For others reading this thread, just in case there is a question, A Balance Sheet for Facing Anxiety, is a handout in Session 6. The idea here is to balance doing behavioral activities - doing enough, doing something, but not flooding yourself, not doing too much that you’re not ready for. I would like to also note that this handout is not meant for writing out a strict plan of what is rated from easy (step 1) to the highest (step 100) and then following it. First, such a thing would take a long amount of time. Second, as you change and progress, the list will always be changing. We can instead rely naturally on what we know and feel at that moment to be the right way to go about approaching things, to look for the easiest way to begin, and then to look for the next step.
In your post, you point out first the highest “point” on your list - dating. So, we are right back to this huge issue of dating which touches upon all aspects of social anxiety, and, to remind all of us, is challenging for everyone in the world, not just for socially anxious people. You describe jumping into that rather high level anxiety situation, and then the pressure that comes with it and your perceived expectations of what should happen next. Authority - yes, another high level anxious thing.
Later you say “I just can’t have normal, easygoing chat.” Stay away from “can’t” and absolute words. They are untrue, but you are saying them so your brain takes that as the truth, hearing it over and over again. Same thing when you say “impossible”. Rationally why is it impossible to say hello to someone who hasn’t looked at you or taken the first step. In life, we must also take the first step. It is unreasonable to think others will always take the first step and do all the work for us.
So then, how to go about this? Read the handout again. Then read it again. I say this because it is a fairly simple, straight-forward handout. Avoidance is not good. And, flooding is not good. You are already flooding by starting this activity with dating/women and authority examples. But are there ways to start this lower? Of course. Start slowly and plan to do things that only cause mild anxiety. Remember to loosen up. Use rational statements before you do these things, and after. Expect to be a little nervous. Try to think rationally, and then congratulate yourself on just doing it. Then, when ready, take the next step.
-All of that is taken directly from the handout. Simple enough. So how to apply it? Say hello to people in your day. This could be anyone - the person working at some service job, the person you pass in the hallway. Say good morning to a stranger first maybe, then to someone you might know. That’s it. Say just that. Smile to those people if you like. That is a first step.
Notice you did not say hello to the woman of your dreams that you have been worrying about for 5 months. Or maybe you did not say hello to that person in authority. But you did say hello to real people. REAL people, without a problem. You could even say hello, and just that, hello, to your boss and smile, and that’s it, IF you are ready for that. That is a first step. And you may say, well those other people don’t count - they don’t cause me much anxiety. THAT IS EXACTLY THE POINT. They don’t cause you much anxiety but maybe some and you are practicing a healthy, normal human behavior with them, with real people, and that practice will help you move up to doing the same things in other situations and be fine with it. And surprise!.. even just this practice will lead to opportunities for more interaction with those people which will help you. Every time you take the first step to DO something, you’ll feel a difference, and it will give you the opportunity to STOP thinking about it afterwards, to STOP over-thinking how something went, because you’re practicing stopping that kind of thinking.
The next time you might say 2 things to the person. “Hello, good morning.” “Hello, have a good day.” “Hello, how was your weekend?” And this might become very minor small talk. Each step, there are ways to continue and move it up like this.
Small steps are real, effective and make a huge difference. If you don’t take the small steps and think you are going to jump to having a calm, effective great conversation with that feared person in authority, you are likely kidding yourself. But by taking the small steps, yes, you will be able to do just that.
And don’t let me hear you say, “Oh, but none of that small stuff matters. That practice isn’t helping me.” Y E S… I T… I S. Yes, it is. That’s what it takes. Just a smile. Just a nod. Just a hello. Just those things - that’s the start. Don’t make the silly and unrealistic mistake that “Now I’m doing therapy, I must be able to talk to the prettiest woman I’ve ever seen over there at the coffee shop.” That’s silly. That’s not even the point of this. This is not about dating. This is about you finding a healthy center inside yourself that believes in yourself and that is completely fine with yourself so that social anxiety is not around anymore. Then what you do with your life is completely yours to do with. Then you can talk to that nice person in the coffee shop as would anyone else. Then you can have a human conversation with a boss about work or about the latest book she is reading.
Start small, in the easiest way, but start, and do it. And do the easy things, and then think, okay, I did that. That was great. I did just fine. Now what small addition can I make, what thing more can I do that feels possible also.