6 Tips on Social Anxiety from Former US Veteran Navy SEAL and CIA Contractor Shawn Ryan

Backstory on Shawn Ryan’s Battle with Mental Health

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Shawn Ryan is a former US veteran. He’s spent 14 years of combat service for the US Navy Seals and the CIA. Who would’ve thought someone who has battled with terrorists around the world, would struggle with overcoming social anxiety? I say this ironically since records show 11-20% of veterans from Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom suffer some form of PTSD within a given year. Anxiety.org also says 20% of veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan will experience acute anxiety, stress and/or depression.

Making it into the US Navy Seal is one of the most difficult feats one can accomplish. The chances of making the Navy Seals are slim. 40,000 people are recruited into the US Navy each year, out of those recruits, only 6% (2400) meet the physical requirements to join the Navy Seals. Only 1000 top-tier applicants are capable enough to make it past the tryout stage into Navy Seal Training. Out of those 1000, 1 in 4(250 total) become US Navy Seals.

The US national water polo team struggled to complete a days training, and they won the silver medal that preceding year. Check them out here:

Shawn Ryan claims to struggle with social anxiety every day. Fortunately, Shawn Ryan knows a thing or two about dealing with social anxiety. Here are six tips in overcoming social anxiety from the hero himself.

1.) Never Allow yourself to be Trapped at a Social Event |3:47

“I don’t ever put myself in a situation I can’t get out of”

“I don’t do f***ing Ubers, I don’t do taxis, I don’ let friends drive”

When a panic attack sneaks up on a person, they often feel overwhelmed and disoriented. Shawn Ryan strongly suggests having some sort of escape plan when anxiety symptoms become too overwhelming. Here’s a relatable example of what a typical panic attack looks like, taken from the Iron-man movie.

This advice about ensuring an easy escape sounds warlike but strongly correlates to agoraphobia. An anxiety disorder that makes one fear/avoid situations that can cause panic attacks, make a person feel cornered, or shamed. Sufferers of agoraphobia may feel overwhelmed in certain places:

  • Leaving the house alone
  • Large crowds and waiting in long lines
  • Closed off spaces: elevators, movie theaters, smaller stores
  • Public transport: subway, bus, aircraft

2.) Get a Safe Space for Overnight Travelling |

“If I’m gonna go on an overnighter or somewhere I always run a hotel. it gives me my little ‘safe space’”

Shawn Ryan was stationed overseas fighting terrorist organizations. Forced to be on alert 24/7 and sleep with one eye open. After returning to his homeland U.S.A most would expect him to view the whole country as a safe space

On the contrary, the definition of a safe space doesn’t solely require physical safety. A safe space means more than that. The Safe Space Network says, “A Safe Space is a place where anyone can relax and be able to fully express, without fear of being made to feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, or unsafe”. Since a personal hotel room provides shelter from uncomfortable social encounters, it checks the imaginary Safe Space Network box.

A safe space is extremely important to Shawn Ryan. He implies his hotel method caused him to decline invites from people welcoming him to stay over. It’s even caused minor conflicts with friends and family members for always opting to stay at a hotel. Especially during scenarios that were later into the night.

3.) Use a Code Phrase | 6:56  

“(use) Code words, and or little phrases that you can say to a friend or your significant other or whoever, ‘but it has to be somebody you can really fricking count on’”

Shawn Ryan emphasizes going out with someone you can rely on. Identifying this person as a stable pole you can cling onto, during the hurricane we call life. When he feels uncomfortable or feels a sudden panic attack, he says a key phrase to his fiancé, so she knows it’s time to go. His key phrase is, “This is my favorite song”. A covert message that gets his point across. Hopefully, they’re not playing Nickelback when he says this phrase(joking). Word of advice don’t always use the same key phrase otherwise people may catch on.

One of the most important criteria he looks for is their understanding of his social anxiety condition. It needs to be somebody who will be ready to leave immediately and won’t say something inconsiderate like “after this game” or “gimme 15 minutes”.


4.) Don’t feel like you have to talk all the time | 8:43

“if you don’t understand something somebody’s’ saying, tell them”

Shawn Ryan says he used to feel insecure when going out to social functions. Constantly feeling like people were putting him down, even if they were not. He blamed this partially on the fact that he was meeting wealthy and successful people: stockbrokers, lawyers, businessman, etc. Then when it came time for him to speak on his own accolades, he didn’t have much to say. Because most of his work is top-secret and classified.

After retiring from the military, Shawn Ryan avoided all types of social events except one. He used to go out to dinner all the time with his neighbor’s mom because she put him at ease. 

One day she asked him about not going to many social events. He confided in her about being intimidated by not having much to say in certain social situations, and specifically hating the question “what are your hobbies?”.

She then advised him, “You don’t have to say s***, just from you sitting there and listening with your background makes the entire room intimidated, people like to talk about themselves, let them talk about themselves”

5.) Refrain from Using Alcohol as a Crutch |11:48

“(Stop) Drinking, this is the one nobody wants to hear”

Alcohol is widely known as a social lubricant. Many of those suffering from social anxiety lean on it as a social crutch, says M.S Margarita Tartakovsky. Especially when feeling overwhelmed at social functions. Shawn Ryan was one of them, “When I was in a social setting[…] I would pound fucking vodka nonstop.”.

Yet, now he abstains from getting hammered with hard liquor, claiming only to drink beer or wine, which have substantially lower alcohol percentages. Another tip is bringing his own can of bubbling water that he poured in a glass cup. This helps because it looks like liquor and helps him blend in with the crowd. Also, it gives something for him to do with his hands, which makes him feel comfortable.

In addition, staying relatively sober relates to his mantra ‘don’t get yourself into a situation you can’t get out of’. He says this eloquently in his video, “Once you’re f***ing hammered, your hammered”. Meaning that if you get overly intoxicated liquor, there’s no immediate way to sober up.

Even though alcohol can temporarily reduce stress and anxiety. Alcohol may induce anxiety once it wears off, lasting up to a day. Furthermore, using alcohol to cope with social situations can lead to a dependence that can increase overall anxiety in the long term according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA)

6.) The Last thing: Get some Therapy | 13:58

“I went to therapy for 3 years, twice a week, every f***ing week.”

The one thing that helped him more than everything was getting into therapy. Therapy wasn’t just about understanding what happened to him and moving past it. Therapy was able to help the Veteran understand what was going through other people’s mind. For example, situations when somebody is being unreasonably angry and belligerent towards you. Therapy can help one understand that maybe the person is projecting the feelings onto you. Instead of taking rude behavior personally.

However twice a week of therapy is considered a lot, and some people even go to therapy as little as once a month or bi-weekly.


Stephan Toure

Blogger writer and content creator that's dedicated to helping others get out of their own way.

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