As a child, I felt something was wrong with me when my dad insisted I ask someone for directions, and I quivered and desperately shook my head from side to side. When I was a teenager, I was called a loner and suffered from severe body aches whenever I had to present in front of a class. I couldn’t sleep, and I always tried to evade these types of situations. Nevertheless, I always had to face them. As a young adult in college, I strategically made the decision of attending a private college where I was guaranteed a small number of students per class and personal space. I jumped at the chance to escape the disadvantages of public school.
Social anxiety is a condition I have had to live with but that I have also learned to manage. Thankfully, meditation and a strong support system at home have helped me become a person who is more comfortable in her skin.
I recently became a contributing writer for a non-profit organization. As part of my duties, I was asked to cover a fundraising event and write about it. Thankfully, I was given a few weeks to prepare. Unfortunately, there was also time for anxiety to claim control of my peace, body, and sleep. This type of anticipatory anxiety is familiar. During my college years, I had it every time I had to do a presentation. Back then, I taught myself a few things that helped alleviate my sense of anxiety.
- Be prepared.
I was to cover an event for the first time, and I wanted to do it well. I wanted my experience to be positive so that it could be reflected in my article. I asked for advice from a more experienced writer, and she was kind enough to give me some questions that I could ask during the event. I reviewed these questions and practiced asking them. I recorded myself and listened to my voice. Once I heard a confident person, I felt ready.
- Be Positive.
Being positive is challenging. I sometimes tend to envision the worse possible scenarios. To fight off negative thoughts, a college counselor taught me the power of imagination. She told me to close my eyes and picture a positive version of me. I visualized a smile across my face, I saw myself in color, and I imagined myself illuminated by light. Once you form something good in your mind, then the feelings tend to follow.
- Perfection does not exist.
Since this was a new experience for me, I labeled myself a learner. I was learning and if mistakes happen, as they do when you’re learning, then that is okay. With practice and more experience I would eventually cross that learning curve. I can’t be expected to do everything right on the first try no one would dare ask that, and if they do, then there is something seriously wrong with them.
A phrase that I find helpful and repeat often is: I am not perfect, and no one else in this world is. My only purpose is to be happy.
- Distract yourself.
Days before the social event, class presentation, or office meeting, I go out. I have fun. I explore the outdoors. I spend time with family and friends. A week before the fundraising event, I went to a botanical garden, I went to the beach and watched sea lions and sea gulls. I gave all my attention to the sounds of the ocean and discovered that nature is soothing to the mind, body, and soul.
- Do something you love.
Since writing is something I have always wanted to do, I felt a sense of responsibility to myself and my goals in life. I had to go to this social event. I want to be a good reporter, and the only way to do that is by practicing my craft. I wasn’t going to let my fears get in the way of my aspirations.
The fundraising event proved to be a positive experience. We were all there to support a good cause and to raise funds. Throughout the evening, I met great people that created a positive atmosphere with good vibes. Everyone I met was welcoming and eager to help me with my article. It was incredible to be around smart, compassionate, and proactive human beings.
This experience encouraged me to continue with my dreams of writing and reporting. I saw that there are good people in this world and that I should not be afraid to open myself up to them.
Learning that Social Anxiety Disorder is the third largest mental health problem in the world today made me less inhibited to share my story. I realized that I’m not the only one going through this. I learned that there are others who live with the fear of being scrutinized. However, I know that there are some who fight against this fear.
Remember: When you do the things you love, life gets easier.
Photograph By Nadia Jamnik