As-Salamu ‘Alaykum dear brother,
As you have read many articles on social phobia, you probably know a lot about the condition, what causes it, and how to overcome it. My question for you is, have you ever put in action the steps to actually address your social phobia?
As you may know, one of the keys to overcoming social phobias is to relax. I would kindly suggest that you practice relaxation techniques at home and utilize them when you are in a public situation. While you are home, you may want to sit comfortably in a chair and imagine yourself in a social setting. Instead of feeding into the panic and anxiety which may begin to flood your thoughts, imagine yourself in the setting relaxed, confident and happy. I would kindly suggest doing this several times a day until you begin to retrain your thought into positive ones.
As you have built up the fear for four years now, it might take some time to cognitively change the way you think – the way your brain is wired to feel when you are in social situations. Therefore, in sha’ Allah, by relaxing, picturing yourself as a calm, confident young man, you will become that as your cognition slowly changes to that of a calm, confident image. While you are doing the relaxation imagery, practice with conversations. It may feel awkward at first as you will be talking to yourself, asking yourself questions and then answering them, but this will give you practice for when you go out.
Realize that most of the time when someone asks a question, they are not focusing on you entirely; they are formulating in their head what their response will be next! So, do not fear blunders in questions as they may go unnoticed. Everyone at one time or another makes mistakes, blunders in conversations.
Also, deep breathing and doing dhzkir (silently if needed) in stressful situations can relax the mind and sooth the fears.
After you have mastered the relaxation, seek out social situations in which you can try out your new skills. Start with going to a small gathering. Keep a log of your time out. When you leave your home, visually go to your images and feelings that you have been practicing, the ones of you being calm, relaxed and confident. Start with maybe 15-30 minutes and each week build up the time by 10-15 minutes.
Remember also, you are never trapped; you can leave when you want and you are in control. When you go out, if you begin to feel uncomfortable, instead of focusing on how you are feeling, focus on something external in your environment. Maybe the design of a chair or the color of a wall. By focusing outward, you are removing the “looking glass” away from yourself and putting the focus elsewhere.
Ask people questions about themselves. This takes the focus off of you. Ask them about their job, how is their family, did they see any new movies and so on. Again, this will take stress off of you as the person you are engaged with will be doing most of the talking. This is also a way to make friends, and we naturally begin to feel more comfortable around those we consider friends.
Lastly, dear brother, please remember that we are all human and no one is perfect at social interactions. It is a learned response. I do not know what triggered your social phobia, but it can be undone. It will just take some dedication, patience, and leaving your “comfort zone.”
If these tips do not show some progress within a month, I would suggest seeking out the help of a counselor in your area who can further assess your needs and develop a more in-depth treatment plan to help you overcome your social phobia. As many, many people suffer from social phobia and have overcome it, I am confident that you can too, in sha’ Allah.
You are in our prayers. Please let us know how you are doing.