Have you ever heard of social anxiety? Do you know what it feels like? It feels awful. One definition of social anxiety is intense anxiety or fear of being judged, negatively evaluated, or rejected in a social or performance situation. Here are some symptoms and signs that I pulled from the book “How I Overcame Social Anxiety (and how you can too!)” by Tobias Atkins:
- Fear of situations where you may be judged
- Fear of social gatherings and places where there may be many people
- Worrying about embarrassing yourself
- Intense fear of talking with strangers
- Fear that others are always watching and judging you
- Fear of physical anxiety symptoms such as blushing, sweating, trembling or having a shaky voice
- Avoiding doing things or speaking to people out of fear of embarrassment
- Avoiding situations where you might be the center of attention
- Having anxiety in anticipation of an upcoming activity or event
- Spending time after a social situation analyzing your performance and identifying flaws in your interactions
- Expecting the worst possible consequences from a negative social experience
And here are some physical symptoms:
- Fast heartbeat
- Upset stomach or nausea
- Shortness of breath
- Sweating and blushing
- Shaky voice and stuttering
Okay so now you can see why social anxiety feels awful. Experiencing or feeling even one of those things is not fun at all. I’ve had severe social anxiety since I was in junior high but I never knew what it was. My first year of junior high I sat in the car before school started and cried every day for months because I felt scared and alone. It was so nerve-racking and uncomfortable. I would walk into a classroom full of people I never saw before and hey on the first day a little nervousness is normal but come on crying for months is a bit much. When I walked into class I felt like everyone was staring at me no matter what and when I finally sat down I was terrified of the people sitting next to me. I would sweat so much under my armpits and my palms would get all sweaty. My heart would pound fast and so loud, it sounded like it was in my ears. My arms would get cold and it was just a terrifying, stressful experience every day in almost every hour.
My freshman year of high school I hated lunch. I would walk into the lunch room and it was filled with kids that I barely knew and I had no friends. The first couple of months it was so scary and so hard for me that I would walk in all nervous and just find an empty table as quickly as I could and eat alone. As I sat alone I thought people were staring at me thinking I was such a loser and weird but it was better than trying to go up to a group of kids my age and try to sit and talk with them. Eventually, I got up the courage to sit with a girl who sat at a table all alone too but us trying to keep a conversation was painful and it made me SO nervous. We became friends though and then we made another friend in our Spanish class so finally we had a “table” to sit with. They were vulgar and talked about things I never even heard about before but I felt like I didn’t have another option. Sit with the vulgar girls table or go back to being alone.
My junior year of high school my English teacher was like “Lani was the only one that got a 100% on this quiz!” I was horrified. I felt like every single person in my class was staring at me, judging me, thinking I was the biggest nerd on the planet. I blushed and held back the hot tears as best as I could. I don’t think it got less intense until my senior year of high school but still, the physical symptoms and stress were enough to make anyone want to avoid social situations at all costs. I felt like I was super awkward and weird. I would replay awkward conversations and situations over and over in my head and beat myself up about it. It was so discouraging and really hurt my self-esteem. Even my first year of college was filled with social anxiety each and every class period.
Anyways I’m telling you all of this because if you have social anxiety, now you know you aren’t the only one who feels like this. You aren’t the only one who struggles to even show up to a social event and you aren’t the only one who feels like a super huge awkward freak. Knowing this feels better but being able to overcome social anxiety is the best. It takes time and work but man is it worth it. Imagine walking into a room full of strangers and being able to sit down and talk with them without one negative thought about yourself, without all of the sweat, and not one moment where your heart freaks out and makes you feel like you will die at any moment. It’s amazing and it’s freeing, plus it’s possible!!! My journey of overcoming it has a lot to do with my life experiences and a crap ton of therapy but I wish I would have read a book about it when I was younger. I wish I would have done some simple exercises and took the time to build myself up instead of constantly tearing myself down, especially in social situations. So I read a book for you guys even though I’ve got this whole social anxiety under control I still have room to grow and wanted to offer you something that is actually helpful and easy to follow.
I just got done reading “How I Overcame Social Anxiety (and how you can too!) by Tobias Atkins. Just click on the title and you can buy it on Amazon (there’s even an audio version of it!) If you have ever felt any of those symptoms or have had any of those thoughts about yourself then you NEED to read this book! I like his style of writing and it’s not all fancy or professional, it’s like a friend telling you how they did it and how you can do it too. I’m telling you it will change your life for the better. It will help you become aware of things that you didn’t even know you were doing or thinking. He gives many exercises and ideas that you can do for yourself to help overcome social anxiety. They are simple but effective. You’ll have to get out of your comfort zone and yeah do things you’ve never done before. It will take some time to see results and look there’s no magic pill or answer, you have to invest some time and love into yourself to see a real change in your life. Many things worth doing are not easy, why do you think only a few people do them!
The center of healing social anxiety is self-love! Wouldn’t you know! How can you feel comfortable or confident in a social situation if you are constantly thinking that you are going to screw it up, make yourself look stupid, people are judging you, and that you just aren’t good enough? You can’t man and that’s why you just continue to avoid the social events of life or feel completely terrified or sad when you finally do show up. I believe in you though, read that book and work on it little by little. Follow his advice and listen to his story because it’s inspiring and it’s possible for you to be happy and confident. Social anxiety is not a life sentence but it’s up to you to change it, to overcome it, to fight it!!! You can do it! Never give up!