Mental Health Moments: Managing Social Anxiety As A Communicator
⌛ By Kaylin R. Staten ⌛
I have a confession to make: I am a natural introvert who has a touch of social anxiety.
When I was a child, my parents would order my kid’s meal for me at restaurants. I didn’t want to get up in the middle of a lecture to sharpen my pencil or cough in a group setting when I had a cold. Potentially attracting negative attention to myself made me want to vomit. Even as I grew up, talking on the phone would make me cringe, especially when I had to cold call someone.
To this day, I still struggle with this, although I now consider myself to be more of an ambivert. It was more than just being “shy.” I honestly had a problem being comfortable in my own skin around people. This is especially peculiar coming from someone who communicates and helps people for a living. I’m not going to lie. There are still days in which I would rather curl up under the covers with a good book and my two cats -- altogether avoiding everyone but my husband.
Having social anxiety means that you fear social situations. This manifests itself in multiple ways for different people. You may feel awkward at a party in which you don’t really know anyone, afraid to start a conversation because you may feel “stupid” or out of place. Networking events could be like torture chambers to you because you have to speak to strangers, eat in public or start an actual decent conversation while you feel like you’re going to hyperventilate yourself right out of that room.
You could have a fear of being embarrassed, judged or offending someone. So, you hold yourself back, while makes the anxiety much worse. For me, I have the overwhelming fear that what I do or say will be criticized. This comes from a deeply rooted lack of self-esteem that I have worked incredibly hard to improve during my 30 years on this earth. It still rears its ugly head from time to time, however.
Here are three practical tips to help you through even your most socially awkward and anxious moments:
Practice getting outside of your comfort zone.
This could be a complete trial by fire, like giving a presentation in front of 100 people or something small (to most people), like making that sales call you have been dreading all week. The important thing to remember is: Just do it. Do what you’re afraid of, even when you don’t feel like it or think you can do it. If you have social anxiety, take one small step every day to help you combat your anxious tendencies. That could mean striking up a conversation with someone you just met at a work event or going on that blind date. Chances are, you have amazing stories to tell, and you actually do like talking with people. It’s the initial stress of a new social situation that usually trips you up. Also, remember that you can be social in-person AND online these days.
Do not use avoidance tendencies.
We have to put ourselves out there in order to grow personally and professionally. That isn’t always easy, especially when staying inside seems like the best thing to do. Anxiety breeds on avoidance, so try your absolute best to have a good follow-through rate. Everyone does need a break now and then, but if you’re constantly avoiding something involving being social, you may want to take a step back and analyze the cause. I’m going to be brutally honest here: you cannot achieve what you are capable of if you always avoid situations that scare you. And please, if you have a child who seems “shy,” try looking at it from the angle of avoidance and being socially anxious.
Educate yourself others about your social anxiety.
Look, I know that interactions with other people cause social anxiety in the first place. The more you educate someone about the anxiety you feel, the more relaxed you will be in the environment. In essence, own your awkwardness and anxiety before they have any reason to cause harm to your experiences. Most of the time, people will be empathetic. Cognitive behavioral therapy, medication and other methods can also help you ease your socially anxious mind. If people don’t accept you for who you are, then it’s probably best if they keep going down their own paths.
And what did this introverted little girl grow up to be? An Introverted Media Darling who has been live on the news on several occasions, closed business deals on the phone and shared some stories that I would have rather kept hidden. If I can do it, you can do it, too. *cheerful, hopeful music*
Please note: These blog posts are not clinical, although we will provide symptoms and other information. These posts are based on my experiences with anxiety and mental health in general. If you or someone you know needs help, visit a website like Mental Health America to learn more.
Mental Health Moments blog posts are every other Tuesday of the month. Our CEO and contributors highlight what it's like to live with a mental health disorder and continue to fight the stigma through storytelling.
Kaylin R. Staten, APR, is an award-winning public relations practitioner and writer based in Huntington, WV with nearly 16 years of professional communications experience. As CEO and founder of Hourglass Media, she uses her compassionate spirit and expertise to delve into the heart of clients’ stories. She is a recovering perfectionist, mental health advocate, wife, cat mom and Leia Organa aficionado. Connect with Kaylin on LinkedIn.