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Approach Anxiety – The Autistic Socially Awkward Guide to Conquering it

Posted by Anonymous on September 13, 2016  /   Posted in Khemcorp Originals, Overcoming Social Anxiety

Approach Anxiety – The Anxiety Suffer’s Guide to Conquering It

The fear of approaching a stranger is a challenge to most people. approaching an attractive member of the opposite sex, only when most people are drunk. Approach anxiety, when it’s completely overwhelming is something that prevents people leading the lives they wish to lead.

You see most people can get over approach anxiety using willpower, however their base anxiety isn’t anywhere near as high as people say for example on the autistic spectrum.

For people with medical level anxiety, approach anxiety is a total quality of life curse. It’s a curse that stops you from saying hi to that cute girl or guy. It’s a curse that stops you approaching anyone you would like to meet (even if they are friendly!). It’s like a lock down, It isn’t something you can brave through, or do it through courage alone.

approach anxiety

Oh and the few times you do it? When you get there you are a shaking nervous mess. What happens next is a fuzzy mess of failing social interactions whilst you are on anxiety autopilot, stuck on the loop.

For this blog post, I’m going to throw aside the research, the medicine and focus on the mental game. You have to read the whole post because I am going to start by explaining stuff very abstractly then I am going to simplify it so you can use it practically, but you have to understand the way to think about it first.

So What’s Going On? What Does It Feel Like? What Actually is Social Anxiety?

I know exactly what it feels like.

I only need to talk about it to recall the countless nights and days I’ve stood like a wallflower, feet planted to the ground, unable to talk to anyone whilst everyone moves around and form “little groups”, their social ability seemingly innate.

Let’s drill down to energy on a more spiritual level – it feels like there is an invisible barrier surrounding the person or group you want to get to, you can walk around it, look into it, try to move into it, but something is always stopping you, you feel like you are choking, if you have a social friend who pushes you to make the approach you choke even more.

This energy field is our social awareness, we are aware of people’s social boundaries. That’s why people sit evenly on buses instead of sitting right next to another person when there are empty seats. This manifests as energy in our perception, you can feel it – next time you are in a situation, try to feel it, try to feel the way your brain is actually creating these physical force fields around people. When you think of approaching this field comes into effect pushing you away.

This is in fact absolutely normal. In fact social butterflies are just talented, gregarious people who just don’t feel these barriers at all, but for most people this is social programming. It’s entrenched deep deep in your limbic brain.

The main difference for people with high anxiety is these barriers are negative and dark, they are filled with memories of pain, of dread, it makes you feel drained, it makes you feel like you want to go home.

So is it a wonder why people with anxiety struggle so hard with approach anxiety?

The key problem with other people who write this stuff, is they are often not people who experience high levels of social anxiety in general.

Just do it says the other guru , xyz social artist. You read books and they tell you to just go for it. It’s pretty much useless advice. For neurotypicals, there is a threshold point that they can cross under some pressure and make the approach, eventually they will even lose this approach anxiety all together.

The Secret to Beating Approach Anxiety – What’s the solution?

Firstly, willpower will never get you over the approach anxiety comfortable, you can do it once or twice, but eventually you will get tired and lethargic to doing it. The more you fight it the more your subconscious will eventually fight back and make it even harder.

Trust me I know. You don’t want to wire the anxiety to the actual approach, when you use willpower to overcome it. You mentally reinforce the horrors and pain of approach anxiety, eventually it will come back to bite you. (which is what happened to me).

The second thing you need to learn is, all neurotypicals are social naturals, here is a hint: they don’t think, they just know what to do.

The secret is:

Logic never solves anxiety, you can recite as many motivational quotes or think about how much you want it. As long as you are thinking, the anxiety will get worst.

So the secret to lowering anxiety is being in touch with your own body and mental state.

The reason behind this is because what’s actually creating approach anxiety is nothing logical and every bit a physiological response happening in your body and mind, the logic is actually backward rationalizing the anxiety.

The logic is trying to get your attention AWAY from your body. REMEMBER THIS. The logic is trying to get your attention AWAY from your body.

Here is another secret, neurotypicals feel very present and in their bodies all the time. Why do you think the sociable ones are always good with sport and have no brains?

