Don't Let Social Anxiety Control Your Life: Overcoming and Coping with Social Anxiety
Have you ever felt like you were different from others? Maybe you're worried or scared to talk in front of your class. Perhaps you feel sick to your stomach or as if you've run a marathon. It may feel like you can't breathe when thinking about being in a crowded space with unfamiliar faces. If you've ever felt this way, trust me, you are not alone.
As an adult, it's hard for me to socialize or meet new people. It was extremely challenging for me as a child, but at the time, I didn't know why. Some of my earliest memories involve hiding from my cousins and relatives in my bedroom closet. I was scared to talk to them, even though they were family. Whenever my mom would tell me that family was coming over, I would feel sick to my stomach, as if I were about to throw up. And when I had to talk to them, I couldn't look them in the eye, and I felt embarrassed, but I didn't know why.
In middle school, I didn't have many friends due to being bullied a lot. I couldn't fight back because, well... I was already afraid of them. I remember feeling overwhelmed when placed in groups for projects in my English class, and I would start crying out of nowhere. My English teacher despised me for that and would say that I was "annoying" or "not normal." I did feel like I wasn't normal because no one else was like me. No one understood what was wrong with me. I didn't even know what was wrong.
My guidance counselor was my favorite person in school. I could go to her office for help or to feel better, and she never judged me. She noticed how I reacted around others and talked to my mom, suggesting that I see a therapist. My mom told my counselor I was "dramatic" and that I did everything for attention. However, since the school provided it, my mom agreed. That was the best decision she made for me.
My therapist was a kind older woman who introduced me to many different techniques to "cope" with my social anxiety. Coping means finding solutions to overcome or deal with challenges in life. If you are similar to me and suffer from social anxiety, here are a few tips that helped me and may help you too.
Always check in with how you're feeling first, because the way you feel matters the most. If you find yourself in a situation that makes you feel overwhelmed, take a step back. Take 5 minutes (don’t be afraid to take longer if needed) to breathe and clear your head. Once you feel ready, you can go back in. Another tip is to create a support system with you when you may experience social anxiety. Having a friend by my side helps me feel comfortable because I’m not alone. This can be someone you trust such as a family member, or teacher that can guide you.
Lastly, try taking time for yourself to focus on your health separately. Engage in activities that make you feel calm and happy. Some things I enjoy are reading books, drawing in a sketchbook, and listening to music with headphones. Doing these activities clears my head and helps me focus on myself, making me happy rather than stressed and overwhelmed by others around me. Remember that you're not alone and be kind to yourself. Whatever you do today, let it be enough for no one else but you.