because we were physically right for each other. So that can mean problems later on, especially if it means the distress of a divorce, if we realise we have big differences that we don't know how we can resolve, or we're making each other miserable because our personalities aren't that compatible. It says that if we can go to places where there will be quite a lot of opportunities for us to talk and find out about each other while we're getting to know each other, and if we focus on getting to know each other's personalities rather than getting physical, we can avoid some possible difficulties later.

It says that when people start off by getting physical on dates rather than by building up friendships, it can be as if a person's main value is seen in terms of how good they look and how well they can perform as a date, rather than what they're like as a friend. It says that even before anything physical is done, that can be the underlying attitude where dates are all about romance.

In love

It says another problem can be that people dating can be so wrapped up in each other that they isolate themselves from other people. So other friendships can break down because they're not being kept alive, and the couple can become less close to their families. And one thing that can make that bad is that when the couple wants to make decisions, they'll just turn to each other, instead of asking the opinions of a variety of people, as they're more likely to do if they're seeing more people they're fairly close to. So since they're not getting such a variety of opinion, they can make worse decisions, because they don't hear so many different perspectives on things, so there's more likely to be things they forget to consider. It says this could be serious when they're talking about marriage or children or moving in together, or making an equally big decision.

It says that if they split up after having isolated themselves from others, the friendships they had before might take a while to build up again, because the friends have got used to them not being around, and don't feel they know them as well as they did and have got involved in other things.

It says that another problem can be that dating can distract us from developing skills and creating opportunities that can help us in the future, so we damage our chances of getting on in life, furthering our education, making new contacts that can help us find jobs or get involved in new hobbies, and developing the skills further that we already have. It says people can spend so much time and energy thinking and talking about their relationship and being wrapped up in each other that they can become less interested in things that could really further their interesting experiences and life chances. And it says that when people have experienced a bit of physical intimacy, they'll tend to have a craving for more, so they'll keep being attracted to these kinds of relationships or focusing their energies on trying to get them instead of using their time to further their talents. It says that people can practice being a good boyfriend or girlfriend during dating, but missing out on things outside the relationship might mean they become a less accomplished husband or wife.

It says that dating is an artificial environment where people are often on their best behaviour, trying to put forward the charming image they want the other person to see, which might be different from who they really are, so dating can be misleading; it isn't a good way of finding out what another person's really like, which we'll need to do if we want to take the relationship further with much chance of long-term success. It says that dating can be fun, but it's like an escape from real life, which is good if you're in a long-term relationship and need to get away from stressful circumstances for a while, but it's not a good way to get to know someone in the first place. It says that people who are trying to get to know someone at first should make sure they see their boyfriend or girlfriend's negative as well as positive qualities, by observing them interacting with their friends and family, and seeing them working on things. They need to find out how the other person behaves when things aren't going their way, and how they behave when someone provokes them, and when they're arguing. It says we need to know answers to that kind of thing, because the way they behave with others will be the way they end up behaving with us, so we need to spend quite a lot of time with girlfriends or boyfriends in everyday settings.

Well, that's interesting. Perhaps I shouldn't get so worked up about making the right impression on dates, or going on them at all. Maybe I should stop thinking it would be good to get a boyfriend, unless it's someone I get to be good friends with first.

Point 4: "And I thought that maybe the reason he'd asked me out in the first place was just because he felt sorry for me because he thinks I'm timid and haven't got any friends."

Accepting Compliments

The self-help book says that people with social anxiety often don't believe that other people could really just like them, so they often think the worst if someone compliments them or invites them out or something. But other people might see in us things we don't recognise in ourselves.

It says a bit more about compliments, saying that if we find them difficult to accept, either because they make us feel like the centre of attention, and being the centre of attention has usually meant bad things before, or because we're uncertain about the way people are supposed to respond to them, we can get more confident about responding to them if we start complimenting other people, provided we genuinely mean what we're saying, and we can learn from what they say to us in response what we could say.

It says socially anxious people are good at dismissing compliments so as not to appear conceited which people might disapprove of, or to shift the attention away from themselves, but it can help if we try accepting them instead, having a think each time about how true they are.

Point 5: "I know that being anxious makes me worse, and I was sure I'd get anxious, so I was sure I'd make a bad impression. I knew I didn't have to be anywhere near as anxious as I was, and that just made me feel inadequate, because I thought there must be something wrong with me, especially as everyone else seems to manage allright."

Reassurance About How There's No Need to Worry About Being the Only One with Social Anxiety


Thinking about it, worrying about being anxious just makes me more anxious. So if I can stop doing that, I'll at least feel a bit better.

The self-help book says that actually, lots of people suffer from social phobia, and lots more suffer from phobias like it, like a fear of speaking on the phone, a fear of public speaking, a fear of blushing, and things like that.

So I'm not abnormal. I'm definitely not the only one struggling with this. And thinking about it, lots of people have other phobias as well where they get far more anxious than they need to about things, like phobias of birds, or of going out, or being alone, and that kind of thing. So I haven't got anything worse than lots and lots of other people. So I don't really need to feel bad about getting so anxious.

How Paranoid Beliefs Might Have Served a Good Purpose Once But Can Now Be a Hindrance to Getting On In Life


The self-help book says that our thinking styles and self-consciousness can make us feel much worse, if we're always worrying about doing things wrong or being criticized, so it can help our recovery if we work on changing those. It says that for example, if we assume that people we meet on certain occasions are always going to be hostile and critical, we'll always behave differently than we will if we have an open mind. We might always be wary of them, and take every little sign that they might not like us, like if they don't smile, as proof that they're rejecting us; and that'll make us feel worse, when it might really mean something totally different, like that they're in a bad mood because of what someone said to them before they went out the door of their house.

It says that beliefs like that might have been good for us at one point. The author of the book says she knew of someone who'd often been punished severely when he was a child and so came to believe he was always doing things wrong and if he kept out of the way, he'd keep out of trouble. And that belief protected him for a while, because keeping out of the way did keep him away from his abusers, and so he didn't get so badly abused as he would have done if he hadn't kept out of the way. But there came a time after he'd grown up when the belief was no longer helpful, and he needed help to change his thinking.

So maybe with me, I have a belief deep down that people are always out to judge and criticize me, because of what happened before with the bullying. And that belief might have been helpful once, because it would have meant I was on the lookout for little signs I might be bullied again so I could be quicker to get out of the way and avoid it; but I've still got the belief because it's become automatic. But it isn't helpful anymore, so I need to change it.

I think the feeling that I'm unacceptable came from being teased as well. But I think I need to really think about all these beliefs now, to see whether they're useful or true now, or whether they're just getting in my way. Is anyone totally unacceptable? I don't suppose so. I think thoughts like that are just based on memories of things that happened at one time in my life, rather than being facts that are true for all time.