Now if you are born like me, you will never have the abilities of a gifted social person, but understanding this secret above is going to save you a lot of pain and self-analysis.

So does that mean we do “mindfullness” and don’t use our brains? No. That’s stupid and another one of those hipster douche advice.

Mental Concepts to Understand in Dealing With Approach Anxiety

There are a few mental elements I am likely to repeat over many blog posts, to get over approach anxiety:

  1. You can only ever really have one thought in your brain. In situations of anxiety social pressure, anxiety triggers the brain’s RAM(Random Access Memory) to shrink. Normally you can have a few thoughts but we only want to concentrate on one thing at a time. This is a KEY DIFFERENCE between anxiety/autism and neurotypicals. Neurotypicals do not struggle with memory recall during social interactions.
  2. Everything you are experiencing is almost guaranteed to be because you are stuck in the loop. Meaning all your thoughts are bullshit.
  3. Autistic and highly sensitive people tend to have their focus on their heads and on their own thoughts. Social butterflies focus on the external environment and their bodies.
  4. You are NOT the same as everyone else if you have autism or severe social anxiety. Unlike others you will have to rely on mental tools to cope. You will never think exactly like them, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be funny. Embrace who you are.
  5. If you are planning or thinking in your head about all the possible outcomes then you are doing it wrong. It almost certainly means you are overwhelmed in some way.
  6. If you have a few thoughts “keywords” “topics” in your head and you are also acting and talking and engaged in your body, then you are doing it right.
  7. Seriously “less is more” , as Steve Job’s said if you can simplify things you can move mountains. If what you are thinking is complex, then you will never get over approach anxiety. Simple thoughts beat complicated thoughts everytime when it comes to approach anxiety.

Mental State Going In (Save on your phone)

There is some “mindsets” you have to absolutely UNDERSTAND, BELIEVE and REMEMBER before you go into a social event. These are things you need to internalise.

  1. Picture a guy he is sitting next to the bar, looking at everyone, planning, thinking of what will go right, what will go wrong, worrying, ruminating, imagining, but that’s EXACTLY the problem he will never do anything because he is always planning, as long as you are planning you are not being social.
  2. It IS NOT the responsibility of other people to be gregarious or sociable. You have to be.
  3. There is no substitute for courage.
  4. You have to be decisive about your style, you are either cool/calm or high energy, don’t be confused at what you are going to be, otherwise it will come across as incoherent and nervous to other people.
  5. No matter what you do, some people will like you, some people won’t.

The Method (Save on your Phone)

So with those ideas internalised here is what you do, now for severe anxiety suffered the mental game alone may not be sufficient and some medical help is required, but either way the medicine e.g. Oxytocin, SSRI, Alchohol is only a tool in helping you get over approach anxiety, but if your mental game is off you will still suffer approach anxiety.

You have to save these two sections on your phone (including the one above), the phone is your crutch. Whenever you are in a social event, your anxiety will reach levels where you won’t remember any of this.

The key here for autistic people is deducing approach anxiety and solving it very logically, but it won’t require thinking because you will memories these easy steps, by saving this on your phone.

