Social Anxiety: How It Happens and How to Find Relief (Part 2 of 2)
Once class actually started, I took role and consulted my notes for the day’s discussion. I was definitely nervous, my knees were shaking and my mouth was dry, but it was nowhere near as bad as I imagined. I simply couldn’t maintain such a heightened level of anxiety for the entire class period. The class had a surreal, dreamlike quality. My physical symptoms got better and better as the class went on. I will admit that it probably wasn’t the best class discussion of all time, but I didn’t completely freak out, either. I made it through without vomiting, fainting, or crying. At some point I realized that the class wasn’t about me at all. It was about the material. The students didn’t expect me to fail; they expected me to do my job.
After class, I was elated. I felt that even though there were some awkward points in the class, I hadn’t completely lost my mind in front of my students. My euphoria lasted about two hours and then I began to fear the following week’s discussion. Overcoming this fear was not easy; I wasn’t cured by one experience. I knew that I didn’t want to turn to alcohol to help me, so I decided to try to change my thinking. I knew that I couldn’t get out of this obligation, so I figured I might as well not obsess about it.
Once I decided to control my negative thoughts, I felt a lot better. When I started to run my “failure movie” in my head, I consciously stopped myself. I realized that I must be qualified to do this job, since I had been chosen to do it. A fear of public speaking is deeply intertwined in self-esteem and self-worth. I always worried that people wouldn’t think that I was smart enough, or worse, that they would know that I was afraid. Once I began to start thinking of myself positively, I stopped being so scared. After having more and more positive experiences, my fears lessened and eventually disappeared.
I am now a professor of English Composition at a community college. The thing that I feared the most in my life (and for all of my life) is now my job. I still get nervous on the first day of class, but I know that that is a natural human condition. I still think of myself as an introverted person, but that doesn’t mean I can’t have an extroverted job. I eventually overcame my fears by stopping my negative thinking, being extremely prepared, and by replaying my positive classroom experiences in my head. Sometimes I can still freak myself out if I overanalyze a classroom situation. I once taught a very large class in a lecture hall, and at one point I had that “I can’t believe I’m doing this!” thought. I immediately felt my heart race and my face flush. Suddenly, a student asked me a question. I pulled myself out of my self-obsession and my physical symptoms instantly disappeared.
I now realize that I have total control of the way that I think and feel, and therefore I have total control of my physical responses. Overcoming my fear of public speaking was one of the most rewarding things that I have ever done. We establish our self-worth by pushing our limits; by leaving our comfort zones so that we create larger spaces of comfort. I really feel that because I overcame my fear, I can succeed at anything I attempt. This experience, though difficult, has greatly enriched my life.
Social Anxiety Guide:
More Personal Social Anxiety Stories: