Social anxiety is an issue that I have really struggled with over the years. Like badly. I used to be so socially anxious that I found it debilitating.
When I say social anxiety, I’m not talking about an actual disorder. I didn’t go to a counselor for this and get diagnosed (partly because I don’t believe in that as a Christian). I’m just talking about self-consciousness and social awkwardness that interferes with your interactions with people.
My social anxiety and self-consciousness used to make me miserable. Yes, I still occasionally get a little nervous in some social situations. But in the last year, I’ve come a very long way when it comes to my social anxiety. I can honestly say that I usually feel quite confident nowadays and that I’ve finally embraced the fact that I actually am a people person, even though my awkwardness and nervousness used to make me feel like I wasn’t.
I used to feel so anxious in social situations. I would feel so weirdly self-conscious and aware of my own body that it would literally feel like my body was a prison that I was trapped in. And it used to be so extreme that it was visible on the outside. The muscles in my cheeks even used to get so tense that I felt like I couldn’t smile, and I’d have this weird twitchy thing go on (yes, weird, I know). I used to feel so awkward talking to some people (especially attractive guys) that it made me want to hide in a cave for the rest of my life.
Although I still have a terrible fear of public speaking and hate talking in class, I would generally consider myself to be quite a friendly and confident person when it comes to normal social interactions. I’m good at talking to strangers and have no problem with starting random conversations with new people. And talking to people one-on-one or in small groups no longer makes me feel nervous like it used to.
I feel more comfortable in my own skin nowadays, and I look back at how much I’ve grown in the last year and feel like I’m a completely different person. Yes, I am naturally more of a nervous person than most people. But I’m no longer living out of who I naturally am without God. With Him, we don’t have to be restricted by natural predispositions and weaknesses.
I believe the enemy attacks our confidence and the way we interact with others because he wants to make us feel trapped and isolated. And of course he doesn’t want us to share the gospel, which we’ll never do if we feel like we can’t even be ourselves when we’re around people we’re not close to. God wants us to be free, confident and uninhibited, but the enemy wants us to be timid and insecure, walking around unsure of our true identities.
So I’m going to share some things that have really helped me in coming out of my shell. No, I don’t claim to be the most confident person ever. These are just some things that I’ve realized in the last year or so and that I think would be helpful for any Christian who also struggles with social anxiety.
1. Look to God for your confidence
This probably sounds totally cheesy and obvious, but it’s true. Put God first. Seek Him fervently. Make an effort to develop a strong relationship with Him. Pray to Him all the time, not just when you’re on your own. Don’t go about your day forgetting your relationship with Jesus. The Holy Spirit is always inside you, so lean on Him throughout your whole day, not just when you’re having your quiet time. When you invite Him into your whole life, it will change how you interact with others.
Don’t ignore God and then expect to formulate confidence on your own. When we look to ourselves rather than God for confidence, we often end up having to resort to narcissism or pride.
2. Find your identity in God
This goes along with number one. Actually read the word and find out what it has to say about your identity as a follower of Christ and child of God. Write out verses about your new identity in Christ. Actually believe them and live from this understanding of who you are in Christ.
You can look to all sorts of things to find your identity, but none of them will deliver. If you look to people for your self-worth, you’ll always be disappointed. You will be eager for compliments and people’s validation to confirm your self-worth, and it will never fulfill you. If you rely on your looks or your accomplishments for your self-worth, you’ll also come up short. Because you’ll never be pretty enough or successful enough to find true and lasting confidence and security. God is the only One Who can really complete us, and He’s the only One Who makes us our true selves.
3. Learn to like yourself
I’m not talking about the self-centered, unhealthy, narcissistic type of self-love the world tries to sell to you. I’m talking about simply seeing your inherent, God-given worth. Don’t mistake self-hatred for humility. It doesn’t come from God. Disliking yourself won’t help your confidence or your relationship with God. Being narcissistic isn’t cool, but it’s absolutely essential to have a positive view of yourself.
Recognize the things you like about yourself. Don’t walk around with an inferiority complex, constantly apologizing for breathing (not literally, but you know what I mean). That’s how I was for years, and it killed my confidence. Learn to like yourself, because you have to live with yourself for the rest of your life. Think of the good things about yourself and embrace them. Don’t constantly put yourself down. Believe that you are someone who people want to spend time with.
