“How to be yourself” is a must-read book for anyone who suffers from social anxiety. It’s written by Dr. Ellen Hendricksen—a clinical psychologists with the Boston University’s Centre for anxiety and related disorders.
Coming from her personal experiences with social anxiety and her clients’, Dr. Hendricksen gives plenty of real-life examples and solutions to the most common nervousness and angst triggers. And although the book also has lots of research to explain what scientists knows about anxiety and how we can successfully deal with it, it’s a very easy read—even humorous at times. I found it interesting, a page-turner.
As someone who lives with social anxiety, I could certainly relate to everything in the book—and I could see me on every page.
Social unease is about concealment, the book tells us—not so much about fear, but more about shame and feeling inadequate, not good enough. It’s about The Reveal—that others will see our flaws and we judge us negatively because of them. Specifically, The Reveal is about being found out—our anxiety, appearances, character or social skills—that any aspect of these (or all) are less than perfect. And more importantly—that everyone can see these shortcomings, as if we wear them on our sleeves.
Simply put, when we feel stressed about being evaluated by others, we allow our Inner Critic to take control over our lives.
There are many ways to deal with social anxiety, though, Dr. Hendricksen reveals. Two main strategies are Replace and Embrace. Replace is about challenging our Inner Critic, while Embrace is about making peace with It. Another big way to deal with nervousness is to build awareness through meditation—to notice our thoughts. For instance, realise that just because we think we may be stupid or a failure, doesn’t meant that’s a fact. Thoughts are not facts.
Confronting our fears is another powerful strategy to overcome unease—i.e. become comfortable with uncertainly and rejection. And the way to do this is exposure—put ourselves out there, challenge ourselves and see what happens. We may be rejected or fail, but does this mean that the world will really end? We will find that we can recover…and try again. Every time, it gets better, until the anxiety subsides and becomes something that happens to us, rather than something that defines us…
And quite often, what we fear doesn’t materialise. It’s just ‘empty’ stress. But it’s so real in our minds, that it can paralyse us from action. Our perceptions make it alive. Once we realise this fact, we can feel free and more courageous.
In the end, social anxiety can be won over, the book asserts. It’s not something we are born with, it’s learned and can be un-learned. Which, of course, is excellent news for all of us who fall in the claws of social uneasiness.
Highly recommend it!