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5 New Year Resolutions I'm Making as Someone With Social Anxiety

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Making resolutions for the new year has always seemed a little cliched to me, but an important part of my social anxiety disorder treatment has always been setting goals and tracking my progress as I try to tackle the obstacles having an anxiety disorder can throw in my path.

In 2016, I finally made the decision to see a psychiatrist and start cognitive behavioral therapy to help treat the social anxiety that has made everything from phone calls to eating in front of others to school presentations challenging for the past six years of my life. With 2017 rapidly approaching, I thought I would share some of the goals I have decided to set for myself in regards to my social anxiety. I hope some of them will inspire you to step out of your comfort zone and set your own goals!

1. Don’t avoid phone calls and emails.

One of the biggest things my social anxiety has prevented me from doing is communicating effectively, and I don’t just mean in-person conversations (although those can definitely be challenging, too). I go through periods of intense anxiety where even the thought of answering the phone, listening to my voicemail, and checking and responding to emails can give me a panic attack.

For the past few months, I have been working on avoiding procrastinating tasks that may spark my anxiety and actually doing small daily tasks, like opening my email inbox. It may seem like a small step, but small steps can be hugely important in anxiety recovery. I’m hoping to get into the habit of responding to emails and answering the phone. If I can form that positive habit, it will no longer be an anxiety trigger for me.

2. Go to a party.

This feels like a classic resolution for me and my social anxiety. Parties have always, without fail, been something I reflexively say “no” to. I’ve gone to them because my friends have dragged me, but I have never gone to a party because I wanted to say “yes.” It’s always been a fight, and that is something I would like to change!

I may not enjoy going to parties, but everyone else always appears to be having fun at them, and I want to set myself the goal of actually trying to get into the spirit of it!

3. Sign up for a class with a “class participation” component.

I’m in my third year of university, and so far I have managed to successfully avoid those small seminar classes where 50 percent of your final grade is dependent on class discussion and presentations in front of a group of 20 people who all know exactly who you are. There’s no anonymity, and it’s pretty much impossible to avoid eye contact entirely.

However, for the winter 2017 semester, I’ve signed up for an English seminar with 14 other students and a huge class participation component. It’s scary, but at this point in my anxiety treatment, I feel like the suspense and mystery surrounding a huge class presentation is causing me more anxiety than the actual presentation might.

4. Initiate small talk.

This has always been something I have run from at full speed. I’ve spent many a sleepless night reliving the horror of having a stranger ask me for directions in public, or comment on the weather, and my classic response to those situations: Typically, I open and close my mouth a few times and then walk away as quickly as possible. Ordering at restaurants, making polite conversation with receptionists, joking with employees in stores — all things I have avoided doing by keeping my eyes on the floor and putting earbuds in.

I plan to start small: talking to the nurses I see regularly, the pharmacist who knows me very well, the baristas at Starbucks who I see at least three times a week. If I can say “Hi, how are you?” without breaking down and fleeing, I’ll be incredibly proud of myself. The main thing I plan to keep in mind as I go forward with these New Year resolutions is that social anxiety recovery involves baby steps rather than large leaps. No, I’m not planning on walking up to a complete stranger and striking up an intelligent conversation, because that isn’t a realistic goal to set right away. It’s certainly something I can hope to work up to, but I am not going to punish myself for not progressing as quickly as I hoped, even if I don’t appear to make any progress at all.

My final resolution is:

5. Keep trying!

Even if I’m not successful the first few times I talk in class (maybe I’ll stutter, or forget what I was trying to say), I will continue to put my hand up and sign up for group discussions. If I go to a party and have to leave after 20 minutes, that’s OK. I will persevere. Improvement takes time, and I hope to get there by pushing myself to leave my comfort zone enough to pose a challenge, but not so much that I panic.

If you’re struggling with anxiety, whether social or otherwise, focus on taking baby steps but also taking care of yourself. Instead of viewing things as either “successful” or “failed,” view each step you take as progress, and keep trekking! You will get to where you want to be with time and patience.

Image via Thinkstock.

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Originally published: December 8, 2016
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