Social anxiety is real
If you’re afraid of public speaking or being in a social situation, you aren’t alone. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, around 15 million Americans have social anxiety disorder. About one-third of the people go 10 years or more before seeking help for their symptoms.
Living with an irrational fear is draining. Social anxiety disorder can affect work performance or friendships. But I’m here to tell you that it does not have to.
An early beginning
The ADAA reports that the typical onset of symptoms for social anxiety disorder is 13. That makes sense. Teenagers are dependent on their peers for acceptance. Kids are cruel. Making fun of someone with braces or glasses is commonplace. The media tells society if you have acne, psoriasis or some other condition that makes you look different, you’re ugly or should be ashamed.
So how do you get over your fears? I’ve learned a few things through the years. Here’s what helped me.
Separate the facts from the fiction
Is everyone in the room really analyzing your every move?
Address the reasons behind your anxiety
Why do you really believe that everyone is looking at you or judging you? Sometimes, going back to the incidents that changed your outlook on social situations can help you be more objective about it.
Think about the people you know who are confident and do speak in public Are they perfect 100 percent of the time? Remember the jokes about Jennifer Lawrence tripping at the Oscars? She laughed them off and came back the following year, only to trip when she got out of the limousine. Her graciousness put everyone at ease.
Practice in safe places
I volunteer for an organization that is very people-oriented, but the clients are extremely vulnerable. Many have mental disorders of their own or are recovering addicts. I’ve found that they don’t care about my flaws when I am friendly. It’s given me a place to find more confidence. If you enjoy singing, join a choir where you can blend into the crowd. Find a safe place to learn to talk to others.
Be comfortable with yourself
I think a lot of social confidence is simply learning to be authentic and genuine. Loving yourself, flaws and all, goes a long way towards poise and self-assurance. And you might have to “fake it until you make it.”
Deal with your social anxiety
One book that really helped me was The Shy Writer Reborn, by C. Hope Clark. Even if you aren’t a writer, you’ll find some good information about dealing with crowds and social anxiety while being your true self. The ADAA has some really good resources to help you find treatment. The American Genius has written about introverts and social situations.
Do you want to look back in 10 years and realize you let life slip you by because you were afraid? If you cannot figure out how to get past your social anxiety, you may need professional help. There’s no shame in going to a counselor to help you move past your fears. Maybe you will always be an introvert, but you do not have to be so anxious in public that you forego life.