4. Stop being so self-centered
This might seem like it contradicts the last point, but it doesn’t. Although you should be confident, you shouldn’t be self-focused. Both self-hatred and narcissism are equally terrible. There is a little book by Timothy Keller called The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness that is absolutely fantastic. He talks about gospel humility and how we as Christians are supposed to be free of ourselves and outwardly focused, because we were never created to be self-focused.
Whenever you start to feel really self-conscious, remind yourself that the world doesn’t revolve around you. Not everyone is focusing on you. Instead of obsessing over your own awkwardness, make a conscious effort to be selfless and focus on the people you’re interacting with. Self-consciousness is actually selfish because it stops you from being fully present with others.
5. Remember that people are just people
This may sound silly, but it’s so important. It’s so easy to become intimidated by people for no logical reason. I used to be so intimidated by practically everyone. But you shouldn’t think of people in this way. God told us to fear Him, not other people. We’re all human. We all have struggles and insecurities.
Don’t spend all your time caring about what everyone thinks or assuming that people are judging you. And don’t think the worst of people. Don’t just assume that people are mean or don’t like you just because they’re not instantly warm and friendly. You can end up making a lot of wrong conclusions about people when you make assumptions. Instead of being scared of people, just love people. When you stop being so self-consumed and actually love people like Christ commands us to, you’ll find that you stop being intimidated by them.
6. Put yourself out there
This is the advice that all socially anxious people hate. But unfortunately it’s true: you only become better at socializing by actually socializing. If putting yourself out there scares the hell out of you, then the best thing you can do is face your fear. The more you interact with people, the more confident you’ll become.
If you hide away and avoid social interaction then you’ll only become more insecure and socially awkward. Most of the time we’re simply afraid of the unknown. As soon as you do something, you often realize that it’s nowhere near as bad as you thought it would be. It’s the same with social interaction. Once you get used to interacting with different people on a regular basis, it becomes normal and stops making you nervous.
7. Get a job (where you actually have to talk to people)
This is probably even more terrifying than the last point. But this was honestly one of the things that helped me the most. I believe that God is the One Who gave me confidence and brought me out of my shell, but I also believe that getting a job was crucial in this process.
A couple years ago I said I would never get a job where I had to talk to people. Talking to strangers (especially my peers) absolutely terrified me. I didn’t want to apply for any jobs that required a lot of social interaction. But now it’s kind of hilarious because my job literally requires me to sit at a desk and greet people and answer questions.
Within a week or two of working I totally stopped being intimidated by talking to strangers. And I even overcame my fear of talking to attractive guys! Now I’ll happily talk to anyone and don’t feel awkward talking to people I don’t know. Yes, there are some days when I feel less confident and chatty than usual. But I never feel anxious to talk to people, which is really freeing!
8. Stop taking life (and yourself) so seriously
I think a lot of my social anxiety (and anxiety in general) comes from the fact that I have a tendency to be a little too serious. Okay, very serious. I’m naturally quite an austere person, so I can very easily get into the mindset where I take everything seriously and am really hard on myself. But as a Christian, it’s so important to relax and to stop taking yourself so seriously. Joy is a really great antidote for fear and anxiety. And yes, I know, you’re probably thinking that joy can’t be formulated by sheer will. But joy is actually kind of a choice.
The word tells us to rejoice. So we can choose to be joyful and actually rejoice, or we can be really serious and act like everything is the end of the world. I have a tendency to do the latter, but it really takes the fun out of life. So don’t go into situations that make you nervous with a really serious mindset. Learn to be joyful, and learn to laugh at yourself. Instead of remembering awkward social situations in which you think you embarrassed yourself and cringing in humiliation, laugh at yourself and move on.
So I hope my advice helped. People get through things differently and at different times, so don’t assume these things are a magic fix for your social anxiety. There are obviously more approaches to overcoming social anxiety, but these are the things that first came to mind and that I believe were the most significant in my own transformation.
First and foremost, it’s obviously really important to pray about this. At the end of the day God is the only One Who can really help you overcome your fears and insecurities. Ask Him to reveal the roots of your fears and to help you overcome them.
Bible verses to help with social anxiety:
Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe. |Proverbs 29:25|
Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. |2 Corinthians 3:12|
Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ. |Galatians 1:10|
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. |Philippians 4:6-7|
We are not trying to please people but God, Who tests our hearts. |1 Thessalonians 2:4|
For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. |2 Timothy 1:7|