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ScienceHey Redditors! I've studied social anxiety and public speaking anxiety for 30 years. Ask me anything!

Apr 12th 2018 by mindful2 • 22 Questions • 7964 Points

Hey, Michael Imperioli here. Ask me anything! I just released my first novel and it’s out now! “The Perfume Burned His Eyes” (http://www.akashicbooks.com/catalog/the-perfume-burned-his-eyes/).

You can also catch me with Zach Braff in the new comedy series “Alex Inc.” Wednesday’s at 8:30PM/7:30PMc on ABC.

Proof: https://i.redd.it/swr3rytpudq01.jpg

Q:

I decided on Monday that I need to start therapy. But I don't get how the fuck I'm supposed to find a therapist. I googled therapists in my town who have hours that fit with my work schedule and accept my insurance....And it's an overwhelming number of people. I've never properly done therapy so I have no idea what I'm really looking for.

A:

Hey Michael,

I've always wanted to know... how much fun did you and Tony Sirico have while doing "Pine Barrens"? I can't imagine you two not bursting out laughing at some points while shooting that episode.


Q:

Hey Polaritical, if you're looking for a therapist who specializes in anxiety, you can narrow that list down. See this article on how to find a therapist (part 1 and part2).

In general, look for a cognitive-behavioral therapist (CBT) as this is the treatment shown to be most effective for anxiety. See post about therapy I made a few weeks ago.

Feel free to send any specific questions you might have.

A:

we are good friends and had a ton of laughs, especially when bacala shows up in the orange hunting hat


Q:

Is it possible to completely eliminate social anxiety or it all about recognizing/managing/coping with it?

Is the fact that even having the conscious thoughts of ("I'm socially awkward" "I don't want to be here" "I hate small talk") a sign that SA is not ever going to go away?

A:

Hey Spider! Two questions: 1) As you can tell I love Goodfellas so I have to ask, how was it working with Martin Scorsese? 2) What is your most prized possession, something you've had since even before the Goodfella days that you have and will never get rid of under any circumstance?


Q:

That is an extremely insightful question!

Is it possible to completely eliminate social anxiety?

No. Everyone has some social anxiety. Thinking that you're going to completely eliminate it actually keeps you stuck in it. Realistically, your goal should be to reduce social anxiety to a manageable level.

or it all about recognizing/managing/coping with it?

It is about (1) reducing your anxiety to a manageable level, and (2) recognizing/managing/coping with the anxiety at that level.

Think of social anxiety on a continuum of 0 to 10. Where 0 = no anxiety and 10 = off-the charts anxiety. Here are a few important points:

**No one is at a zero in every social situation.

**Those who have a 1-5 fear level have some anxiety but it's manageable. That's the "normal" level.

**Those who have a fear level of 6-10, anxiety symptoms are intense enough to make social interactions painful and this is seriously impacting their life (career, relationships, quality of life).

So if you're at a 6-10 level, your goal is to get anxiety down to a 1-5 level (level will vary between 1-5 depending on the social situation), and to develop a tolerance for the anxiety at that level.

When you watch your family and friends in the 1-5 level, they seem calm. But they do have some anxiety. The difference is that they are tolerating and expecting the anxiety. They are also thinking about the situation differently as explained in this post.

Yes, "I'm socially awkward" "I don't want to be here" "I hate small talk" is self-talk that will keep you stuck in SA. The first one is self-critical and recovery requires self- compassion. The second and third are fighting reality, and fighting reality exacerbates your anxiety.

Here are some ways you can reframe this self-talk with self-compassion and radical acceptance of reality:

*"I have social anxiety right now, but I'm working on it, and over time I will be able to reduce my anxiety to a manageable level."

*"Small talk is something I have to do sometimes in life. It's not what I love to do, but not everything in life is something I love to do, and that's ok."

A:

1)Marty was very kind, generous and trusting towards me on the set and really treated me like i truly belonged on that set for which i am forever grateful. 2)My most treasured possession from way back is my sanity which seems to be harder and harder to hold onto.


Q:

What’s the best way I can avoid anxiety when trying to study large amounts of information? Also, any advice on test anxiety? I haven’t found much that works for me...

A:

Is there a small part of you that gets tired of being recognized from the Soprano's? Spider was awesome, too.


Q:

Hey Osborconn, yea good question! Test anxiety is a type of performance anxiety where you're on the hot seat. So you should expect to have some anxiety in that situation. But if you have too much anxiety, it can botch up your grades.

So I've found that the first line of defense is really making sure you know the material inside and out. Because you have test anxiety, you may need to spend more time studying than others who don't have test anxiety. It's kind of like practicing a speech over and over - the more you practice, the more comfortable you will be during the pressure situation.

Learning the material inside and out really applies when you're studying lots of information. You have to spend a lot of time reading and re-reading and formulating in your mind the key principles and "big picture." That ensures that you develop a deep understanding of the overarching principles and how the details fit into those.

The second line of defense is learning test taking strategies. This doesn't apply to all tests, but is an example. Like on a timed test, you may want to quickly answer all the questions you know and then come back to those that need more time. That way you'll definitely get the points for those items you know. Here are some good test taking strategies.

