I realized I suffered from social anxiety early in college. While I was always shy in class and preferred to avoid public speaking as a child, I never thought I was any different than anyone else. When I began college, I started to realize that I acted very differently around people that I knew well and strangers. I think my friends and family would describe me as very outgoing, some would even describe me as an extrovert. When I’m with a group of people I know well, I don’t mind being the center of attention. At the very least I feel very comfortable if someone asked me to do a speech in front of family or friends; I’d jump at the chance.
I started to notice a major gap between my interaction with those close to me and strangers when I started college. I dreaded the first day of class, especially in small classes where we would introduce ourselves. As we went around the room, my anxiety would grow. What would I say? Would people notice my nervousness? Would I say something dumb? As soon as we received our syllabus for a class, I would look through it to find how much participation or presentations counted as a part of the grade. I just wanted a class where we would take exams or write papers, I wanted to avoid presentations at all costs.
I began taking anti-depressants during my senior year of college. Initially it provided me with the relief I needed. I felt more willing to meet more people, and most importantly, I was ready to attack presentations in my classes. My final year in college went smoother than the previous 3 years; I met more people and really enjoyed myself throughout. I finally felt like my true self.
After starting work, I noticed that much of the anxiety I used to have when doing presentations returned. Over the next few years, I went back and forth between using the anti-depressants and not. There would always be a trigger (almost always related to public speaking) that would send me back to them.
I finally decided to address the problem head-on rather than just use medicine to provide a temporary band-aid. I found Social Anxiety Help online and decided to try out CBT (cognitive-behavioral therapy). From the moment I began therapy, I knew that CBT could be life-changing. Simply talking to someone about this secret that I was hiding from my closest friends and most of my family gave me a feeling of freedom.
I met individually with Larry every two weeks, and during each meeting we would set up tasks for me carry out over the next few weeks. Carrying out these tasks took a lot of courage but I saw immediate results. Practicing mindfulness while attacking each of the tasks brought me the most relief I’ve ever felt in my entire life. Before I knew it, I was making presentations and speaking in front of my entire company.
While there’s still work for me to do, I now know how to approach situations that may cause anxiety with a logical, effective approach.