I can laugh about my difficulties with social anxiety today, but it wasn’t so funny when it plagued me in university.
If I was late for class, I couldn’t bring myself to walk into the classroom because it meant all eyes would be on me.
If I couldn’t get a seat in the last possible row, I’d get anxious. Sitting in the front meant, at least in my mind, that people were staring at me from behind. This caused me to shake like I was cold. I was desperate for the class to end as quickly as possible.
Crowds and clubs were a nightmare. I felt like everyone’s eyes were on me.
My cheeks would turn every shade of the rainbow when I spoke with almost anyone except friends.
It wasn’t because I was a poor conversationalist. I’m witty, funny, and quirky. The biggest obstacle I had to overcome was to recognize that others weren’t judging me so much as I was judging myself.
This is what it’s like to look at the world through the eyes of someone with social anxiety. The statistics below are based on data from people like me who took our Social Anxiety Test:
- 73% are extremely uncomfortable making eye contact.
- 85% struggle to initiate conversations.
- 86% feel paralyzed with fear when a stranger talks to them.
- 92% hate standing out from the crowd.
- 93% (like me) won’t walk into a room if people are already seated.
- 94% are uncomfortable taking part in group activities.
- 94% miss opportunities to make a good point because they are afraid to speak up.
- 95% go to great lengths to avoid social gatherings.
- 95% tend to withdraw from people.
- 96% are embarrassed to speak in front of a small group people.
And if that wasn’t enough…
- 96% get extremely anxious just having a one-on-one conversation with a stranger.
- 97% will worry about mingling with people at a party that is more than a month away.
If you experience mild to moderate anxiety, check out the tips below. If your social anxiety is debilitating to the point where it significantly affects your daily functioning, I really recommend the help of a counselor. Therapy has come a long way and is much more effective and efficient (sorry Freudians!).
- Develop an exposure program. To master a situation that causes you discomfort, break it down into small steps. Then you can progress from the easy steps to more difficult ones. If, for example, you feel anxious about approaching a group of people in the cafeteria, set small goals for yourself that lead up to that behavior. First, say “Hi” to someone different in the hall once a week. Then move on to making small talk about something in the news that day. You’ll be amazed at the progress you can make if you take the process one step at a time.
- Practice makes perfect. Scared about that big presentation you have to make in front of clients next week? Why not ask a few friends for an hour of their time to act as your audience in a role-playing scenario? This will help you become more familiar with the feeling of being in front of others, easing the anxiety you’ll feel during the actual presentation. You can go even further and have your friends ask questions so you can prepare some answers ahead of time. Just make sure to choose friends that will take your situation seriously.
- Remember the mind-body connection. Activities like yoga and tai chi can help soothe the mind and body. Meditation could prove beneficial as well, although it can be a bit of a struggle to quiet your mind if you are not experienced. If this is the case with you, consider using a mantra: A word or short phrase you can repeat to yourself in order to keep your mind focused. Words like “Tran-qui-li-ty”, “Calm-ness” or, “Se-re-ni-ty” can do the trick, or the traditional “Ohm”. Don’t forget to breathe slowly and deeply.
- Distract yourself when you’re feeling anxious. This will give your mind something else to focus on than just the anxiety. For instance, what are the different sounds or smells going on around you? How many people are wearing the color blue? You can also play a simple yet surprisingly effective game to calm your nerves. For each letter of the alphabet, try to come up with a word or short phrase that is synonymous with calmness. Example: “All is well”, “Blissful”, “Composed”, “Docile”, “Easygoing”, “Fluid”, “Gentle”, etc. Soon enough, you’ll be so focused on trying to come up with words that you won’t be thinking about the anxiety provoking situation anymore. Honestly, I sometimes get so frustrated that I can’t think of anything for the letters K, Q, and Y that it completely overrides my anxiety.