Editorial: Overcoming Social Anxiety
The first year I entered university, I was absolutely terrified.
Beyond the general fear that most people have going into a new environment, I was stricken with a constant, all consuming unease that followed me wherever I went.
Walking through large groups of people made me incredibly nervous, going into crowded lecture halls left me hyperventilating in the bathroom and joining clubs seemed completely out of the question for me.
I have severe social anxiety that has unfortunately controlled a significant portion of my everyday life for several years. Panic attacks dictated whether or not I would be able to sit through my discomfort and nagging nervousness, or hurriedly leave in order to protect myself from whatever horrible thing I had told myself was going to happen.
Going through school this way meant that I was incredibly unhappy, isolated and struggling with nearly every element of what were supposed to be the best years of my life.
For me, my anxiety works like a television that can never be turned off. It’s constantly on, parroting paranoid thoughts about every move I make, the judgments people could be thinking about me and the possibility that I may have to speak in public, always following me like a black cloud.
When I reached my second year, I started to do something I had never allowed myself to even attempt to do before: push past the frightened voices inside my head.
I couldn’t exactly shut out those thoughts, but I chose to ignore them. I was scared shitless, but I shakily sent in two applications for volunteer writing positions.
Self-doubt is just the cherry on the sundae when it comes to my skittishness over social situations, but I somehow managed to give myself a shake and force myself to be around people who – despite my constant inner contradictions – actually turned out to be very nice.
Some of the first baby steps that made me realize what I was capable of included joining clubs that actually aligned with my interests, regardless of how fucked up I considered my own brain to be.
As I’ve moved through the motions of situations that I would have once found horrific, I’ve realized that even though things haven’t always gone perfectly and my anxiety is still there, I’m enjoying myself a lot more because I’m actually experiencing things.
My solution in the past was to shut myself away like a hermit, thinking it was better for me and everyone else if I saved them the trouble of dealing with my socially awkward babbling and forced silences.
Now, I try to roll with the punches and not let myself be plagued by embarrassment for days on end if something doesn’t go exactly as I planned it would in my head.
As cheesy as this sounds, two years ago I would have never believed that I would be able to have fun and even enjoy having a million things on my to-do list, especially when – at that point – getting out of bed alone was a struggle.
As much as I hate sounding like an after school special, actually listening to the chirpy “get involved” voices around campus helped me in ways that many other tactics to combat my anxiety didn’t.
I may not be an overly confident burst of energy, but I’m certainly no longer afraid to assert myself a little more and believe that I’m capable of doing whatever I set my mind to.