Let me know what you've tried that hasn't worked. And are there any that have worked for you?

A:

if i were to be remembered by one role i would be happy its the sopranos


Q:

I've found that the first line of defense is really making sure you know the material inside and out

.

second line of defense is learning test taking strategies

I realize you're the expert and while those are both useful, I feel like there is a better answer. Realizing full well that you've been doing this for 30 years and have seen a thing or a million, I still think this is worth saying even if I'm down voted to oblivion.

I haven't found that learning the test inside and out is a useful answer here. The anxiety is almost always manifested as test anxiety as a symptom and not a cause. Sure knowing everything pat calms that on a specific test, but you won't always know everything and it's exactly those times when you need a better solution!

What I HAVE found to work on myself and others is reframing what meaning there is to the test, so that fear isn't stressing you out in the first place because you understand that it's ok to "fail". Ie, the goal can be reframed to "this is my first time, let's see how I can best do", "If I don't get this, I still have another shot", "If I don't get this, I still can find 5 other ways to reach my dreams"

A:

Hi Michael, I'm sorry I can't not ask you about The Sopranos. How hard was it to shed Christopher's attitude after a day on set?


Q:

Yea, you're right!

you won't always know everything and it's exactly those times when you need a better solution!

I really like what you said here:

What I HAVE found to work on myself and others is reframing what meaning there is to the test, so that fear isn't stressing you out in the first place because you understand that it's ok to "fail".

Yea, it's a paradox that giving yourself permission to fail can take that pressure off and can provide the mental clarity you need to succeed. Thanks for bringing that up.

A:

sometimes it would be hard to shake a certain mood of anger or frustration but the character itself i was always pretty good about leaving him on the set.


Q:

Does practice actually help - like would it be beneficial to join a Toastmasters group? Are there any other things/exercises/books you can recommend to help with public speaking?

A:

Thank you so much for responding! I'm a huge fan so I'm kinda freaking out.


Q:

Yes, practice and gradual desensitization are key :) See the diagram in my blog showing how the Law of Habituation works. Practice is what brings the anxiety down.

It's like learning to ride a bike or drive a car. When you do it the first time, you're really scared. But the more you do it, your anxiety goes down. That's how it works with public speaking anxiety. The key is to find a safe group where you can slowly and gradually desensitize.

It would be great for you to join a Toastmasters group. Or a "pre-toastmasters" group (like a laboratory) where you can desensitize step-by-step before jumping into the deep end of the pool.

In addition to public speaking desensitization, I recommend that you find ways everyday to increase your tolerance of scrutiny. Public speaking anxiety is caused by a fear of negative judgment and scrutiny. So the more you can increase your tolerance of scrutiny, the better.

Here's an exercise to try (ask a friend to help you): Sing happy birthday to your friend on a street outside a store. Or hum in a store while shopping. Notice that nothing bad happens. One of the things you want to teach your brain is that scrutiny does not have horrible consequences. Tell yourself, yes some people looked at me, but did anything really bad happen? Am I really paying a price for this?

Start off doing scrutiny exercises that you can handle easily. Find things that are a bit of a stretch for you (just outside your comfort zone) but not overwhelming. Something you can handle but is slightly uncomfortable. Then go to the next challenging situation. So if the singing happy birthday is too much at first, start with something easier.

Try to invite scrutiny at least once a day. Remind yourself that nothing bad happens. As you get comfortable with the first exercise, try to do progressively more challenging exercises.

Let me know your thoughts!

A:

thank you!


Q:

Is there anything I, as a partner to someone with GAD and Social Anxiety, can do to make it more bearable? Any way I can help her to help herself?

A:

You’re an Emmy winning actor. You’re an author. You’re absolutely one of my favorite actors of all time. I have incredible respect for you. What’s something strange or quirky about you that no one would ever imagine?


Q:

Yea, great question. I would start by having both of you read this article, and think about some of the communication tips.

I'll add more shortly but I wanted to get this much posted.

A:

i hate watching violence in movies, and am very squeamish


Q:

Do you know of any accurate, free online social anxiety tests? Of course an in person diagnosis would be more beneficial, that’s not an option

A:

How did you feel about your death in The Sopranos? Did you think it was a good end to Christopher's story?


Q:

Yea, here's a list of free online social anxiety tests.

A:

i think christopher's death was spot on and very necessary to the story, especially in terms of who tony became...which is, in the end, a vicious criminal


Q:

Should I ask her out?

A:

Very true, really spoke to his true character no matter how much he was adored. Best of luck with the book, I look forward to giving it a read!


Q:

Go for it!

A:

thank you !


Q:

Understanding that causation cannot be determined scientifically, from your professional experience, do you feel that personality characteristics cause anxiety or that anxiety causes personality?

A:

Michael, thank you for your tremendous career. If Tony had not killed Christopher after the car accident, do you think there was any chance at reconciliation between the two characters? Also, if not, do you think Christopher would have attempted to harm Tony eventually?


Q:

Yea that's a great question. It goes both ways.

Your personality - including the way you look at the world and interpret things - contributes to your anxiety.

See this post for ways you might be interpreting things that contribute to your anxiety.

