“A man will be imprisoned in a room with a door that’s unlocked and opens inwards; as long as it does not occur to him to pull rather than push.”
― Ludwig Wittgenstein
In the first session of my French class, my teacher asked me, “Mademoiselle, would you like to volunteer for a role-play?” It was a general request, but it stunned me. I could feel my limbs turning cold. She was staring right into my eyes as if she would accept nothing other than a yes for an answer. After all, it was a small activity, where I was asked to play the role of Aramis from ‘Les Trois Mousquetaires’.
All I had to do was read out a sentence from an interesting picture book. Yet, I thought I would say “No, Madame”. That’s how I used to react to every opportunity of public speaking that came my way. While my classmates eagerly waited for my response that day, I was left high and dry. Both yes and no had reached the tip of my tongue. I knew that anxiety was crawling in.
The many clouds of anxiety
None of us is immune to anxieties. However, not everyone experiences anxiety to a level that leaves one at dire straits when it comes to speaking or performing in public. For those who do, the condition is described as Social Anxiety Disorder.
Socially anxious people live with fears, apprehensions, low self-confidence, and avoid public contact very often. They feel helpless in social situations. They care too much about others’ approval, worrying and fearing about what would happen if they don’t fit in or conform to beliefs and actions of those around them.
A student with social anxiety would hesitate to participate in class discussions and prefer doing projects alone. She/He would avoid exploring opportunities involving public speaking and groups discussions in school and college, saving her/himself from the burden of imaginary shame and humiliation.
Such people mostly select subjects that minimize social contact. Social anxiety affects your ability to get a job you want or choose a career you like. It is what you feel when the teacher declares in class: “If none of you raise your hands for answering, I’ll pick anyone at random”.
Living outside the home also becomes a Herculean task. Everyday activities like walking down the street, answering a phone call, visiting the grocery store, and being in a public transport perturb you.
Clinical Psychologist, Catherine Madigan, who specializes in social anxiety disorder, told ABC (Australia) that some of her clients hated everyday things like being on public transport or walking down the street. “It’s about people looking at them. They’re thinking ‘these people think I’m awkward, or they can see I’m anxious’,” she said.
To me, what I felt that day in the French class was nothing new. I was diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder when I was 15. Till then, I didn’t know I was not alone in this struggle. Millions of people quietly endure this pain every day, losing hopes of them getting any better.
But the good news is that social anxiety disorder can be treated! If participating in public has been problematic and encountering social situations troublesome, then it’s time to face the bull by its horns.
Know your way out
• An essential step is to talk to your parents, friends and loved ones about how and what you feel. You can also chat online anonymously, without even signing up here.
• Make small goals every day and focus on achieving them.
• What helped me the most in conquering my social phobia was having a positive talk with myself every day.
• In the situation where you think that others might be judging you, just take a deep breath, smile, and say this out loud in your mind – “I am perfect the way I am. I don’t care what others think about me. I don’t need their approval”.
• When participating in public speaking events, keep your points ready. Make sure you rehearse your speech well in front of the mirror before going on the stage. Rehearsing in front of the mirror helps significantly in facing an audience.
• Visit a therapist if you feel like you can’t handle the anxiety.
I have learned that the solution to most problems is talking about or sharing them with others because you never know who can change your life for the best and in what ways.
Still wondering what I must have said on the first day of my French class, with all that drama rolling inside my head? Well, I smiled and said, “Yes, sure Madame!”