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My Experience with Social Anxiety
If you’d like to see me flustered and hear my heartbeat uncontrollably, put me in a room with strangers or even worse a superior. I believe my social anxiety developed in my childhood. As a child, my peers bullied me, and I was not able to maintain friends. At home, my mom negatively compared me to others and put all my mistakes on full display for my family to analyze. These experiences became my internal voice, and this voice was like a storm raging inside my mind.
Over time I became increasingly fearful of being criticized and would pray for uncomfortable conversations to end as soon as they began. To top it off, I am particularly awful at putting sentences together and lack effortless charisma. As a result, when I would say the wrong thing, I would beat myself up and have intrusive thoughts about each mistake.
These thoughts would make social settings with people I couldn’t be vulnerable with uncomfortable. I become overwhelmed by feelings that everyone is analyzing my awkwardness. In those moments I would (and still do) second guess myself, overthink what to say, how to say it and when to say it. In college, I would turn to liquid courage to transform into a social butterfly and combat my feelings of social anxiety. Unfortunately, binge drinking had its consequences. Eventually, I got tired of the fake friendships and unhealthy social environments. Changing my environment required me to face my social anxiety and explore new social environments alone.
How I Overcame the Anxiety of Going Out Alone
Often I wouldn’t go out to places or events because of the anxiety of going alone. The idea of letting my awkwardness out and holding a conversation about who knows what was terrifying. Through therapy, I began to realize that my real fear was rooted in my childhood experiences. So I made a conscious decision to challenge my fears. I got uncomfortable and forced myself to experience new situations.
The anxiety of going out alone can be hard if you are in superficial and critical environments. Being intentional about placing yourself in situations where you can be vulnerable is crucial. Around the time I started to challenge myself, I also began my journey of growing as a Christain and found a church home. Through faith, I began to understand that God accepted me as I am, awkward conversations, and all. So I took a leap of faith joined bible study groups at church and on- campus alone. I wanted to get connected with other Christians with the hope that they would also accept me as I am. For the first time, I was surrounded by people who were genuinely being vulnerable about what they were going through, and I felt comfortable to do the same. This helped me to realize that I had many of the same insecurities as others.
Play On Your Strengths
I am naturally empathetic and feel most comfortable listening to others. I relied on this strength during conversations with new people. I would ask questions about where they were from, their interests, and the places they enjoy. Then all I had to do was truly listen and ask them to share more or explain. Thankfully most people feel comfortable talking about their self. Listening to others share was comforting because it allowed me to learn more about others and build a sense of connection. All while avoiding my fear of saying the wrong thing.
Set Dater with Yourself
One of the bravest decisions I made was to set dates with myself. I would courageously face my anxiety of going out alone and go where my heart desired. To ease my anxiety of going out alone, I would carry whichever book I was attempting to read along with me. I am not an avid reader, but I enjoy a good social justice or personal development book. A book in hand made me feel less out of place being out alone and less frustrated waiting for someone to arrive. It also equipped me with a good conversation starter in social settings and sparked authentic small talk with intrigued strangers.
Talk About Books Your Enjoy
I soon realized that books on topics I enjoyed gave me words in uncomfortable situations. So as I challenged myself to start going out alone more often, and taking a book with me as my shield. A good book made me brave enough to have to talk to a stranger. I was slaying my social anxiety while getting closer to finishing the books I had started. To make reading on the go more accessible, I eventually switched to a Kindle e-reader. It was convenient to have all my books on one small device at all times, and my textbooks.
How Can You Understand and Overcome Your Social Anxiety?
There are varying degrees of social anxiety. So will these tips for coping with the anxiety of going out alone be a solution for everyone? No. If you also tell yourself the lies that everyone thinks you are awkward, that you are not likable and that you always mess things up. Sis, you have to remember that those are all lies your mind is telling you! Set yourself free from the bondage of that lie. It will still be uncomfortable at first, but it will make you more comfortable and confident with yourself.
As always, this is only my personal experience and what has worked best for me. However,I truly believe there is hope for every unique situation, even yours. If you suffer from severe mental illness or thoughts of suicide I want to encourage you to seek help today. Find a local therapist or contact the National Suicide Lifeline by calling 1-800-273-8255 or texting “START” to 741-741. A trained therapist can provide you with a diagnosis and help you develop an appropriate treatment plan.
Before your leave, please don’t forget to comment below. Sharing your experience and what works for you may help others find a solution that works for them. Also, please share this post because you never know who in your circle may be struggling and may need to read this post for encouragement.
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**This blog was last edited 08/18/19**