Learning to Change Our Negative Beliefs About Ourselves

Feeling Downtrodden

Maybe it would be good if when I find myself feeling something about someone that I know is probably unjustified when I think about it, like that they're judging me, I ask myself what this means I believe about people like them, for example, whether it means I believe people are always going to be hostile or think they're better than me. Or it might mean I believe something about myself, like that I'm always doing things wrong, or that I'm hopeless. If I can work out what the belief is that makes me think the things I think, I'll ask myself if the belief is still true or helpful.

The self-help book says that lots of people will have beliefs like ours, so we certainly won't be the only ones who need to work on them to make ourselves feel better or to be able to do what we want without worrying about it.

It says that if we work out what the feelings mean we believe and it makes us feel worse, we can reassure ourselves that the feelings won't last, because once we've examined each belief, we'll be able to dismiss it if we decide it isn't true after all, which we probably will, because it might well be exaggerated, like "I'm not the sort of person people can like"; or it might be just wrong. It might be a belief that we thought protected us once, but doesn't now.

The book says that if working out a belief we have makes us feel much worse, it could actually be a good sign, because it'll mean that it's one of our most damaging beliefs, and so once we've challenged it and realised it's wrong so it can hopefully disappear, it won't upset us any more in the future.

The book says that questions we could ask ourselves that might help us challenge each belief about ourselves could include:

  • Would I judge someone else who was like me harshly for doing the things I do or being like me?
  • What would I say to someone else who had a belief about themselves like this one?
  • Am I being fair to myself?
  • Have I decided my whole character's bad just because of something I did wrong at one event, or something that wasn't even all my fault and that I can change?
  • Am I forgetting that everyone makes mistakes, gets things wrong, and feels awkward at social occasions at times?
  • Am I forgetting that no one can be perfect?
  • Am I ignoring my strengths and thinking entirely about my weaknesses?
  • Am I ignoring the successes and friendships I have, while focusing on failures and embarrassments?
  • Am I drawing conclusions based on my childhood or teenage experiences, that might not be relevant now?
  • Am I judging myself as I was judged once by others? If so, what makes me think the person or people who judged me then were right? What did they know?! Who is the best authority on me? Other people or me? Who really knows the truth about me?

If I can write down the beliefs I notice I have when I become aware I'm thinking them, it'll be easier to work on them like that.

It says that sometimes, people's beliefs can change dramatically when they realise they're outdated and wrong. It gives an example, saying there was someone who was bullied at school and developed the belief that everyone would want to pick on him; but when he really thought about it when he was an adult, he realised that no one had picked on him for years.

It says he had to learn to change his behaviour as well as his beliefs, since his beliefs had made him do things that were interfering with his enjoyment of life, and they had become such habits that he did them without really thinking, like not asking questions or expressing his opinions, and always sitting in the back where he hoped no one would see him. So along with changing his beliefs, he focused on changing the behaviour he'd developed because of his beliefs. So he started wearing more colourful clothes so he'd stand out more.

The self-help book says we ought to consciously work on changing our behaviour when we realise our beliefs are faulty, or we'll still have difficulties. It says that the person who started wearing more colourful clothes sometimes still felt fearful when he did it, because it took some time to entirely shake the feeling that it was risky, even though he knew in his mind that it probably wasn't really.

Maybe working up gradually to doing that kind of thing would be better for me.

The self-help book says it can be difficult to entirely change beliefs we've held for a long time, even if we know deep down they're not really true. But it says there are some things that can help us. It says that one of them is looking for new information that contradicts our beliefs. It says we should make a conscious effort to look for information that does that, because people tend to naturally pick up information that fits with their beliefs but not take in information that contradicts them. So, for example, we might notice and remember every time someone looks at us in what just might be a questioning or threatening way, and every time they turn away from us to talk to someone else, but we might quickly forget all the times they smiled at us and said friendly things. So we can make a conscious effort to remember those.


The self-help book says that one thing we can do to stop ourselves picking up only on negative things is if we write down a belief we have, give it a number from 1 to 100 according to how much we believe it, and then think of a social event we're going to soon, and decide to look out for all the things we can that contradict our belief while we're there. We can write down what we predict might happen at the event, like that no one will talk to us and they'll seem critical. The things that contradict it might include people smiling at us, complimenting us, saying something friendly to us, coming over to talk to us, seeming to feel at ease with us, and other things. We can write down everything we can think of like that that it would be good to look for and make a mental note of. Then afterwards, we can write down everything that happened that we can remember like that, and think about what that means about our belief, whether it means it ought to be modified. Then, we can write another number that signifies how much we believe it after examining the evidence we picked up at the event, and decide whether we ought to rephrase our belief so it doesn't sound so extreme.

Other things we can look for while we're there are how much other people behaved like us, for instance how quiet they were sometimes, whether they ever seemed stuck for words, and whether they made any mistakes. If we discover that other people are more like us than we think, we'll realise we're not so different after all, so we can be reassured.

It says it might be difficult to challenge beliefs we've assumed were true for years, so they might not shift straightaway. But we can keep up the exercise of planning to look for evidence that challenges our beliefs at future events, and writing down any modifications we make to them afterwards.

Eventually, we might have found out so many positive things that our modifications make our beliefs positive instead of negative, and that'll boost our confidence a lot.

The book says our views probably won't get to be totally opposite from what they are now, but we still could be a lot happier if they're just moderate. So, for example, if we now think we're unacceptable and so people are bound not to like us, we might end up thinking something like, "I'm a mixture of good, bad and neutral really, similar to the way everyone else is." It says it would be unrealistic to think in extreme terms, like hoping we're going to end up thinking we're lovable all the time, or totally acceptable or adequate or attractive to everyone, because no one is. Everyone's got faults, and people who love other people usually love them despite their failings. So if we still think we've got failings, it'll only mean we're like everyone else. And if other people know about them, it won't mean we have to worry that they've discovered our vulnerabilities and so they might reject us. Since everyone has faults, if people rejected others just for having faults, no one would ever get together.

It says that when our beliefs are more positive, we can write each one at the top of a page in a notebook, and every day, we can collect information that confirms it. It says we might have difficulty some days, but we should keep looking.

It says we should keep up the practice of doing that even when we think we've recovered, to lessen the likelihood of our social phobia coming back again.

Protecting Ourselves Against Old Distressing Thinking Patterns


The self-help book says that if our social phobia does seem to be coming back, we don't need to worry too much, because everyone can fall back into old thinking habits when they're stressed. But it says things don't have to get too bad, because we'll know how to deal with them next time if they begin to come back, from our experience of what worked this time.

It says it's very easy to slip into old faulty thinking patterns again, because they'll be like bad habits and we'll be so used to doing them. So it recommends we carry little cards around with us with better thoughts on them, so we can remind ourselves of them when we start thinking the old ones. It says it suggests cards because they last longer than paper, and they'll be easier to carry around with us than a notebook. It says that if we start thinking thoughts about such things as how we're unlikeable and how people are bound to be critical of us again, we can think, "This is just phobic thinking again; I haven't got a good reason to think like this".

