Stoicism is one of the few philosophies I actually like. Mostly because it´s very practical and it makes the practicioner more self reliant over time. In this post, we will look at Stoic Exercises for Social Anxiety.
In stoicism, you divide the world into two different parts: the one you can control, and the one you don´t.
From a stoic perspective, the things you can control are: your thoughts, speech and behaviour.
Everything else falls under the category of things you can´t control. The things other people do or say, how they think, their emotions, even the health of your body falls under this category.
So, everytime you´re influenced by other people in a negative way, you´re coming back to yourself. What is your role in this circumstance? What are your options? Etc.
Because of this perspective, Stoicism is a great tool we can pick up to influence our fear of social interaction and take back our life.
So, in this post I´ll first give some quotes that can help with changing your mind, your perspective, over time. Then, we will look at some stoic exercises you can do to become active.
„Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness – all of them due to the offenders´ ignorance of what is good or evil. But for my part I have long perceived the nature of good and its nobility, the nature of evil and its meanness, and also the nature of the culprit himself, who is my brother (not in the physical sense, but as a fellow creature similarly endowed with reason and a share of the divine); therefore none of those things can injure me, for nobody can implicate me in what is degrading. Neither can I be angry with my brother or fall foul of him; for he and I were born to work together, like a man`s two hands, feet or eyelids, or the upper and lower rows of his teeth. To obstruct each other is against Nature´s law – and what is irritation or aversion but a form of obstruction.“
- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
„When your sparring partner scratches or headbutts you, you don´t make a show of it, or protest, or view him with suspicion or as plotting against you. And yet you keep an eye on him, not as an enemy or with suspicion, but with a healthy avoidance. You should actthis way with all things in life.We should give a pass to many things with our fellow trainees. For, as I´ve said, it´s possible to avoid without suspicion or hate.“
- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
The following exercises are examples from the book „Unshakable Freedom“ from Chuck Chakrapani.
- The Anticipatory Prep technique (Morning meditation)
- The Course Correction technique (End-of-day meditation)
- The Premeditatio Malorum technique (Negative visualization)
The Anticipatory Prep technique (Morning meditation)
The morning meditation consists of different exercises prepare you for the day and forestall negatively reacting to others when they behave in a way that might annoy you.
- Give Gratitude
Think about the people and events in your life that you´re thankful for. It can be family members, neighbours, people at work, etc. It can be a smile that was given to you or some other nice action.
- Prepare for the day
Continue to lie in bed and say to yourself, „Today I will meet with people tho are meddling, unthankful, rude, disloyal, and selfish. People who behave this way don´t know the difference between good and evil. But, because I know the difference, I will not be affected by their behavior. Neither will I be angry or be irritated because I´d rather cooperate than fight with others.“
Repeat to yourself, „Today I will control only what is under my control. I will not worry about things not in my control.“ Later in the day, whenever you face any unpleasant encounter, recall these words.
- Get up cheerfully
Once you have prepared your mind this way, get up cheerfully. If you are still reluctant to get up, continue on your meditation for a while and say to yourself, „I am here to do the work of a human being. Why should I feel I am not up to it and lie in bed? Like every being that does the work assigned to it, I can do the work of a human being too.“
The Course Correction technique (End-of-day meditation)
Go over your day. When have you felt feelings of nervousness and anxiety? In what kind of situations? A good method to get over these feelings is to ask yourself one question: „Is this what I was so afraid of ?“
It´s told that Seneca, to overcome his feelings of shame, went out in bad clothing and lived like a beggar for a few days, asking himself the question: „Is this what I was so afraid of?“
It´s a good method to bring things in another perspective and make yourself clear that you´re still alive and well, so the situation itself probably wasn´t as threatening as you first perceived.
Also, you can bring a little body awareness to this exercise through feeling your body and emotions while going over this exercise. Can you feel and relax your body like in the Dissolving Practice when you feel negative emotions rising again?
The Premeditatio Malorum technique (Negative visualization)
There seem to be different versions of this exercise, however, the common theme is this: Imagine the worst case scenario that could happen. Meaning: What could be the worst scenario when you´re talking to someone? Could the person get mad? Could your friendship break because of your conversation? Etc.
When you came up with your worst case scenario, what could be measures against that scenario? Could you say things differently? Could you do something afterwards to repair the relationship?
Also: Does it even bother you if this happens? Is it really so important to freak out over? Or, in Senecas words: „Is this what I was so afraid of ?“