BY BRITTANY ORIE
Your heart begins to race when you glance at the number in front of you. You look down at the phone, worrying if the person on the line will secretly criticize your speech or the nervousness in your voice. You pick up the phone but hesitate to dial the number over and over again. “Will I even know what to say when the other person picks up?” you think to yourself. “Why is it so easy for normal people to make a phone call but such an overwhelming challenge for me?”
This is social anxiety. It’s an extreme fear of being negatively evaluated or judged by others in social or performance situations. Having social anxiety can make even the simplest social activities, such as answering a phone or starting a conversation, seem like a mountain of a challenge. As scary as this may sound, social anxiety can follow its victims for a lifetime. But thankfully, with a lot of willpower, people with social fears can overcome the obstacle and still be quite successful and prosper!
I would like to share a brief experience of how I shoved my social anxiety aside and acted in spite of my fears. Public speaking was always one of my biggest fears. Despite that, I challenged myself to lead a Bible study at college a few years ago. This was one thing I had felt led to do even though it gave me mad anxiety just thinking about it. I planned out my study notes and rehearsed the main points I wanted to communicate. On the way to the lounge where our weekly gathering was held, my heart drummed faster and harder, but my desire to lead these young women of God led me closer to walking through that door. As I saw the ladies filing in one by one, my anxiety inflated. But I knew they needed someone to lead them; I knew they came to hear someone feed them spiritually and that kept fear from getting the best of me. When the moment came, I opened my mouth, and I warmly greeted the ladies. As I got deeper into the study, anxiety released me little by little with every word I spoke. I saw that I was connecting with my audience and it made me feel more relaxed! Afterward, I felt so relieved that I pushed through my social anxiety and actually led a convincing study.
Umm, social anxiety who??
There are many instances where people become socially anxious to the point that they feel like they can’t handle the situation. However, as difficult as it may be, they can still push pass their anxieties and act in spite of their challenge. For instance…
Mary absolutely hates talking on the phone. She works at a job that demands her to make phone calls, and this completely frightens her. Mary is told by her boss that she has to make a single phone call to a recent customer. This sends a pang of anxiety through Mary’s body, and she suddenly imagines all the things that can go wrong with this one call. She thinks: Will I stutter? Will I blank out? What will the customer think of me? Will I sound unprofessional? Mary knows she has an important job to do and that this customer needs the company to communicate with her. There’s no time for selfishness and more time for selfless service so Mary must put her social fears aside and call her client. With shaky fingers, Mary dials her client’s number and listens to the phone ring with a pounding heart. As soon as her client picks up, Mary begins speaking carefully but with a smile on her face (because it makes one’s voice sound warmer). Mary is anxious the whole time but is more relaxed now that she’s working through her anxiety. She hangs up the phone after a successful 20-second call with a silent “Whew!” Mary is still alive! Even with her social anxiety, she overcame her fear.
Part 2 of this article will cover the symptoms of social anxiety and how one can overcome it and still prosper in spite of it.