  1. Wherever you are DO SOMETHING, take out your phone, order a drink, pretend to be looking at something. The worst thing for your social value and your own perception of yourself is standing there staring at people.
  2. Do the breathing exercise to relax, tension stops your creative juices flowing. You HAVE TO RELAX. If you can’t do that, retreat into the toilet, shut the cubicle door. cover your ears and close your eyes then do the breathing exercise. The trick here is to not actually try to breath deeply, but start by being aware how you are breathing (probably short breaths and choking). DON’T QUESTION WHY you are trying to relax, the ideas will come. Remember you are in actual fact panicking.
  3. See the person, group you want to approach, think of how to approach, best at an angle between two people. If it’s a high risk scenario approach sideways and if it looks bad you can just walk ahead and abort. Don’t stare at the group either, only make glances to measure your walking angle.
  4. Fuck the 3 second rule, take as much time as you need, you are ready when you are ready. Lean back and stay cool.
  5. Don’t think about what to talk about. Focus on your body. Dig your feet into the ground like a warrior in a tribe. Feel your attention on your face ready to make facial expressions, your vocal chords ready to talk, focus on your lips. You need to feel your whole body like you are ready to dance, or to play sports, like an animal. Socializing is an exchange of animalistic energies, it’s not really an exchange of highly intellectual ideas usually.
  6. Now look at the person/group you want to approach, feel their energy, feel their presence – what’s their body language are they cool? are they energetic? Now try to mirror them as if you trying to connect your body with theirs. If you find this difficult, imagine yourself matching their face expressions and breathing.
  7. Now wait for the point to come where you will feel like “maybe I just could” then immediately start walking in that direction. If you are not thinking – you are doing it right. You will make this up as you go along because that’s the best way to not be anxious.
  8. Get there, SMILE and wave your hands at them, like you are saying hi to all of them and look them in the eyes. If this is a single person then you just need to look at one person, if eye contact is an issue you need to learn the eye dodge technique which I will go into in another blog post maybe.
  9. Now I will give you the only line you will ever need “Hi you guys look interesting, so I just thought I’d come over and talk to you people, my name is …” If it’s a singular target you just “you look interesting” instead of saying guys.
  10. Reach out for handshake, unless they are total dicks they usually will have to reciprocate this gesture of goodwill.

If you want to be adventurous with a single target, you can use “Hey you look kind of cute, what’s your name?” . If you are really really confident you should even touch your targets lightly on the shoulder( I highly doubt an anxious person could get there without drugs).

Of course you will need practice, but if you get over the approach anxiety, remember that is the hardest part of every interaction, you could meet people you want to meet.

Now if it goes wrong, it could be any number of reasons which I won’t go into here, it could be your delivery, it could be they are just racists or assholes or whatever. You could stumble upon a very private conversation (it happens for real). This is merely to help getting over approach anxiety not other hard topics. One thing to understand is generally neurotypicals are very insensitive compared to autistic people, so don’t berate yourself. Remember you will need to do this in some way for the rest of your life, so if you are hard on yourself – you will just make it less likely for yourself to do it again.

I won’t be covering conversational tools here, but troubleshoot section below:

Troubleshooting

I always feel anxious, even after I’ve approached before.

Your monkey brain has no memory, every day, every approach is just completely new to him/her, so what you have done before isn’t that influential on how you feel.

Unfortunately being an anxious person means it will always feel like that, even neurotypicals feel some level of anxiety that never goes away, everyone is scared of looking bad, it’s programmed deep inside us. This is happening at a very brain chemistry level, and only extreme tampering like hallucinogenics could maybe modify it, certain chemicals can nullify the feeling or even make the barriers disappear, but they have their side effects.

On the logical side, if you meet more people then eventually you can just use those people to not look like a stranger at any event, this will drastically lower your social anxiety as you don’t feel “excluded”

Obviously the irony is the catch 22 of you need to be sociable in the first place to have dependable people to help you out.

I don’t know what to say after the approach

I will cover this in a future blog post for autistic people.

I’ve tried and I can’t do it

If your anxiety is at an insane base level these techniques simply won’t be enough, this is perhaps dangerous advice, but anxiety affects your quality of life. If you need low dose Xanax, go for it. You have to admit you have a problem, if you have tried say 10 times and you never approach for hours.

Interestingly Proglumide + low dose opiate is very good for approach anxiety but I could never recommend it for obvious reasons. I think it has something to do with the Opiate’s removing the pain, which forms the social barriers you try to cross in approach anxiety.

I don’t have empathy and find it hard to face scan and maintain eye contract.

Oxytocin nasal spray will probably help, there are also mental techniques to generate empathy.

I am shaking, if I approach they can see my hands are shaky and my voice are shaky.

Sublingual propranolol will probably help rid the physical anxiety here.

The place I am doing it is too hard…it has..loud noise…people with no clothes…

Is the venue you are choosing too difficult? for example for an autistic person a night club would be extremely challenging, pick areas where there isn’t a lot of distraction, museums, bookstores are all good alternatives

Go to meetup.com to find an event, attend those, it will be far easier than approaching people who may not want to meet other people. Events are far easier because people are supposed to socialise with strangers, removing a huge layer of social programming.

Please comment on what works and what doesn’t! Would love to hear specific scenarios and try to offer advice.