Overcoming Social Anxiety

Practical Steps


5/5/20239 min read

a man holds his head while sitting on a sofa
a man holds his head while sitting on a sofa

In the past, I used to dread social gatherings and meeting new people because it always left me feeling drained and exhausted.

I thought it was because I was an introvert and that social interactions just weren't my thing.

On the other hand, my wife Niki is a social butterfly.

She loves meeting people and frequently asks our friends to come over to our place for gatherings.

During gatherings at our home, while my wife Niki was busy socialising with our guests, I will disappear.

woman in black and white dress holding black and yellow umbrella walking on street during daytime
woman in black and white dress holding black and yellow umbrella walking on street during daytime

To avoid the discomfort of group conversations, I busied myself in the kitchen, chopping vegetables or stirring pots on the stove. I found solace in the repetitive motions of cooking, and it gave me an excuse to avoid participating in conversations.

Whenever we had meals together, I'd put my full attention on feeding my girls and keeping my mouth shut, like a mime artist performing the 'silent dinner' routine while trying to look interested.

And as soon as the plates were empty, I'd be the first to volunteer to take care of the dirty dishes and disappear into the kitchen, like a ninja escaping a crime scene.

Sometimes, I would retreat to the bedroom with our daughters, pretending to nap while they slept. It was a safe space where I could escape the noise and stimulation of the group.

It got worse in recent years.

I even started asking Niki to stop inviting people over, citing the need for cleanliness and preparation, but in reality, I simply wanted to avoid the social anxiety that came with gatherings.

Gathering became much less and I became more withdrawn.

Niki and I had much less intimate interactions. The only thing we talked about is children. We didn’t talk about our future plans, finances nor her day in work.

However, in the past two weeks, I've had a complete turnaround.

I've been enjoying meeting my friends and loved ones, and I feel energized and great afterwards.

Niki recently told me that she can feel a visible change in me.

She said it feels like we're back to being partners in crime, instead of just parents who coexist in the same house. And let me tell you, that's music to my ears.

I'm feeling optimistic too, like we're on the brink of building the kind of life we've always wanted, filled with love, laughter, and togetherness.

So what changed?

To begin, let us understand what an introvert is.


Introversion is basically a fancy way of saying that some people just prefer to be alone and think about stuff instead of being around a ton of people all the time.

And it's not because they're anti-social or anything, it's just how their brains are wired.

You see, introverts are like delicate little flowers that can only handle so much stimulation before they start to wilt. This is because their brains are super sensitive to dopamine, which is like the brain's version of a reward system.

Introverts need less dopamine to feel good, while extroverts need more.

So when an introvert is in a crowded place or has to socialize for a long time, it can be too much for their delicate nervous system to handle while an extrovert may flourish in such a setting.

So far so good?

Is introversion the root of my social disaster?

Not really.

It doesn’t explain everything as we all have introversion and extroversion in us.

As Healthline stated “Today, we know most people aren’t purely introverted or purely extroverted. People generally fall somewhere along the spectrum, with elements of both traits.”

So while it may affect somehow, it shouldn’t be the main root of the problem.

How about social anxiety?

Social Anxiety

Social anxiety is a fear of social situations, which can cause physical symptoms such as sweating, trembling, and a rapid heartbeat.

It is a common belief that introverts are prone to social anxiety. However, research stated that this is a common myth. Social anxiety is actually caused by a combination of different personality traits like neuroticism and conscientiousness.

Looking through the symptoms, while I have fear and discomfort, I do not have the intensity as described by the article.

So maybe I am a mild case?

I also realized that I never used to have a problem talking to people.

Sure, meeting new folks could be a bit nerve-wracking, especially if they were pretty ladies (wink wink), but I had no problem getting up on stage and performing in front of hundreds of people.

In fact, I enjoyed the applause!

But then I became a stay-at-home dad and things started to change.

And don't even get me started on those casual interactions, like with the cashier at the grocery store.

selective focus photography of man and baby
selective focus photography of man and baby

Seeing the lovely baby strapped to my chest, the conversation always goes, “Don’t need to work today?”

If I say I take care of the kids, they assume I'm some kind of superhero who can work and take care of the kids at the same time.

It's like people can't wrap their heads around the idea that a man can take care of his kids without a woman around.

But if I tell them the truth and say I'm a stay-at-home dad, they just go silent and try to change the subject. Like I've committed some kind of social taboo or something.

Sometimes, they'll even laugh awkwardly and walk away like I'm some kind of freak show. It's enough to make me want to crawl into a hole and never come out.

Eventually, I just pretend like I work from home to avoid the embarrassment.

It's not like anyone will know the difference, right?

Except for me, of course, and my self-esteem that's slowly but surely being eaten alive.

Pathological Need To Impress

Today, I realized that my approach to social interactions was fundamentally flawed.

My avoidance of social interactions was rooted in my fear of not being able to contribute anything of value to the conversation. I worried that my contributions would seem insignificant or that I would come across as arrogant or foolish.

I would focus on myself and try to impress people during conversations. My self esteem is so low that I needed validation from others to not feel like a loser.

Problem was I felt like I had nothing to share.