So it says we can start by getting a little card, putting one of our typical upsetting thoughts on one side, like, "Everyone can see how nervous I am", or "I always make a fool of myself", or "They think I'm not worth having around"; or alternatively we could write a question about what we might be doing, like, "Could I be misinterpreting this situation?" And then on the other side of the card, we should write alternative ways of thinking that we think are helpful or more accurate, like, "People often don't notice when other people look nervous, or don't pay much attention", or "To use the word fool is an exxageration", or "I haven't got any evidence that no one wants me around". And that kind of thing.

On the back of the card, it says we should write a brief summary of the work we've done, reminding ourselves of other ways of thinking, and of things that have happened that have contradicted our old thinking patterns.

It says it's best if we carry the card with us all the time. Then we can use it whenever we need to - when going out to do something we find difficult; when we've just arrived somewhere, before we go in to do what we've come to do; after we leave and before we start a "post mortem" that might distress us, where we continually mull over everything we think went wrong at an event and make ourselves more and more upset; or just to give ourselves a boost if our confidence feels as if it's flagging.

Experimenting With Behaving Differently

It says that one thing that can hinder our recovery is the assumptions that can be based on our beliefs, that can make us behave in a way where we're not being ourselves, like if we feel pressured to do things we wouldn't naturally do because we think it's the only way we'll be acceptable to others. Examples can be if we think that people won't like us if we disagree with them, so we say we agree with them all the time; or if we feel sure people won't like us if they get to know what we're really like, so we pretend to be different; or if we assume that if people want to know us, they'll come up to us and say so, so we never introduce ourselves to people.

It says we should try doing things differently to try out what it would be like if we were ourselves, or disagreed with people, or introduced ourselves to others. We could test out whether introducing ourselves to other people gained us new friends, or whether disagreeing with people led to more interesting conversations. We could think of it as if we're doing a science experiment. And if nothing bad happens, we'll know it's allright to be ourselves after all, so that will boost our self-confidence.

Expressing a strong opinion It says that if we agree with people because we're afraid of conflict, learning how to handle it and facing up to it will give us more confidence in the end, knowing we can stand up for ourselves. And practice will help us get better at that. It might be that we're far more worried about it than we need to be, and we'll carry on worrying unless we find out whether are worries are justified, by behaving differently and seeing what happens. It says that though it might make us more anxious at first, we might end up really reassured if we realise that nothing as bad as we thought would happen does.

Point 6: "I feel that way every time Dad criticizes me for not having left home or got a boyfriend or a better job yet as well."

The Benefits of Encouragement Over Criticism

I don't think Dad realises that his criticisms just make me feel inadequate, and that makes me less confident, so I'm less likely to do the things he wants me to do, not more. If he could start encouraging me rather than criticizing me, it could make me more confident, and then I'll do better. I think I'll start to say that to him when he criticizes me. I think I ought to stand up for myself more and point out that criticism will just make me worse, and explain what would help me most if he was willing to change.

If I stop thinking of his criticisms as the criticisms of an authority figure, and start thinking of them as the criticisms of someone who isn't qualified to make judgments about me because he doesn't know what it's like to have social phobia, I think I'll be able to stop them being so hurtful.

Advice About Not Being in a Rush to Get Involved in Dating

Romantic dinner

Dad makes fun of me for not having a boyfriend sometimes. Maybe I'm not as different from other people as I think though.
One of the magazine articles says we shouldn't be in a hurry to get boyfriends or girlfriends, and we don't have to think badly of ourselves if we don't do that in a hurry, and we don't have to feel we have to rush into anything.

It says that the culture we live in makes it seem as if finding a love partner's the be-all-and-end-all, and that people aren't really happy without one, but that's just not really true.

It says that if we give getting a boyfriend or girlfriend too high a priority, we can seem desperate and put people off. It says that it's best to take things slowly, not putting ourselves under pressure, so if some dates don't work out, it won't bother us so much. It says it's best to see the dating process as just a way to get more companionship with someone we can share recreational activities with at first, and if friendships deepen, so much the better. It says that takes the pressure off us to perform at our best to try to keep a person interested, and it'll stop us being so disappointed if things don't work out. And instead of focusing on romance, we can do things in a more relaxed way, focusing on just casually enjoying ourselves as friends for a while, so we can focus on doing new activities together, going to new places with a group or together, and learning and enjoying new and interesting things.

It says that today's culture conditions people to believe that they just must find someone to love if they're going to be happy, but that just isn't true. It says that the media makes people think that it's just normal to get into romantic relationships from their teens onwards and that people are abnormal if they don't, but that isn't the case. It says that people can just accept that it's natural to get romantically involved in relationships in their teens, or to develop the romantic side of a relationship first before the friendship, since so many songs, magazine articles, things on television and other things will be all about romance. It says that part of the reason the media does that is because they want to sell things, and they know romance sells, whereas stories about ordinary friendships won't make them so much money because they don't appeal to people's appetite for titillation so much.

It says that families and friends can put more pressure on people to get involved in romantic relationships instead of friendships than is healthy as well.

So there's nothing to be ashamed of in being a bit different.

Point 7: "I thought I'd made a mess of the journey by not having anything to say, and he must think I was really boring."

How Being Less Anxious Can Free Up the Mind to Think of More Things to Say

Well, thinking about it, it was better not to have said anything than it would have been to have said too much, since that might have distracted him from his driving.

And I think that worrying about how I was coming across because I couldn't think of anything to say stopped me focusing my attention on thinking about what I could say. So not being able to think of things to say doesn't mean there's anything wrong with me that I can't change. It just means I get very anxious. And once I've stopped myself doing that, I shouldn't be so lost for words in future. So that's something good anyway.

Point 8: "I couldn't concentrate on the film, because I was worrying all the time about whether people thought I was too fat or ugly, or they didn't like my clothes, or my make-up had got messed up, or I was doing something wrong."

People Might Not Take As Much Notice of Us As we Think

Really though, the people were probably concentrating on the film, and not thinking about me at all.

I once heard that people who work on the radio playing songs all day can hardly notice what the songs sound like a lot of the time, because they're so busy preparing what to do next that they aren't thinking about them much.

So if that can happen, then perhaps it's much more likely that people watching a film won't be paying attention to someone sitting by them who they don't even have much reason to look at. I'll try to remember to reassure myself with thoughts like that when I start worrying.

Point 9: "I know I was feeling all tense, and I think that's the reason I had aches and pains in several places."

Easing Pain by Relieving Tension

One of the magazine articles says that we should make a deliberate effort to try to relax our bodies.

So it says that when we sit down, we should try to sit in as comfortable a position as possible, not on the edge of our chairs; and we should make sure our fists aren't clenched and our shoulders aren't hunched.

It says that we should pay attention to relaxing our postures everywhere we go, like when we're standing in queues, eating meals, and doing other tasks. It says that pain can be made worse by tension, and it can start to fade as we relax, so if we keep remembering to focus on trying to sit or stand in as relaxed a posture as we can, it should help.

