Public speaking, networking, the simple act of introducing myself, project leadership- I loathed it all in high school. When giving a presentation, my voice would quiver, beads of sweat would form on my flushed forehead and I'd crumble in front of 30 expectant faces, the bright glare of the slideshow projector a spotlight exposing my entire being, from the pimple on my chin to the very depths of my angsty teenage soul.
Anxiety presents itself in various forms, even for children and teenagers. From dealing with school work and the opinions of others to relationships with classmates and family life, it's an issue that can lead to unnecessary stress, low self esteem and a feeling of helplessness in how to cope. My anxiety was more social related, causing me to become increasingly introverted. I never raised my hand in class and would tremble at the thought of being called on. Talking to boys was a death sentence and it took awhile for me to open up to others and form stable friendships. I was aware of my anxiety and it was incredibly frustrating. When someone spoke to me, it was as if my mind would blank and I couldn't form words to speak. I felt trapped inside, drowning in fear that I had created myself.
The hard part is getting treatment. According to DoSomething.org, only 1 in 5 teenagers suffering from anxiety seek help. It wasn't until high school that I decided something had to change. I always wanted to laugh and joke freely, to be confident in what I had to say- and I did have things to say and opinions to share! Anxiety can feel debilitating and if you allow, it can control your life. Whether you need to talk to a specialist or seek other forms of treatment, there are small changes you can implement immediately to fight anxiety on your own. The first step I took against social anxiety was to get real with myself.
I realized that no one could change me except ME
It was just a tiny thought, but it was the first ginormous step in taking the reigns and building confidence in myself. In today's world, there is so much dependence on what others think, what doctors say and what medicine can do to help, but when it comes down to really making a change in your life, it starts with telling yourself, "I'm sick of this and I'm going to do something about it because I know I can."
I confronted my fears head on
Public speaking was the one loathsome activity I avoided it all costs...I didn't even care if it affected my school grades. I was determined to open up, and registered for speech class and drama class. At first, I dreaded both classes, especially the days leading up to my first speech. But, the first speech came and went with no issue, and then the next was even easier to deliver. No one was pointing and laughing at me. My teacher even commented on how clear and well spoken I was. The more prepared I was and the more I spoke in front of an audience, the more my confidence soared.
I made an effort to be a friend
I wasn't a complete loner in school. I had a handful of friends, but we had become friends because they reached out to me first. I asked what they thought about me before they knew me. I was shocked when they confessed that I seemed unfriendly or too good to talk to anyone. I realized that closing myself off and refusing to make any effort will only convince others that I want to be left alone. After that, I made it a challenge to introduce myself to at least one person at an event or social gathering. It all starts with a simple: "Hello, what's your name?" It can seem a bit frightening to put yourself out there. What if they don't like me? What if they don't want to talk to me? You know what, if you're friendly and someone is rude in return, for no reason whatsoever, why would you want to be friends with someone like that in the first place?
I traveled abroad
If you have the chance to travel as a teenager, just go! From the time you set foot off the airplane and into a new country, your brain kicks into survival mode and there is no time to be timid. You're away from home, family, friends and everything that's familiar and safe. Suddenly, you're forced to ask questions, have conversations with strangers and problem solve for the sake of getting from point A to point B. You face challenges and make mistakes, but from these experiences memories are reaped, friendships are forged and life lessons are learned. You'll find yourself at the top of a mountain that you spent days trekking, overlooking a view with new friends who made the challenging trip with you and anxiety is forgotten, replaced with strength and a feeling that you can do anything.
I work at it every day
As an adult I still have to be conscious about being too introverted, or else I'll never the house! My social skills have come a long way since high school and I love to meet new people and share good conversation. I still feel a tad nervous when walking into a party or event where I don't know anyone, but the butterflies scatter as soon as I go up and introduce myself with a friendly smile. Believe in yourself and the kindness you can offer others. Don't cower to anxiety and the fear of nonacceptance. It starts with you to step up and fight, there's no reason to let anxiety run your life!