“Social anxiety is the fear of interaction with other people that brings on self-consciousness, feelings of being negatively judged and evaluated, and, as a result, leads to avoidance. Social anxiety is the fear of being judged and evaluated negatively by other people, leading to feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, embarrassment, humiliation, and depression. If a person usually becomes (irrationally) anxious in social situations, but seems better when they are alone, then "social anxiety" may be the problem” according to socialanxietyinstitute.org. Recently I came to the realization that I may have a mild case of social anxiety. Now, I’m sure most people do get a sense of fear whenever talking in front of a group of people but social anxiety takes it a step further.
Last Thursday I had to do an oral presentation in my Intro to Ethics class. It took me the whole first half of the semester to get used to the idea that I would be standing in front of a classroom with about 25 individuals staring at me. Because this is an Ethics class, after I presented, the floor was open to questions, and specifically debate. My Ethics class is an 8 a.m., so there isn’t a class beforehand. I arrived to class at 7:30 that morning before class began so I could practice standing at the head of the class with empty desk faced towards me. As if that wasn’t daunting enough, the room began to fill. There were two presentations scheduled for that day and mine was supposed to go second. The anticipation is half the battle with social anxiety, so I would have much rather gone first to get it out of the way, but instead, I sat in my desk quietly waiting not so patiently for the first person to finish while the anxiety built even stronger. By the time it was my moment to begin presenting, I was terrified almost to tears. I wanted to run out of the room screaming and for a moment, it seemed like the best decision. In that instance, I chose to stay because messing up during my presentation would still be awful, but better than causing a scene by fleeing.
Once I began my presentation, it seemed as though I was about to cry because my voice was shaking so badly. I couldn’t think clearly. I had been in my dorm room before practicing my presentation to an empty wall and I seemed to do okay. I had planned to not read straight from the paper and talk to the class as though I were having a conversation with them. All of that planning and preparation had failed, like I feared. I sounded like a stuttering robot attempting to make sense out of the sentences on the page I had written myself. Once I had finally finished reading the paper out loud to the class, the professor allowed questions. I was hounded by questions one after the other. The questions, I am sure made sense to everyone else, but they did not seem clear to me. It was partly because my thoughts were clouded, but also I was not listening to their questions because I could not stop thinking about how horrible I had done, and was doing. Thankfully, after drowning for a few minutes, the professor stepped in and suggest a few points, and the dreaded 30 minutes of my presentation was over. I returned back to my seat and breathed a sigh of relief and put my clammy hands on my face in attempt to rid my thoughts of failure. After basically sprinting out of the classroom when the session had ended, I opened the door to the world outside. I took a deep breath of fresh air, something I needed this whole time.
A few minutes later and after decompressing, I was texting a friend and she asked what I was doing. I said that I just finished an oral presentation and it went horribly, but I was thankful that it was over. She said that she wasn’t shy when talking to people, implying that I was. But that message got me thinking. I am not shy, I have social anxiety. I did my research, and I relate closely to most of the stories and experiences I read. I all of a sudden had a new perspective on people struggling with more severe cases than I. I have learned through myself that trying to explain to someone with social anxiety that their fear is irrational or that everything will be okay doesn’t help. If anything, it makes it worse because we get anxiety about our social anxiety in fear that there is something terribly wrong with us and that it is unacceptable to be the way we are. I have not spoken about this issue before regarding myself, because well, why would I want to draw attention to my anxiety? I believe that is why I love writing so much. I know I am not the best at it, but it is an escape and I can say everything I want to say, but without having to worry about stuttering, freezing, or even getting a little sweaty when I begin to speak. So, I encourage people who are aware of people who have social anxiety to do your research to begin to realize what it is truly like. Learn how to properly respond to someone having an anxiety attack or may be facing a sort of anxiety. And to those who are experiencing social anxiety, I believe the best medicine to coping with your anxiety is realizing that you are not alone.