Crying a lot

Point 10: "I made myself so anxious that when we went to a bar afterwards for a drink, I probably drank more than I should have. I wanted the alcohol to relax me and hoped it would make me more fun to be with. But I think because I was feeling upset to start with, it made me feel worse, and then I started crying. I'm so embarrassed about it now. It wouldn't have happened if I hadn't had anything to drink."

The Benefits of Doing Relaxation Techniques

One of the magazine articles says there are other ways we can relax. It says it's best to do some relaxation exercises before we go out anywhere, as well as after we come back, when we'd usually be making ourselves feel more and more anxious by going over what we're worried will happen or what happened in our minds, and getting upset about things we can blow out of proportion. Or it says we can do some relaxation exercises any time we feel the slightest sign of anxiety coming on and we know it'll usually get worse if we don't do anything about it.

It says that relaxation exercises are good for several reasons:

  • They calm the physical symptoms of our anxiety like breathing too fast that can make the body make us feel more anxious;
  • they cause us to focus on them rather than on our worries, so they take our minds off our worries so they don't upset us so much;
  • they'll make us calmer so we don't feel like worrying so much anyway;
  • and we won't be so tense and anxious when we go out after we've done them.

It says that when we're anxious, our breathing speeds up, and we can calm ourselves down by focusing on deliberately slowing it down again. It says it speeds up because of a chemical process that makes us more tense, but that can stop if we slow our breathing down, so we can relax again. It says the chemical process makes blood flow to the big muscles, because when we get too stressed, it sets off the "fight or flight" response, and when blood flows to the muscles, it makes them ready to do more work, fighting or helping us run away. But the body's doing that inappropriately when we don't need to do either of those things but we're just stressed because we're worried about going out or something.

It says there are several ways we can calm ourselves down again.

A Muscle Relaxation Exercise


It says that besides slowing down the breathing, one thing that has helped some people to reduce their tension is called progressive muscle relaxation. It's where we tense up groups of muscles in turn and then relax them.

It says that we should find somewhere quiet and comfortable to do the exercise, where we're not going to be disturbed. It says we should do most of the relaxation exercises we do in a place like that.

It says that ideally, we should find a place to sit or lie on that isn't hard enough to be uncomfortable, but isn't soft enough to send us to sleep. It says that we should make sure our clothes are loose enough not to be a distraction to us, and take our shoes off. It says we should try to make sure nothing distracts us, like television, radio, the phone, or children, and so on.

It says a good position is lying on our backs if that feels comfortable, and for some people, especially if they've had lower back strain, it might be best for them to put a small pillow under their necks and a small cushion under their knees, or bend their knees upwards slightly if they haven't got one. But this can be done just sitting down.

It does say that anyone with physical problems should consult a doctor before deciding whether to do this exercise.

And it says it doesn't work so well if it's done up to two hours after a meal.

It says it isn't relaxed muscles in itself that reduces our anxiety, but focusing on the feel of them as we relax them. It says we're supposed to study the sensations we get as we tense and relax them.

It says it doesn't matter what order we tense and relax groups of muscles in, as long as we have an orderly plan, like feet to head or head to feet, to make it easier to remember to do all of them.

It says that sometimes, irrelevant thoughts will intrude on what we're doing, but if they do, we shouldn't get bothered by them, but should just try to dismiss them from our minds as if they were cars going past that we'd notice and then stop thinking about. And then we should bring our minds gently back to focusing on the muscle relaxation.

It says that if we think we just have to deal with the thoughts we're having, we can tell ourselves we'll deal with them later and plan a specific time that we intend to set aside to think about them, and then bring our minds back to the muscle relaxation. It says that the thoughts will probably come back, since thoughts tend to do that with everyone, but if they do, we don't have to get annoyed about them, but we should just remind ourselves again that we'll deal with them at the specific time we've set aside later to do that, and then set them aside and carry on with the relaxation exercise. It says that as we get used to doing the exercise over the weeks, the irrelevant thoughts should intrude on our thinking less and less, as we get better at relaxing.

It says the more we practice, the better we'll probably get at it, and so the more deeply relaxed we'll get by doing it. If we're patient, it'll help us relax better.

It says that what we're supposed to do first is to clench our right fist, while keeping all our other muscles as relaxed as they were before, and study the feeling of tension we get in it, focusing on what kind of sensations we're having. It says we should hold it tense for about ten seconds, and then slowly relax it, all the while focusing on the feelings of gradual relaxation we're getting in it. It says we should untense it very slowly until it's totally relaxed, and then gently shake our hand around wiggling our fingers to feel the sensation of relaxation in them. It says that as we relax our hand, we can whisper the word "Relax" to ourselves if we like. That can help us focus on relaxing more. It says that then, we can imagine it's getting heavy with relaxation.

It says that after that, we should do the same with our left fist, clenching it, studying the sensation of tension in it for several seconds, and then slowly relaxing it, focusing all the while on the sensation of it as it gradually relaxes.

Then, we can work our way around the body. We can tense each of our arms by bending it up, holding it like that for several seconds, studying the feeling of tension in it, and then relaxing it slowly, studying the feeling of gradual relaxation in it. Then, we can tense them another way by holding each of them in turn really straight for several seconds, focusing our minds on the feeling of tension in each one, before very slowly relaxing it, paying attention to how enjoyable the feeling of gradual relaxation in it is compared to the feeling of tension.

Then we can tense our shoulders by hunching each of them up in turn, and then let them gently relax, all the while focusing on what the sensations feel like, and then imagining them feeling heavy with relaxation if we can.

It says that then we can concentrate on the muscles in our face.

We can start by raising our eyebrows high and relaxing those.

Then we can tense our tongue by pushing it against the roof of our mouth, and then relax it .

We can tense up our lips by pushing them together. Then we can relax them slowly, remembering to focus on the feeling of them as they relax.

Then we can tense the muscles in our chest, by taking a deep breath and holding it for several seconds, before gently and slowly letting it go, and focusing on how much nicer the sensation we feel becomes as we gradually breathe out.

Then we can pull our stomach in to tense our stomach muscles, and then let them go gently, enjoying how much nicer they feel as they relax, and whispering, "Relax" as we do so if we like.

It says that then, we can tense our lower back, by arching our back and clenching our buttocks, before gently relaxing it.

Then we can tense the muscles in each of our legs in turn, by straightening each of our legs and turning our toes down, and then slowly relaxing them, focusing all the while on what they feel like tensed and relaxed. We can whisper the word "Relax", and breathe out as we relax them, if we like. Breathing out as we relax the muscles can help us relax.

It says that if we've had a history of getting cramps in our legs, we ought to be careful about tensing those up.

We can tense our toes up by curling them up, and then we can slowly let them go, focusing on how they feel all the time, and whispering the word "Relax", if we like, breathing out as we do relax the muscles.

