How to Overcome Social Anxiety Fast: Just Say Yes

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Year of Yes" by Shonda Rhimes. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you have social anxiety? How do you face your fears of being the center of attention?

Being seen and heard in public could be terrifying for some people. For Shonda Rhimes, writer of Year of Yes, she had to work hard to overcome her social anxiety to become the acclaimed writer she is now.

Check out how to overcome social anxiety fast with Rhimes’s advice.

Don’t Shy Away From the Public Eye

Before her transformative year, being seen and heard in public had caused Rhimes severe panic attacks because she was afraid of being judged by others. She often passed up opportunities for events that would put her in the public eye, like interviews, because she was uncomfortable with that level of visibility. When she had to make public appearances, she kept her guard up and refrained from being vulnerable and showing her authentic self. 

(Shortform: Rhimes doesn’t explicitly explore the root cause of her fear of vulnerability, but in Daring Greatly, Brene Brown explains that shame, self-doubt, and low self-worth are often the sources of our fear of being vulnerable with others. Brown contends that overcoming your aversion to vulnerability can help you feel more courageous, have more connection in your life, and feel more compassion toward yourself and others, as Rhimes did.)

This is Rhimes’s advice on how to overcome social anxiety fast: say “yes” to every invitation. Rhimes did this and accepted two opportunities she might otherwise have declined: a guest appearance on the Jimmy Kimmel Show and an invitation to deliver a graduation speech at her alma mater, Dartmouth. These events allowed her to face her social anxiety head-on, and she discovered that being vulnerable in public can be scary but also gratifying and fun.

(Shortform note: Rhimes’s discovery that she could not only survive facing her fears but could also enjoy it might be explained by psychologists who contend that the experience of fear is similar physiologically and emotionally to the experience of excitement. One approach to scary situations, then, might be to reframe your racing heart and the butterflies in your stomach as a feeling of excitement rather than fear. We tend to label fear as an inappropriate or negative response and excitement as a positive one. Therefore, reframing your emotions can empower you to feel more in control of your mental state.) 

Key Takeaways

It’s ok to have some conditions before you agree to do something that scares you if they help you face your fear (not if those conditions are excuses to avoid your fear). For example, before agreeing to do Jimmy Kimmel Live, Rhimes insisted that the show not be live. This compromise helped her ease into the experience of doing something that terrified her.

If you’re speaking in public, you can overcome your social anxiety by tapping into what you have in common with your audience and how you might identify with them. When giving her Dartmouth commencement speech, Rhimes realized that the moment was not about her performance but about passing something valuable to the graduates—wisdom she wished someone had provided on her graduation day. Because of this realization, she was nervous before the speech but did not have a panic attack, which was a triumph for her.

(Shortform note: Other techniques experts recommend to overcome public speaking fears include prioritizing your preparation, speaking in public more often, practicing mindfulness, and even taking voice lessons to build your confidence in your speaking abilities. Though Rhimes doesn’t mention these strategies specifically, her preparations align with some of these techniques: For example, by focusing on how she could bring value to the Dartmouth graduates, she introduced excitement into her preparations, and by insisting on a condition for her Kimmel interview, she was being mindful about what her limitations were.)

How to Overcome Social Anxiety Fast: Just Say Yes

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Shonda Rhimes's "Year of Yes" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Year of Yes summary:

  • The story of a woman who said "yes" to every opportunity for a year
  • How to go from surviving to full-hearted thriving
  • Why you shouldn't be uncomfortable with receiving praise

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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