“Ixchelle, would you please read the next paragraph for the class?” asked my first grade teacher. I remember looking up at my teacher with great dismay and instantly felt as if my heart were about to explode out of my chest. Suddenly my mind began to flood with fears of stumbling over my words, sounding slow and being laughed at. This was the first time I can distinctly remember experiencing social anxiety but certainly not the last…
For the majority of my life I have feared both big and small social settings especially speaking in front of others and being in the spotlight. Even with family or friends I would feel as if I needed to rehearse what I was going to say before I said it to avoid sounding stupid or “slipping up”. Any time my anxiety has been set off from being in a social setting, nine times out of ten it’s due to a lack of confidence in that particular social setting and/or in general.
Personally I do not believe that it is exactly normal to be so worried over what people will think of you before you say something that you freeze up and can’t say anything at all. I also don’t think that it’s normal to excessively sweat over the idea of being around other people even those who are close to you. These are clear telltale signs of social anxiety. It is also important to note that social anxiety is different than being shy. I wasn’t all that shy, I did have an outgoing side to me but I still was very fearful of being judged, scrutinized, humiliated and embarrassed by others that I avoided many social situations all together (or dreaded it if I couldn’t avoid it).
I was almost envious over the people who seemed so calm and poised when present in front of others- they seemed to fully embrace who they were and portrayed such confidence. I envied how others were attracted to these people, how they were always invited to things whereas I rarely was because well, what can I say… I was awkward. I truly thought I would never be able to obtain social skills.
But enough about what social anxiety was like for me then… let’s get to how I began to overcome and started feeling more comfortable with my own presence and existence.
Note: the following tips I am going to give took me years to figure out...
Hang with the people who are different...
In time I was blessed to meet people who helped pull me out of my shell and inspired me to start laughing, having fun and living- God knew I needed to loosen up a little! I totally recommend anyone who has social anxiety to hang out with spirited, outgoing and adventurous people! Not only will they inspire you to start living your life freely but they can also show you that it’s okay to be yourself even if you sound stupid and weird.
I also recommend reflecting on why you have social anxiety to begin with. I guarantee you...in fact I would like to bet money that you weren’t born with social anxiety. Most likely something happened to you or something was said to you that really made you question yourself and your abilities which in turn took a huge shot at your self esteem. According to my research on this topic, most people who have social anxiety or who have had it in the past have also been sexually and/ or physically abused, been bullied or experienced family conflict. As soon as you can recognize where these fears come from, the sooner you can choose to shut those lies off in your head and replace them with truths…
Lies: I feared sounding and looking stupid in front of others because the people who I loved and looked up to called me stupid.
Truth: I am not stupid, I am smart and forever learning.
(maybe not the best example but I think you get my drift here…)
Practice, practice, practice.
Just recently I got over my fear of talking in front of the camera. I HATED talking in front of people in person and on video but the more I practiced being my authentic self, the better I got. Granted, I would say I still have a ways to go as far as my speaking skills seeing as I actually want to be a motivational speaker one day but as far as the level of anxiety I have today as opposed to what it used to be is nothing short of a miracle!
Do something bold.
Do something so bold and so out of your comfort zone that you can reference back to the next time you feel anxious in a social setting. For example, sing or dance to your best ability in front of the camera and post it to your social media. Act as if the camera is not even there and you are alone in your room just doing your own thing. The next time you are anxious you can look back on it and remind yourself that you have done more humiliating and embarrassing things in public than what you are about to do.
Don’t forget who you are!
You know you better than anyone else does. You have a lot of great qualities and sides to you that so many people have yet to see! It’s time to let your light shine and forget what people think of you! If they like you and support you, great! If not, that’s great too- you don’t need to waste your energy dwelling on why that is however.
P.S If you currently have or in the past have experienced social anxiety, it doesn’t qualify you as broken or any less of a person in fact it really just means that you have something to overcome and when you do you will be so grateful you did as you will have had overcome an adversity in which provided you great courage, strength and wisdom.
Something I remind myself of often is to be yourself and go out and do you despite what people might think! You have nothing to lose anymore!