It says that if we're worried about not being able to remember what order to tense and relax each group of muscles in, we can make a tape to remind ourselves. We can decide what order to do them in before we start recording, and then give ourselves step-by-step instructions on the tape to tense each group of muscles, each time waiting about ten seconds before telling ourselves to gently relax them, reminding ourselves to whisper "Relax" if we like, and reminding ourselves to gently breathe out as we relax for the ones where it's practical, which would be most of them except perhaps the tongue and the chest.

I won't remind myself to do that every time I tell myself to relax if I do a tape. I think a lot of the time, I'll just pause for about fifteen to twenty seconds on it, to give myself the opportunity to relax muscles very gradually and enjoy the sensations in them more and more as they become relaxed.

The magazine article says that regardless of whether we're going anywhere that day, we should make time to set aside half an hour a day for a month to practice that relaxation exercise, since it can help us feel less tense. It says we might not be good at it at first, since it usually takes time before we discover how it can work best for us, and so it's best if we do quite a lot of practice, and not give up if we don't think it's working well at first.

Saying Calming Words to Encourage Ourselves to Relax


It says another form of relaxation exercise is called autogenic training, or autosuggestion. It means we say or think phrases that make us think about relaxation, so we can feel more relaxed.

It says we should find as comfortable a position as possible to sit or lie in, and then close our eyes, and say several phrases to ourselves, repeating each of them three times slowly, pausing in between each one. It says we should breathe slowly, deeply and evenly, and as we breathe out, we should say things slowly to ourselves like,
"I'm breathing out a nice, relaxing, warm breath";
"My arms are feeling at rest and relaxed";
"I'm going to feel more and more relaxed".

It says we should focus on any signs of relaxation we feel in our body that will tell us the relaxation exercise is working. We can concentrate on one part of our body at a time if we like, concentrating on what sensations we're getting in it when we say things about it.

So for instance, we could concentrate on our left arm first and say, "My left arm is feeling at rest and relaxed". We could say that three times slowly, pausing in between each time, and then move on to concentrating on the right arm and saying the same thing about that.

Then we could concentrate on how both arms are feeling at the same time, and say three times slowly, "Both my arms are becoming relaxed and feeling at rest".

Then we could concentrate on whether we're getting any sensations of relaxation in our neck and shoulders and say three times slowly, "My neck and shoulders are becoming relaxed and feeling at rest, more and more relaxed and at rest".

We could do that with other parts of our body.

So then we could focus on our left leg, for instance, and say three times slowly, "My left leg is becoming relaxed and feeling at rest, more and more relaxed and at rest".

And then we could do the same with the right leg, remembering to focus our attention on it so we can tell how it feels, looking out for any sensations of relaxation and heaviness in it.

Then we could say, "Both my legs are becoming relaxed and feeling at rest. My arms and legs are getting relaxed and feeling at rest. My whole body feels relaxed and at rest."

It says we should focus on how our body's feeling, any heaviness and warmth coming from it, and any signs of relaxation.

Then it says we can say phrases similar to the others, but this time, focusing on whether we can feel nice sensations of warmth coming from our body.

So we can concentrate on our left arm and say, "My left arm is becoming relaxed and warm; more and more relaxed and warm". We can say that slowly three times, and then do the same with our right arm.

Then we can think about our shoulders and say, "My shoulders are becoming relaxed and warm; more and more relaxed and warm".

Then we can concentrate on our left leg and say three times slowly, "My left leg is becoming relaxed and warm; more and more relaxed and warm".

Then we can focus on our right leg and say the same for that.

Then we can say, "My legs and arms and shoulders are becoming relaxed and warm; more and more relaxed and warm". We can say that three times as well. And we should focus on them to see how they feel.

It says that then, we can focus on our breathing, saying, "My breathing is regular and calm".

Then we can focus on our whole body again, saying something like, "My body's feeling more and more relaxed and calm. I'm feeling quiet. My body's comfortable and relaxed. My mind is becoming quiet". We should focus on any signs of relaxation we can feel.

It says that if we're feeling dreamy and when we finish the exercise we want to feel more awake, we can say to ourselves, "I'm becoming refreshed. I'm becoming alert. I'm becoming awake and ready to go". We should say that slowly three times. Then we can take a few slow deep breaths, slowly open our eyes, stretch our arms and legs, and when we feel ready, get up, move around, and carry on our day.

It again says that it might take practice before we can achieve deep relaxation with the exercise, possibly a month, but we'll get the most benefit from it if we practice it at least once a day.

It says that if irrelevant thoughts come to mind, we again shouldn't worry about it, but should just treat them like passing cars, plan on dealing with them later at a specific time if we think they're important, and bring our minds gently back to what we're doing.

It says that often, this exercise doesn't take long to practice before it starts to work.

It says it's best to practice it at times when we're less likely to fall asleep. Before meals might be one good time. It says that again, we should find a time when we're least likely to be distracted.

It says that sometimes, it can again be useful to make a tape of the phrases to remind us what they are, recording them slowly in the way we'd say them to ourselves, and then playing it to ourselves every time we do the exercise.

It says it can help us if every time we feel the slightest sign of anxiety and think it'll possibly get worse, we can do some short relaxation exercises, like just a few minutes of that autogenic training.

Point 11: "Ian didn't say anything bad; He just drove me home. But he can't have been impressed, and he hasn't asked me out since."

Maybe he hasn't asked me out again because he's concerned because he saw being out with him was making me so anxious, not because he wasn't impressed with me.

Point 12: "Since then, I've been going over and over in my mind how stupid I must have looked and what a mess I made of things. It's so humiliating."

Using Distraction Techniques to Get Rid of Anxiety


This is what that self-help book called post-mortems, where we think and think about what went wrong after we've been to a social occasion, just making ourselves feel worse. It says it's best to distract ourselves from thoughts like that by doing other things, since they probably won't help us think about what to do better next time.

One of the magazine articles says that there are many little distraction techniques we can use, such as counting the number of things of a particular colour we can see; going through in our minds what ingredients we need to make certain foods; playing a game to see if we can count backwards in eights and other numbers from a thousand; seeing if we can still remember and recite the lyrics to a song we once liked or heard recently; doing a crossword puzzle or some other mental exercise; some physical exercise; or pushing ourselves to read an article or book. It says we should try to think of things that'll hold our attention.

It says that then, anxiety symptoms often just go away, because we're not paying any attention to what makes them worse any more.

Point 13: "I must have made such a bad impression that I don't think I'd go out with him again even if he asked me. I'm sure it would make me even more anxious."

A Humorous Idea


If he does ask me to go out with him again, I'm going to suggest we go for a walk somewhere muddy and slippery, where we'll both get dirty, so I don't have to worry about looking my best, and it'll make sense to wear scruffy clothes. We both might make ourselves look like clowns by falling over in the mud, so I won't have to worry about doing something humiliating, because we'll both be behaving like that; and we'll easily be able to think of something to talk about - we'll be talking about how yucky the mud is. Sounds as if it could be a laugh.

