When I began my career as a journalist, I was also involved in helping to create a local radio station. It seemed like an exciting project – but there was one problem.
While I was happy to help build the station’s profile and create promotional material, I was less enthused when asked if I wouldn’t mind hosting the breakfast show during the broadcast’s first trial month.
One of the reasons I got into journalism was because I’m most comfortable communicating on a one-to-one basis, and when it comes to writing, it’s generally a solitary practice.
As a teenager, I admired the life of JD Salinger partly because he wrote the classic novel, Catcher In The Rye, but mostly because he managed to spend over 50 years living as a recluse.
As an introvert who wrestled with social anxiety, I was – and still am – happiest to play a right-hand role in any kind of work I was engaged in.
The idea of hosting a breakfast show was terrifying. It might just be me and the microphone in a room at 6am every morning, but the thought that other people were listening in … it felt like my heart was trying to jump ship.
Recently, I read about a survey suggesting that 70% of young adults today suffer from social anxiety. In a nutshell, social anxiety is a significant fear of being judged and evaluated within a social setting.
It has a number of causes, including negative experiences growing up (such as judgements and expectations), new social or work demands, family history and temperament.
Often, it comes as a result of overprotective or demanding parents who might exhibit anxious behaviours themselves.
In my own case, I decided to make a conscious effort to put myself in situations where I’d have to face up to social anxiety. Being a journalist, for example, allows for times of solitude but there’s also a considerable requirement to attend social functions and events.
My mind-set has been geared towards the recognition that those feelings of anxiety are going to be present whatever I do, so I might as well accept them and live my life as best as I can.
It’s not always easy. However, the alternative is to continue avoiding doing anything beyond my own comfort zone.
The irony of this defence mechanism is that, although it might stave off feelings of anxiety, it’s also what adds fuel to the fire of social anxiety.
With that in mind, I’d thought I’d share some of the ways I’ve coped with my own anxiety, in the hope that it can help others to effectively manage their own fears of social judgement:
Anxiety is a normal emotion – try to accept it as such: When we try to “get rid” of our anxiety, we tend to find more of the same is heaped onto the pile. We become anxious about our anxiety, and the more we try to push it aside, the stronger it becomes.
As counter-intuitive as it might seem, acceptance of anxiety is the first step in reducing it. By accepting our feelings, we acknowledge that they’re part of us and that’s fine – there’s no need to be any other way than how you at this moment.
Consider calling it out: Like any school bully, anxiety’s power comes from the reaction it gets from you. In trying to show you’re feeling fine when you’re not, anxiety gains the upper hand.
That said, if you can call it out, anxiety begins to lose its power, precisely because you’re able to show yourself as you are, rather than trying to fit into your perception of how others expect you to be.
Whether you’re giving a presentation or a public talk or you’re attending a social function, it can help to let people know that you’re feeling a little bit anxious. When your anxiety is out in the open, it has much less control over you.
Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen?”: Think of every anxious situation you’ve been in. How many of those turned out as your anxiety expected?
Even if there have been times when something awful has happened (like the time I reacted to something on-air when I thought my microphone was off!), you’re still standing despite your previous experiences trying to convince you otherwise.
Whatever happens, it’s not the end of the world, despite what your anxiety might tell you.
Actively confront it when you can: This can be a difficult step, but it’s one of the more powerful ways to keep your anxiety in check.
Think about the kinds of things you’d like to do if you didn’t feel anxious, and see if you can work towards doing them anyway.
For me, performing in public still makes me anxious, but it used to be extremely intense. To confront the anxiety, I’d play in bands, and I would give public talks through my work where possible.
Over time, the anxiety was less able to convince me that some terrible thing might happen, because my experience showed me that this rarely occurs.