I lived with social anxiety (social phobia) for most of the 15 years I had anxiety and depression. It was one of the most debilitating and horrible anxiety disorders I went through. Socialising was a dirty word and people intimidated the hell out of me, which is why I avoided social opportunities like the plague! Weddings, parties, events (and all the other fun stuff) were completely non-existent. If I were invited I’d worry about it for days. By the time it came to the event it was too late - I was exhausted from the worry, and too ill to go.
When you overcome social anxiety like I did, your life will completely change. You’ll realise that people aren’t the source of intimidation and torture you thought they were. Together, you’ll make things happen, and your life will be much richer for it.
Here are the top five reasons why I had social anxiety, and why you do too.
1. You don’t have anything to say
Anxiety will keep you locked away and insulated in it’s tiny little world, and the more your comfort zone shrinks, the less likely it is you want to see other people. Small talk (or any talk) is impossible when you don’t have anything to talk about. If you don’t have anything to talk about, the last thing you want to do is talk to other people. That’s why it’s so important to get yourself out there and do things you enjoy, like hobbies and classes. They give you things to talk about with people that share your interests. They also boost your self-esteem, giving you the confidence to get involved, chat, and express what’s on your mind.
2. People intimidate you
Public speaking is consistently our number one fear, which means that other people frighten us. What other people think about us is everything, and we’ll do anything to get approval. If you don’t think this is accurate, try going to the supermarket in just your underwear! For me, I was particularly frightened about having a panic attack and embarrassing myself in front of others. The fear was so overwhelming I isolated myself. When I realised people were the source of so much happiness, joy, excitement, and comfort, I started to see them in a different light. They no longer intimidated me, and I could build relationships built on trust. When you’re able to see people in the same light, your relationship with them will change too.
3. You feel helpless
When you’re socially anxious you feel completely helpless. You look at everybody else chatting and having fun and believe that you’re the only person struggling. ‘Why can’t I strike up a conversation, but everybody else can?’ The reality is that’s far from the truth. Unless you’re a networking genius (and very few are), most other people are as intimidated as you are – they just hide it better or have practised socialising a little more than you. You’re not helpless; you’re just like most other people. All you need to do is practice socialising more and remember that it’s completely up to you how others make you feel. When I realised I possessed this power, I could either take something somebody said with a pinch of salt, or use his/her words to inspire me to take action.
4. You have low self-esteem
I didn’t think people would be interested in what I had to say, so I didn’t say anything. I was always the quiet one keeping my distance in case somebody asked me a question. ‘What me; you want to know what I think? Oh…well…I’m not sure…’ My cheeks go as red as ripe apples, and I stutter my words. Part of getting past this feeling of embarrassment is being confident in the knowledge that you have a lot of great things to say, and people do want to hear it. You are unique and special, and there will be things you know and say that others will find fascinating. When you break through the feeling of inadequacy there will be no stopping you.
5. You get comfort from staying at home
When a socialising opportunity was cancelled I got an immediate sense of relief, almost as though a massive weight had been lifted off my shoulders. This short-term relief kept me in the belief that I was doing the right thing by avoiding socialising completely. In reality, all it was doing was keeping me locked away and isolated, until I became too afraid to leave my house (I was agoraphobic for over 3 months). Breaking through the fear of social anxiety is absolutely worth it – believe me, it will change your life. Don’t be fooled by the short-term comfort you receive from using avoidance. Very soon, there won’t be anything left to avoid.
Q: I’ve worked for my company for about 3 years now, and a new manager has just taken over our team. He’s horrible and comes into the office every morning angry. As soon as I see him he puts me on edge and I worry that I’m not doing my work properly and that he’ll make a scene in the office. He’s belittled me in front of my colleagues on more than one occasion and doesn’t have any respect for me. He’s doubled my workload, which I’m struggling to cope with. I’m feeling anxious when I go home, and I worry about going to work the next day. My job is quite specialist so there's not a lot of other roles available. When other jobs do come up, they normally require me to relocate, which I can’t do because of my family. My anxiety and stress levels are really getting out of control, and I’m not sure what to do. Can you help?
A: If you work full-time you’ll be spending most of your time at work, and based on how your boss treats you, it’s unsurprising that he’s the cause of most of your anxiety and stress. You’re certainly not alone in this – unfortunately, there’s enough bad managers to go around the equator, twice. First and foremost, don’t take it personally. It’s highly likely that your boss acts the way he does because of his own anxiety and stress. That’s, of course, no excuse to treat you the way he does, but it helps if you can also see it from his perspective – that it’s nothing personal, and his way of dealing with it.
Like any fear (in your case, the fear of your boss), the first thing you need to do is confront it; otherwise it will continue to cause you excessive anxiety and stress that will affect both your home and work life. Ask to speak to your manager privately, and calmly and assertively tell him your concerns. Write them down and practice them, so you feel confident about what you’re going to say when you talk to him. Highlight why you’re unhappy about the way he talks to you, and how it makes you feel. Include the fact that you want to work to your full capability for him and the team, but don’t feel you’re able to do your best work under these circumstances. Don’t be afraid to be honest, and be specific. For example, when you mention that your workload is excessive, tell him why based on your previous work, and use facts to back up your case. With a strong enough fact-based case, a rational boss (good or bad) won’t have any other choice but to cut your workload, especially if they want to keep a good employee. Confrontation isn’t easy, I know, but it’s no harder than going home at night feeling anxious and stressed, dreading the prospect of going to work the next day.
The meeting is likely to go one of two ways:
1. Your boss will respect you for being brave enough to confront him, and he’ll start to show you the respect you deserve. In this instance, your working life will completely change. You’ll be given a fair workload, and the abuse will stop.
2. If your boss doesn’t change his attitude towards you, it shows his true character. He’s a guy you don’t want to work for, and he’ll never change. In this circumstance you have two options: you can either go above his head by speaking to his manager, or you will have to look for another job. I know the latter isn’t fair on you, but unfortunately, you have to accept that you get good and bad characters in the workplace – he’s one of the bad ones, so move on. Look for a new job sensibly, and research it well (so you don’t go from the frying pan into the fire). Be as professional as you can be whilst you’re still working for him.
Whatever happens, remember, you’re the bigger person. It’s up to you whether or not his words and actions cause you stress and anxiety, or whether you decide to take them with a pinch of salt. You’re in control, and there’s nothing you can’t deal with or change.
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