If other people come along too, they'll take the pressure of keeping the conversation going off us.

Now I just have to find people who'd be willing to come for a walk in the slippery mud. Haha! Now there's an idea.

Point 14: "And I hope no one asks me to another big social occasion. I think I'd have to try to find a reason not to go, because I'm sure it would be the same as last time, and I might make an even bigger fool of myself. It'll be a pity though, because I do wish I could be more confident around people."

Increasing Confidence

No confidence

I don't think I've got any confidence, but the self-help book says people can improve their confidence quite dramatically sometimes.

It says that people who don't think they've got any confidence can often be underestimating their real confidence, because they can be confident in some aspects of their lives but not in others. It says we might be able to think of things we're confident about doing if we try, like playing a musical instrument, doing a sport, using the computer, making things, gardening, cooking, being good at planning or organising things, or other hobbies and activities we do or skills we have. If we can think of things we do confidently, we can be more sure that we can be confident in other areas of life too.

It says that if we know we can be confident in some things, then it's a mistake for us to think of ourselves as unconfident people. It'll be more accurate for us to think of ourselves as confident in some things and lacking confidence in others. And if we know we can be confident in some things, we'll know we are at least capable of confidence, so it just needs to be transferred across to the other things.

But the book says that some people might not think things like activities count, because it's self-confidence they feel they lack, which means they feel cautious about approaching anything and reluctant to try anything new, being more likely to be uncertain they can achieve difficult things, and often wanting reassurance from other people and being worried about people seeing their weaknesses, as if they think they're inadequate and inferior or incompetent compared to everyone around them.

I feel something like that.

But it says that part of the reason we might feel we don't have any self-confidence is that we undervalue the things we are good at, like perhaps being able to keep children amused all afternoon, or be good with plants. And other people have more self-confidence because they don't undervalue things like that.

But it says that confident people also have doubts about themselves, because the amount of confidence they have isn't the same all the time, but can depend on their moods, what they're doing, and how important they think what they're doing is. It says that even people who usually seem confident can feel as if their confidence is ebbing away at times when they feel tired or discouraged or lacking in energy. It says that sometimes their confidence can bounce back as soon as their mood changes, but sometimes it's slow to return. And everyone's confidence can be shaken if they suffer things like rejection or a run of misfortunes, or they make a mistake they should have known to avoid. So everyone's confidence comes and goes, and sometimes confident people even start worrying about things that wouldn't normally bother them.

So maybe we're not that different from other people after all.

It says that most people can look confident even if they don't feel confident, though. It says that some people manage to stay confident in public because they assume that even if they do something badly, like stumbling over their words, or introducing someone to another person but sounding awkward while they're doing it, it won't matter. They just forget about it as soon as it's happened and move on to the next thing, assuming other people will do the same, which they probably will. They might just shrug it off by thinking that everyone does embarrassing things sometimes, and other people will know they do as well, so they probably won't make too much of it.

It says that some people can give an impression that they're confident, because they act as if they're confident when they're not really. It says that we could do the same. It says that a good strategy for us to use could be to ask ourselves just before we walk into a room or join a conversation how we'd behave if we were feeling really confident. When we've imagined how we'd behave, we can act the way we'd feel.

I think that's an interesting idea.

It says that when we're imagining what it would be like to be really confident, we should take into account things like how we'd move, how we'd look, what our body language would be like, how we'd stand, how we'd behave, and other things like that.

It says that if we adopt a bold, confident posture and act as if we're ready to meet another person's gaze, it can change a whole situation. When we're acting more confidently, we can often begin to feel much more confident. It says that's even more likely to happen if we think confident reassuring thoughts instead of anxious ones. So we could try to think of encouraging messages to give ourselves, or think thoughts we know will make us feel better, like maybe, "None of these people are out to threaten me", or, "I'm going to do my best to be friendly", or, "It's OK to be the way I am". When we're thinking more confident thoughts, it says we'll be encouraged to behave more confidently. And it says when we do, it can make a big difference to the way we feel, what we do, and what happens to us next, since people will behave differently towards us if they think we're confident, and their different behaviour will make us behave differently and feel more confident, and it'll probably get better from there.

The self-help book says the more we recover from our anxiety, the more confident we'll get, and the more confident we get, the happier we'll be to go to more social occasions we'd have felt too anxious to go to before. And the more difficult things we manage to do successfully, the more our confidence will grow.

It says another way we can build up our confidence is by doing things we feel fairly sure we can be successful at.

Feeling Better by Helping Other People

Someone using crutches

It says that researchers have found that people can forget themselves and their anxiety more easily if they're doing things that help others.

Actually, I can imagine how that could be true, because if I'm with someone I know is less fortunate than me, I stop thinking they're going to judge and criticize me, because I think people probably have to have some kind of sense of superiority to do that.

And also, I know that if I'm feeling concern for someone else, it does stop me being so concerned about myself, so I feel better, because I've got something outside myself and my worries to get absorbed in.

I think another reason is also that if I'm working towards a common goal with someone, I know what I've got to do, we have set things to talk about, and so I'm not worrying about floundering around not knowing what to say or do. And I can imagine that doing more work with a team where we're working towards a common goal to help other people, and talking to people I'm helping, would give me good practice in communicating with other people, and so I'll feel more confident about talking to people in other settings.

Also, if I'm certain I'm doing something good, I feel sure it'll make me feel like more of a worthwhile person and not so inferior.

And I feel sure it'll stop me feeling so upset and bitter about what's happened to me if I'm working for people who're worse off. It'll help me get things in perspective.

And actually, when I have done the few things like that that I have, I've noticed that I'm not working myself up into feeling anxious all the time, because my thoughts are so often on planning what to do for other people and what they might need.

So it does sound like a good idea.

And thinking about it, I remember the time when I fell over in the street and sprained my ankle, and I limped all the way home. Several people came up to me and offered to walk with me for a while and let me lean on them to take some of the weight off the ankle that it was painful to walk on, and one asked if I'd like them to drive me to hospital. I thought that was really nice. In fact, for a little while afterwards, it changed my attitude to people, and my anxiety went away, because I thought people must be nicer than I'd been thinking. My anxiety came back again soon after that, because my thinking patterns changed back to the way they were before. But I wonder if it would go away again like that if I worked with a group of people that was helping others. Doing that might make me start thinking that a lot of people are concerned for other people's welfare instead of wanting to judge and criticize them, and so it might increase my faith in human nature and make me less anxious, especially if they were caring towards me as well.

I have heard of bullies working in charities, and what are supposedly the caring professions, like the health service. But if I was doing voluntary work, I could always leave a job if I was being bullied. It wouldn't be as if I thought I had to stay there because I needed the money. So things would probably be allright. And there might be lots of caring people where I worked.

The self-help book says that working together with people to help others can also give us a sense of belonging that will make us feel less different from other people and less isolated.

It gives the examples of helping to raise money for things or working with people to campaign for improvements to various things. It recommends that if we know of a cause that people around us are involved in that interests us, we join it.