At the same time, when social anxiety prevents you from a fulfilling career and relationships, that shapes your experiences and your personality.

Social Anxiety can shape your self-image and self-esteem. And your self-image or feelings of inadequacy can reinforce your social anxiety.

They reinforce each other.

A:

I think what happened was exactly what needed to happen so its hard for me to envision an alternate version to be honest


Q:

So, everyone is always telling me they have anxiety to speak on stages, and also every. Single. Movie. Imve EVER seen with a public speech scene, has some kind of anxiety part in it. But I just don’t get it. I never get anxiety when speaking in front of a large audience, nor do I get any noticeable anxiety when with other people.

Is this normal? I hear so much about people having anxiety that I’m not sure my lack thereof is normal.

A:

Is your book based on actual events?


Q:

LOL! Yea the other thing I hate is reading that most people fear public speaking more than death! Not true.

You're normal :)

So here's the deal. Think of fear on a continuum from 0 to 10. 0=no fear. 10=terrified. The higher you get towards 10, the more intense your symptoms (heart beating fast, mind going blank, sweating, tight chest, self-focused awareness, trouble concentrating, etc.)

Let's start with people who have a fear level in the range 1-5. This group may get some symptoms when speaking (sweating, etc.), but those symptoms are less intense and are manageable. This group can get through their talk despite having some symptoms. This is by far most people.

  • For those on the higher end of the continuum (like fear level 5), speaking may be a bit uncomfortable, but they can tolerate the discomfort and get through the task.

  • There are those who may have a zero in some speaking situations, and may have a 5 in other situations.

  • The key characteristic of this group is that they can get through it, and the symptoms don't stop them from performing.

The group with a fear level of 6-10, they have symptoms that are escalating out of control. Their nervous system has kind of tricked them. This is probably less than 12% of the US population.

Public speaking anxiety/phobia is a type of social anxiety. You can find statistics on social anxiety here.

A:

it is not based on actual events but Lou Reed is a character in the book and he did live in NYC in the mid 70s where the book is set


Q:

As soon as I saw the title of the book, I wondered if it was the lyric from Reed’s Romeo and Juliette. I love the imagery he paints in that song.

I’m a big fan of your acting and will definitely check out the book!

A:

sorry that should be "the better part of two years"


Q:
  1. I enjoyed the one episode of "Girls" you did. Would you work with Judd Apatow, Lena Dunham, or Jenni Konner again?

  2. When you agree to do the Sopranos, were you worried about being typecast as "Mafia guy" from then on?

A:

i loved doing the show "girls" and would gladly work with any of that team again

i was never worried about being typecast from the sopranos because it was a unique and groundbreaking show


Q:

Is writing a book something you have always had an interest in doing?

A:

I have wanted to write a book for many years, have started a bunch but have never finished till now


Q:

Thanks ... I wish Detroit 187 would have stayed on longer, really good show, my wife and I enjoyed it a great deal and you were a big reason it was so good.

A:

thank you !


Q:

do you have a favorite story of working with Tony Sirico on the sopranos that you can share with us?

Thanks man!

A:

i loved being lost in the snowy woods with tony and being forced to survive on ketchup packets!


Q:

Hi Michael,

I loved both the Sopranos and your character. I have recently started watching an Italian series called Gomorrah (which follows a mob family set in southern Italy) and am obsessed with that to.

Are you a mob film/series enthusiast and if so: favourite movie and favourite series?

A:

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie by John Cassavetes is my favorite mob movie of all time


Q:

Hi Michael, what music did you listen to while you were writing this book? Thanks!

A:

Lou Reed, Suicide, T Rex, Mott the Hoople, David Bowie, Dion, Patti Smith, John and Yoko, The Smiths,


Q:

Who was your favourite guest star to work with on The Sopranos, and why was it Ben Kingsley?

(Sorry, your opinion may differ, but friends and I still look at each other and deliver Sir Ben's "FuuuUuck" semi-regularly.)

A:

Ben was great but my fave was Julianna Marguiles


Q:

Will you be in The Sopranos prequel?

A:

I doubt it. My character was not even born in the late 60s which is when the movie is supposed to take place.


Q:

Hi Michael!

I'm a big fan of Christopher with my favourite scene of his in the series being when he goes to rob and punches Lauren Bacall.

I was just wondering if you had any great set stories during your time filming The Sopranos and what was it like shooting that scene with her.

A:

i had met "betty" bacall many years before in Paris on the set of Robert Altman's "Ready to Wear" and was in awe of her every time I was near her. She was a legend, truly and a class act all the way. Punching her difficult for me but a highlight of my career to be sure!


Q:

Great job as Stu Ungar. What connections did you feel with him?

A:

I got to meet a lot of people who knew him in las vegas...people who both loved and hated him...he was an obsessive human being and pursued his interests with lots of passion and intensity...i guess i try to do the same


Q:

Out of curiosity, when you were growing up, was there a particular movie or TV series that really stood out to you and made you think "I want to do that"? or any actor(s) that really stand out to you as all time greats in your mind?

A:

Midnight Cowboy and Dog Day Afternoon probably more than any others