Other than parenting and being capable of doing household chores, the only knowledge I had was the latest fanfiction stories and the games I had played recently.

My friends weren’t into any of them.

So a vicious cycle occurred.

Try to impress - making a fool of self or nothing to impress - feel worse about self - indulge in high dopamine low effort activities (YouTube, video gaming, porn, fanfiction etc) to feel good about self - avoid interactions - forced into conversation - try to impress

I became withdrawn and depressed.

Then Niki introduced me to a world of change.

Giving As A Philosophy

The Go-giver is a book that is written by Bob Burg and John David Mann that promotes the idea of giving as a way to achieve success.

When I first heard about the idea of being a 'go-giver', I was more shocked than a cat who just got splashed with a bucket of cold water.

The idea of providing astronomical values for others, helping as many people as possible, and putting others' interests first, utterly shocked me. It is like a barring needle compared to what I had learned over my whole life.

I mean, all my life I've been taught to look out for number one and get ahead in any way possible.

There is a Chinese saying 人不为己天诛地灭. It means every man for himself otherwise even the heavens will destroy you.

The go-giver philosophy is all about shifting your focus from "what can I get?" to "what can I give?"

In other words, instead of going into a social situation with the mindset of "how can I impress people?" or "how can I get something out of this?", you approach it with the attitude of "how can I contribute?" or "how can I help?"

Contribution and help can be as simple as being genuinely interested in the other person.

One day my daughter was invited to her friend’s house. I really didn’t want to go as I don’t gel well with her parents. The mum is a career focused and driven lady and Dad is an outspoken and intimidating Romanian.

Of course, all these are my own poor self esteem speaking.

But I hate to disappoint my girl in anything possible so I decided to bite the bullet.

At first, I was really awkward until I decided to give the philosophy of giving a try. I will put my ego in the backseat and just listen to them.

And wow, the day was a blast.

I listened to his story about how he set up his new businesses in Bali, how he travelled around the world when he was young, his involvement and the inside story of what happened during the Romanian revolution, his view on current affairs, his dream and personal values and it was fascinating.

I listened to him for 4 hours straight and it felt like I had known him for a long time.

At the end of the day, he offered to send us home. When we got out of the car, he looked at me and said “Andrew, thank you for listening.”

And hell, I was surprised.

The only person who ever thanked me for listening was my wife. I always thought she was just being nice as she thinks the world of me.

Hearing from other people makes me realize that people really appreciate being listened to.

Since that conversation, I actively seek to connect with my friends again. Instead of retreating into my own thoughts or trying to impress them with my witty banter, I asked myself how can I make someone else feel heard or appreciated?

No more inner dialogue or carefully formulating the next answer.

white and black short coated dog
white and black short coated dog

Just pure curiosity and listening attentively.

If there is something I know, I will offer it freely. But I am wary of offering advice or opinions.

As Bernard Williams said, “Unsolicited advice is the junk mail of life.”

The key to being a go-giver is to focus on the other person's needs and interests, while also being true to yourself.

You don't have to be a chameleon or a people-pleaser to connect with others.

In fact, by sharing your own passions and expertise, you might find that you have more in common with others than you thought.

And the best part about being a go-giver?

It takes the pressure off of you to be perfect or impressive.

Instead of worrying about how you're coming across or whether people like you, you can focus on how you can be of service to others.

By taking the emphasis off of yourself, you might find that your social anxiety starts to dissipate.

I tell you, it is a lot less stressful.

Now, don't get me wrong.

It's not like my dislike for social interaction magically disappeared overnight. It's still something I struggle with from time to time.

But embracing go-giver values has definitely helped me manage it better.

How Can It Help You?

Let’s say you're at a social gathering and you're feeling nervous.

You see a group of people laughing and having a good time, and you feel like you don't belong. Instead of being self conscious, try approaching the group with a go-giver mindset.

Ask yourself, "how can I contribute to this conversation? How can I make someone else feel heard or appreciated?"

Maybe you notice that someone in the group is talking about their concern about their picky eating child, and you happen to have a killer recipe for simple-nutritious-kid-love food.

Instead of keeping it to yourself, offer to share the recipe or cook a meal and invite them over to try next time.

Or maybe someone is sharing a story about their recent trip to Japan, and you happen to be a Japanophile. Instead of trying to one-up them with your own travel stories, ask them more questions and share your knowledge about Japanese culture or architecture.

If you have nothing to contribute, just listen attentively and be curious. People love being heard.

Who knows, you might just make a new friend or learn something new about yourself in the process. And if all else fails, you can always bring a batch of home baked chocolate chip cookies to the party.

People always love cookies.

Reduce the sugar though. Let’s keep everyone healthy ^_^


Just because you are an introvert doesn’t mean you can’t socialize.

There may be underlying reasons to be discovered. If it is hurting you, identify it and come to terms with it.

So, if you're like me and the idea of being a go-giver is totally foreign to you, I encourage you to give it a try.

Who knows?

You might just find that it's the missing piece you've been looking for. And if not, at least you can say you tried something new. And hey, that's pretty cool too.

So good night, I need to rest early as I have another lovely gathering tomorrow.

Be loved and be well. See you next time, pal.