BCC Staff Note: You’re reading the second in a series of Grace & Truth blog posts on anxiety—and experiencing God’s peace that passes all understanding.
Social Anxiety Defined
Anxiety can take shape in a myriad of forms. As many of us can attest, the social arena is one of the contexts where anxiety can reign.
Social anxiety. What is it exactly? Counselor Aaron Sironi defines social anxiety as “feeling nervous, fearful, and physically tense in situations that involve other people.” Social anxiety can be as mild as temporary shyness around other people, or as debilitating as intense fear of encountering others.
There’s no way to really tackle “social anxiety” in one little blog post, of course. That said, I have put together a short list of some “do’s and don’ts” that may provide some direction for those struggling with social anxiety.
1) Meet with a trusted biblical counselor or discipler to unpack the heart issues that drive your social anxiety.
Is it pride? Is it shame? Insecurity?
Insecurity about what?
Your appearance? Your intelligence?
Are you responding to past hurts instead of living in the present?
Where do you derive your identity?
These are difficult questions to answer all by yourself. Allow an outside objective observer (whose spiritual wisdom you trust) to join you in trying to unpack what undergirds your anxiety.
2) Read Ed Welch’s helpful book When People are Big and God is Small.
A teaser for the goodness you’ll find in this book:
1. We fear people because they can expose and humiliate us. 2. We fear people because they can reject, ridicule, or despise us. 3. We fear people because they can attack, oppress, or threaten us. These three reasons have one thing in common: they see people as “bigger” (that is, more powerful and significant) than God, and, out of the fear that creates in us, we give other people the power and right to tell us what to feel, think, and do.
3) Commit to baby steps: make small, attainable goals to fight against the anxiety.
Start small, such as striving to smile and shake hands with new acquaintances, and then try to go bigger. For example, is it time to take a step of faith by committing to serve in a ministry at your church that will force you to interact with other people on a weekly basis? Whatever the steps may be, be sure to share your plans with someone else who can encourage you with accountability.
4) Make a plan for future social interactions that you expect to occur.
Are you going to lunch with a new friend soon? Prepare some topics to discuss or possible questions you could ask for those moments when your mind might go blank.
Do you have an upcoming meeting at work? Think ahead about what you might like to contribute to the conversation so that you have one less thing to be nervous about in the interaction.
Plans don’t solve our social anxiety, but they can help bring the nervousness down a notch or two.
5) Ask for God’s help.
This may seem obvious, but I am constantly amazed by how we forget to surrender to God our deepest fears, anxieties and worries. Philippians 4: 6-7 encourages us:
“Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
1) Don’t imagine that you’re “the only one.”
I’m struck by how many people who struggle with social anxiety assume they’re the only ones struggling. They look around their church/office/neighborhood and see only confident, well-dressed, well-spoken, successful people who surely do not experience stress at the concept of interacting with others. Yet, even within my own church I have counseled more than a handful of women who deal with social anxiety on a daily basis, and I’m sure there are many more. What would happen if these women reached out to each other? How much could they be of help to each other if they shared their common difficulties?
2) Don’t avoid church fellowship.
Sunday church services can rightfully be harrowing environments for those who struggle with social anxiety: crowds of people, lots of small talk, everyone in their “Sunday best” attire. It can be tempting to avoid these gatherings, or to show up late and leave early as to avoid any potential mingling. But God tells us:
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25).
3) Don’t live alone.
Living alone only makes the temptation to isolate from others easier to give into. When possible, find a good roommate(s) to live life with. A roommate can help provide accountability against isolating from others, can give you practice in interacting with another person, and can perhaps even be someone that you attend events or activities with (making those social interactions a little less nerve-wracking).
4) Don’t seek refuge in habits that only reinforce isolation.
Reading, watching movies, playing video games…none of these hobbies are bad in and of themselves. That said, they can become an unhelpful refuge for the socially anxious. Make sure you are not living through the worlds of other fictional characters more than living out your own true life.
5) Don’t assume hopelessness.
“This is just how I am. I can’t change.”
These thoughts are understandable as social anxiety feels so all-encompassing—more like a personality trait than something alterable. We may wish we were different, but wonder if it could be possible to change. Let us be encouraged by the Apostle Paul who wrote about God:
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Join the Conversation
This list is not exhaustive by any means, so I’d love to hear from others more ideas for pushing back against social anxiety. Please feel free to leave a comment with additional thoughts!