From the beginning we mention that social anxiety disorder - or social phobia - is a chronic mental illness and, if its manifestations are impossible to manage, it requires psychotherapeutic and/or medical treatment. Some of the effects, which about 7-12% of people with anxiety experience, are nausea and vomiting, trembling, paralyzing fear, fainting, muscles pain – in other words, something more than mere "butterflies in the stomach". Diagnosing can sometimes be difficult even for specialists.
Personally, I have been struggling with shyness for as long as I can remember. When I had to speak in public, whether at school, church, in front of a big group of friends, sometimes even in the family, it often felt like I had a lump in my throat. In college, for example, I knew that if I didn’t answer questions during seminars, I couldn’t get the extra points required for the highest grade. I know for some of you this is quite hard to understand, but for me it was the most difficult action to raise my hand and participate in the debate. Most of the times, after various discussions, I would analyze what I had said, what words I‘d used, my grammar, body language… and yes, I would become insecure and anxious, asking myself: "Why did I say that? What must they think about me?"
And the list can go on and on. It is a constant tension that is hard to describe. Always living under the gaze of your worst critic ‒ yourself. Certainly, it’s also about genes. For example, my mother is the most sociable person I know. In five minutes, she becomes friends with anyone. Even while I was waiting in the Emergency Room at the hospital, she was making friends. Of course I didn’t exchange a word with anyone, but fortunately, I have the ability to smile sincerely and generously. Sometimes even the smiles become awkward, but they’re still better than nothing. I'm more like my dad...
Let's see some of the causes of social anxiety and what we can do about them. Here are four strategies to overcome social anxiety:
Don’t anticipate the failure
If we consider the Biblical advice “Each day has enough trouble of its own" (Matthew 6:34), then it is clear what attitude we should adopt. If we constantly think that we will fail, that no one will respond positively, that we’ll stammer or forget our lines etc, even if our public performance is an absolute success, we will still believe that we have failed. While negative thoughts and fear of failure occur involuntarily, try not to encourage any more!
Don’t focus on the negative
Let's say the worst scenario you could imagine, devastating for you, though much less dramatic in reality, has happened. What do you do? Concentrate on what went wrong only to find solutions for the future, and how can you do better next time! Make a strategy and search ways that can stimulate your concentration during public speaking.
It doesn’t matter what others think about you
Well, this is a biggie! And probably the main cause of social anxiety. I once read that anxiety is caused by fear combined with pride. In some cases, it may be true. We are surrounding ourselves with “walls made of glass” and we are afraid that others will discover our true selves and break the glass. If we manage to deceive them, it's great - we've also tricked ourselves. Yes, we are social beings, and whether we like it or not, we are dependent on the positive feedback of those around us. But many times everything feels like a hide-and-seek game. Your opinion about yourself matters the most! You can’t please everyone. So, let the world talk while you focus on your personal projects. You don’t have to impress anyone.
Know your limits and your strengths
If we know what our abilities are, where we can give our best and where to be more careful, then it will be much easier for us to engage in projects that are not stressful. When you do what you like and you’re good at it, surely the result will be a success. Less anxiety, more confidence! It is much easier to reveal yourself to others with your best abilities.
Don’t forget that the great Demosthenes, who practiced thousands of exercises to overcome his stutter, became the greatest orator of Antiquity.
Don’t run away from your fears! Confront them and win them over!