It says it can also boost our confidence if we spend time with people we don't think of as threatening, until we're more used to communicating and happier about doing things we find more difficult. It says that the kind of people seen as unthreatening will vary from person to person, but they could include younger people or children, old people, people with young families, people who live in certain neighbourhoods, people who need help in some way, and so on. So if we spend more time with them, we'll get more confident that we can communicate well, so we'll be happier about doing things we wouldn't have wanted to do before.

There must be somewhere in the local area where I can find out about voluntary work. I might not have to do it for that long every week. I'll do some investigating, maybe on the Internet.

Maybe when I find something I enjoy doing, and when I'm recovering from my social phobia, and when I meet more people who turn out to be useful to know, I'll even be able to get a job from it that's much more interesting and fulfilling than the one I've got at the moment. I could make enquiries about paid jobs where I'd be doing similar things to the ones I've been doing in the voluntary job if I like it, and it'll be good if there are some, because I'll already have had some experience in doing them in my voluntary work, and people are more likely to get jobs if they've already had experience doing what they'll be doing in the job. Maybe the more people I meet doing voluntary work, the more likely it is that I'll find someone who'll put in a good word for me somewhere to help me get a paid job, or at least give me a good reference when I go for one.

I've heard that there are schemes where people can do voluntary work away from home somewhere where the organisation pays expenses for your accommodation and gives you a small allowance to live on, and you give your services for free apart from that. When I've recovered more, I might enjoy meeting all the new people I might meet on a scheme like that, and it would get me away from home for a while, which would be nice for me because I'd be doing something new and interesting with my life, and it would mean Dad stopped criticizing me for being here.

Advice About Job Interviews


If I find things I'm good at in my voluntary work, I'll write them down to remind myself, so when I go for a paid job, I'll be able to tell the interviewer about them and put them on the application form as good qualities, especially if I can work out how they would help me benefit the employer in the job. I'll find out something about the work and the organisation before I apply for the job, so I can work out how my talents would be used for the best in the job, and then I can impress them more by telling them about how they'd help, since I know employers like it if people know something about their organisation before they go for a job interview, and they like it even more if they know applicants have thought about what benefits they could bring to their organisation. So if someone in my voluntary work tells me I'm a good listener, for example, and I know that would come in handy in the paid job I'm thinking of going for afterwards, I'll make sure that goes on the application form or I tell them at the interview. I might find out I've got lots of skills I've never found out about before.

One of the magazine articles has some do's and don'ts for people going to job interviews.

It says that when we first go in, we should:

  • Know enough about the organisation to convince them we're genuinely interested in it.
  • Know what good qualities we want to put across.
  • Wear formal clothing, no matter what the atmosphere of the company seems to be.
  • Present ourselves assertively with self-assurance, to give the impression we're confident we can do the job.
  • It says that if the interviewer is sitting behind a desk, we should walk to the side to shake their hand, rather than leaning over the desk. It even describes how we should shake their hand, saying that facing them directly, we should shake their hand firmly, pulling them towards us very slightly, holding the grip just a half second longer than they do. It says that this gives them the impression that we're the kind of person who will be confident and in control.
  • It says when we sit down, if we have a choice of where, we should choose a chair at the side of the desk rather than one opposite the interviewer, because having a desk between us is like having a symbol of the interviewer's authority between us, and sitting to one side of it instead makes relations seem a bit more informal, so we might be more comfortable and confident, so we'll come across better.

It says we shouldn't:

  • Sound so knowledgeable about the company that they think we might want their job.
  • Drink alcohol, even if the interview's held in a restaurant and everyone else is drinking, or the interview's very friendly.
  • Smoke, because that gives the impression we're nervous and pollutes the room.
  • Fidget, for instance, wringing hands, clenching fists, gripping chair arms, tapping fingers or toes, jiggling a foot, scratching or rubbing ourselves or an object, fingering hair or objects, licking lips, crossing and uncrossing arms or legs, bobbing head, chewing gum or anything else, or pacing.
  • Name-drop, even if we know someone important and think it's relevant, because it'll sound as if we're just trying to show off, and make the interviewer think we can't get by on our merits alone but have to rely on mentioning other people to impress them.
  • Get into an argument even if we disagree with them. We can use the assertiveness techniques the article mentioned before that can help us avoid arguments, and active listening, where we listen carefully to what they've got to say and then paraphrase it back to them to try to encourage them to tell us more about what they think, and so they'll know we've been paying attention so they'll be pleased they've been listened to. When we know more about what they think, we might understand their point of view better, so we might not want to argue with them after all.
  • Tell jokes. After all, they might not share our sense of humour. The only exception would be very mild humour where we say something against ourselves.
  • We shouldn't be the ones to mention money first. We're meant to be there because we want to bring benefits to the organisation, not because we want their money, and we should have discovered how much they pay before we went there.

It says that during the interview, we should:

  • Be prepared with lots of ideas for conversation. It says that about 80 % of interviews start with a question like, "Tell me about yourself", so we have to be ready to tell them about at least five of our achievements. Since we won't have much time, we'll have to know what we want to say about them.
  • It says that at the beginning, we should use what it calls a "30-second grabber" to impress them. That means telling them very briefly the most relevant things about ourselves. It says they should include any interests or skills we have that are particularly relevant to their organisation, a sentence to inspire their imagination and make them think we're especially worth taking notice of if possible, and what we want to achieve by meeting them. We can say those things in brief, to catch their attention, and afterwards elaborate on them if they allow us to. It says it can be a good idea to think of something brief to say in 30 seconds beforehand and rehearse it every day till we know it off by heart.
  • Tell brief anecdotes about experiences of what we've done well, that's relevant to the organisation. It says that when we're telling the anecdotes, we should first say an introductory sentence to set the scene, so for example, if they ask us what creative things we've done in the past, our first sentence could be, "I've done a number of things I think are creative". Then it says we should give them an example, telling them briefly what needed changing for the better before we changed things, and what the consequences of our actions were.
  • Find out as much as possible before we go for the interview about what types of questions the interviewer's likely to ask, and prepare answers.
  • Prepare our own questions about the job beforehand, since interviewers often ask at the end if we have any questions, and it looks good if we seem interested by asking some. It says they can include things like details of the job we can't have found out about on our own; what a typical day would be like, and what specific responsibilities we'd have.

