Have you ever been nervous walking into a room crowded with people, feeling like all eyes are on you, and you’re thinking about the countless things they could be saying or thinking about you? Or when you have to present a project in front of the entire class and you can’t even get the words out your mouth? Your hands start to get clammy and sweaty, you’re trembling, and your classmates are staring you down like your mom does when you do something despicable. Your heart is racing, afraid of all the potential embarrassing outcomes. This is known as social anxiety. According to Psychology Today, “Social anxiety disorder, formerly referred to as social phobia, is an anxiety disorder characterized by overwhelming anxiety and excessive self-consciousness in everyday social situations.”
It is completely normal to be anxious in certain social situations, but if this is a continuous issue in your life you could possibly suffer from a social anxiety disorder. Having social anxiety is different from feeling awkward or nervous because the worry is present in every social situation and causes fear, self-consciousness, and intense distress. What differentiates a disorder from general nervousness is the feeling is overpowering and keeps people from their daily activities for six months or more.
In fifth grade, I personally was extremely self-conscious when meeting new people or simply getting called on in class by my teacher — not because I didn’t know the answer but because I allowed fear to overtake my mind. I used to think to myself, what if I start stuttering?’ or what if my voice sounds squeaky and everyone starts to laugh at me? I used to get bullied in elementary school about my appearance — being the light-skinned girl or wearing long hair. Being different made me stick out — so I knew I had to be strong and learn to overcome my fears.
I’ve learned that your mind can manipulate you into thinking you’re going to fail. You are your biggest enemy. But you can take authority over fear and overthinking, so you can fulfill your potential. Don’t make assumptions or start overthinking. Just do it! (Shia LaBeouf voice), and the weight will be lifted off your shoulders.
Here are five tips I’ve learned to keep from overthinking and keep my mind at ease. They might be helpful for you, too.
5 Ways to Overcome Social Anxiety
Ever heard of the phrase “you have to love yourself before you can love anybody else?” Well, in order to be socially active you have to first learn who you are. Things like your interests or hobbies can help you engage in conversations or find people who can relate to you. For example, when I started my freshman year in high school, I wanted to surround myself with people who have the same drive and tenacity to excel in every aspect of school. Associating with people who carry the same goals as mine helped me achieve a 4.0 my first semester of high school. Find a friend you see shares your characteristics or traits of yourself. But in order to do this you have to understand who you are.
Breathe in and breathe out. In very tense situations, sometimes you just need to take a deep breath and settle into the present. Breathing helps lower stress, easing your mind from any tension. This is definitely a great coping mechanism when you have intense anxiety, ultimately making it easier for you to be calm and collected in social situations. So next time anxiety tries to come your way, remember to breathe!
Don’t Have a Scooby -Doo Complex!
“Scooby-Doo Where Are You” is an American television series about a group of teenagers who solve paranormal mysteries. Every time Scooby-Doo encounters a so-called ghost or monster he immediately runs away, avoiding the whole situation. Eventually the Scooby gang solves the mystery and realizes the monster is actually a villain in disguise. Sometimes things are not what they seem. Our minds create this image of potential failure or embarrassment, and your immediate reaction could be to escape the situation as a whole. Instead, start writing daily affirmations in a journal expressing your confidence to help you achieve a brand new mind set. Don’t have a Scooby-Doo complex; be brave, face your fears.
Don’t think your problems are going to be solved overnight; it takes baby steps. One of the factors that play a major role in anxiety is how you think others perceive you. As humans we tend to base our choices on how people view us. That means we have to be confident in who we are and hold our heads up high in the face of adversity. Take some time out of your day and write down some things you would like to accomplish. Start creating goals to become your best you.
Seek Help or Support
If your social anxiety becomes too severe, please seek medical attention. Your doctor will be able to set you with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or Psychotherapy. For those of you who are not aware of CBT is a therapy that deals with a person’s thoughts which can affect their behavior. Your doctor can recommend someone to help you. There are also many different resources in Atlanta such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Social Anxiety Association, and Anxiety and Depression Association of America. All of these provide support groups, helplines and educations for your benefit. The worst thing you could possibly do is suffer in silence, so let someone know. Maybe even consider sitting down talking to your parent or another family member about how this is a major problem in your life. Explain to them how it affects you on a daily basis, and I’m positive they will help you!
I also have an interview with a mental health professional Shy Powe as well on social anxiety. Click below to listen.
You are invited to join VOX ATL’s teens at our annual VOX-A-PALOOZA celebration where we will highlight all of the work that has been created this semester as well as give you an opportunity to meet the teens themselves. You will also be one of the first to receive the newest print editon of VOX Investigates: Mental Health! RSVP HERE.