It says that sometimes, interviewers can ask difficult questions that can be stressful, perhaps to find out how we cope under stress. But it says we can prepare for questions like that if we think up difficult questions beforehand and imagine how we'd answer them, or get a friend to imagine they're the interviewer asking us difficult questions, so we can practice answering them, so if we do get asked them in the interview, they won't bother us and we can give better answers. It says examples of the types of questions we could be asked are:

  • Why should I hire you when I can take on other people from inside the company instead?
    It says that if we get asked that, we should know that there must be a good reason they're going outside their own staff, because otherwise they wouldn't be doing it, so they're obviously looking for some new skills or ideas or experience. So we can ask them what skills they're particularly looking for, and tell them about any of ours that match up, saying we may be able to provide a fresh new perspective on things.
  • What are your greatest shortcomings?
    It says we should try to talk about our weaknesses in such a way that they could be turned into advantages in some way; so, for example, if we find it difficult to communicate with people around us because of our anxiety, it might mean we spend more time paying attention to our work; so instead of just saying we're a poor communicator or we don't make friends easily, we could say we tend to be a bit unsociable, but this means we pay more attention to our work. Or if we find it difficult to tolerate doing repetitive boring tasks, rather than just saying we get bored and stressed easily by mundane repetitive tasks, we could say we're not really satisfied unless we're being stimulated by new challenges. Well, that's as long as the job will give us the opportunity to do more interesting things.
  • Why haven't you moved up very high in your current job?
    We don't have to give them a big explanation, but can say we believe our life's just beginning to take off now.

It says we can use tactics to reduce our stress like calming ourselves by controlling our breathing so we breathe slowly and evenly, and challenging any negative thoughts that come to mind like "I'm going to fail" with more realistic thinking, like telling ourselves we don't know that, and even if we do fail, it'll be a good learning experience that will give us some ideas on what to do differently in our next job interview.


This article is written slightly differently from most articles. All the information in most of the articles in this series is written as if by someone finding out a lot of helpful information for the first time, just learning about it. That person themselves isn't real; they're just a representative of a lot of others suffering the same thing. Any little anecdotes they tell about their personal lives or those of people they know almost always have really happened though, usually either to the author or to someone else known to the author. The article comes with a very short story about them to set the scene, and presents all the self-help information as if it's what they're finding out and what they think of it.

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The Story

The Distressing Way Things Are Before They Begin to Improve


Louise has developed a social phobia. Her fear seemed to get much worse when she was in her mid teens. Now, at the age of 23, she still lives with her parents, even though her father criticizes her for still living at home, saying they wish she'd move out. He just doesn't seem to understand her fears. It isn't as if 23's all that old anyway, but she still feels inadequate because of his unreasonable criticisms.

Her mother was always over-protective of her, constantly warning her not to stay out after dark or go out without a coat when the weather got colder, or go near her schoolmates when they developed coughs and colds. Her mother's very anxious herself. Louise thinks this might have contributed to her social phobia.

But also, her father was in the army for most of her life, and they had to move from place to place, which meant she didn't have much of a chance to develop new friendships and learn good communication skills by interacting with familiar friends.

Worse, she was bullied at every new school she went to. People made fun of her because her accent wasn't like theirs, because it was like the one in the place she'd just left. And they called her ugly and fat, even though she wasn't really, or other unkind things.


Because of her anxiety about being at school, Louise began to stutter and her mind would go blank whenever teachers would ask her to say something, which gave them the impression that she was stupid, so they often criticized her unkindly. So she became more and more anxious, thinking she just wasn't acceptable to people and was inferior and stupid.

When she did do a good piece of work and took it home, sometimes she'd be praised, but sometimes she'd be criticized for not doing even better, so she could never be sure what was going to happen. The uncertainty made her more anxious.

She felt a lot of uncertainty in other ways also, since sometimes when she went to her mother about a problem, her mother would sympathise, but sometimes, she'd shout at her for being a nuisance while she was busy, or for not being able to cope with it herself; and it took a while for Louise to work out how to predict when she was likely to get what reaction and only go to her mother when she knew she was in a good mood. So she felt insecure.


Because Louise never got the opportunity to develop good friendships with people and improve her communication skills, she began to feel inadequate in company where she felt she wasn't as witty and good at conversation as everyone else. She thought there must be something odd about her and that no one could like her.

However, she wasn't nearly as bad at communicating as she thought. The problem was that the more anxious she became, the more she focused on her supposed inadequacies, and so the less she concentrated on taking part in conversation, so she never got the chance to become confident in her conversational skills. Her growing anxiety turned into a phobia.

Now, she thinks she's a hopeless communicator, and thinks she must be fat and unattractive. She's sure no one will want to know her once they start speaking to her. She's got no confidence. She has got a job, but it's boring and repetitive, not at all what she'd like to have done. But she doesn't feel she's got the confidence to go for anything better, because it would mean having to meet more people and be trained, and if she found it difficult to do something she was being trained to do, she feels it would show up her inadequacies and make her look bad and feel worse, because people would judge her and criticize her.

She's become scared to converse with people in public, worrying that she'll make a fool of herself or they'll think she's boring or silly or unintelligent, or she won't be able to think of anything to say.


She gets panicky at the thought of eating in public or of doing anything where she's likely to be the focus of attention or might do something wrong, in case she looks bad.

She stays in a lot of the time, because going out where she might meet people frightens her so much.

When she does go out to social occasions, she does things to try to limit her anxiety, like turning away when she sees someone coming who she worries about talking to, so they'll think she isn't interested and hopefully go away. She doesn't like to walk into a room alone, so she waits for someone else to go in and then creeps in behind them, hoping they'll get all the attention.

For hours before she goes to a social occasion, she worries about what might happen - whether she'll make a fool of herself by not being able to think of what to say, or by not being able to hide her trembling and blushing, or whether people will ask her to talk about things she doesn't know about.


Afterwards, she thinks through what happened, criticizing herself for every tiny little thing she feels she did wrong, like if she didn't look at someone enough, or was too anxious to concentrate on what she was saying properly so she got her words mixed up. She feels sure people must think she's stupid because of it, so she feels stupid herself, and can criticize herself for it for ages.

A lot of the time though, she doesn't dare go out at all. So her life's boring, because she doesn't develop new interests. And she sometimes feels lonely, but she doesn't know how she can feel comfortable meeting more people. She feels as if she's a failure, and that everyone seems to be more capable than her. She knows her fear's way out of proportion to the real risks, but she feels as if she just can't help it, and this makes her feel even more inadequate and inferior.

Sometimes, when she does meet people, she accidentally puts them off her by being aggressive towards them, because she expects them to be hostile towards her, and so she behaves defensively.

She gets depressed at the thought that she could have the anxiety disorder for years and years. She worries that it'll mean she'll never achieve anything in life.

When Positive Change Begins to Happen

One day, her mother buys her a self-help book, and gives her a few articles on social phobia she's found in magazines, in the hope that she'll get over her anxiety problem and become more confident. Louise finds them interesting, and starts to put what they teach into operation.

Over the coming weeks, there's a big improvement in her mental health.

The End

Note that if you choose to try out some or all of the recovery techniques described in this article, they may take practice before they begin to work.

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The articles are written in such a way as to convey the impression that they are not written by an expert, so as to make it clear that the advice should not be followed without question.

The author has a qualification endorsed by the Institute of Psychiatry and has led a group for people recovering from anxiety disorders and done other such things; yet she is not an expert on people's problems, and has simply taken information from books and articles that do come from people more expert in the field.

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