I’m grateful that I have been able to develop my public speaking resume over the years. I’ve been invited to speak or offer keynotes at The Fashion Institute of Technology, Parsons School of Design, Capital One Café, The Global Good Fund, Rent The Runway, The New York Public Library and the International Trademark Association.
What most people don’t know about me, is that I suffer from almost crippling social anxiety.
“Social anxiety is the fear of social situations that involve interaction with other people. You could say social anxiety is the fear and anxiety of being negatively judged and evaluated by other people,” according to the Social Anxiety Organization. This is the third largest mental health care problem in the world today and affects about 7% of the population. The chances of developing social anxiety disorder during one’s lifetime is about 13%.
My social anxiety developed over time. As a child, I loved being the center of attention, the nucleus of my social circle and the glue that held my friendship groups together. I was the 13-year-old girl sitting in my room calling all my friends on three-way so we could gossip over what boy said what to whom that day in school or what we were going to wear to the school dance that weekend.
Then, something shifted. When I turned my attention away from being a rambunctious teenager focused on my social circle and shifted towards my design and fashion career my anxiety developed. The more I was forced to step outside of my comfort zone, the more the anxiety and dread washed over me.
Perhaps it was due to what I had witnessed between the time of my teens and adulthood. That is when I learned first-hand how cruel people can be and became all too familiar with the feelings of rejection and embarrassment. It’s possible that these deposits into my memory bank of feeling hurt, left out, or undervalued were being projected on to my current circumstances. Because if in fact, social anxiety stems from the fear of being negatively judged–these feelings had to come from somewhere.
Even if you’ve never experienced social anxiety I think almost anyone can relate to this. Have you ever been in a classroom or group setting where you had to go around the room and everyone shares something about themselves? For example your name, where you’re from, and your company’s elevator pitch. You may get a feeling in your stomach as your turn approaches. And you may not even hear the person before you speak as your heart races, butterflies develop on your stomach, you sweat, and go over your lines in your head. Then as you stand up to speak you may freak out internally because you stuttered or forgot your lines, and then you sit back down and come off the emotional cliff of the task being over.
This is how I feel every time I’m in a professional environment. Especially where I am in charge of leading a talk, pitch, or conversation.
The first time I noticed this anxiety is when I started approaching investors at networking events. What is it about money that makes things so awkward? As you probably know, the majority of startups need capital to get off the ground. I have been pitching my business to investors for many years. Anxiety-wise it’s never gotten easier for me. I’m always anxious when I enter those meetings.
Eerily, my anxiety has now also escalated to basic social settings. I also stopped drinking alcohol last year, so the ability to take the ‘edge’ off is gone. Now I usually don’t go out all, preferring the comfort and serenity of my home, where I can create, safely behind a computer screen. While I have no choice but to delve into anxiety-inducing situations for my career, I do have a choice when it comes to my personal life, and I can stay home.
But I know that really isn’t the answer. So this is how I’ve have learned to deal with social phobia.
Face situations head on
The only way to get through tough situations is to show up and do your best. I try to make sure I’m as prepared as possible by practicing for public speaking engagements and researching any people I may want to connect with in social settings. Then I don’t have the added anxiety of being unprepared on top of the stress that is already there.
Set a maximum time limit for attendance
When I do put myself in the center of the networking and social fire, I only stay a maximum of two hours. I have learned that is pretty much my personal limit before the anxiety becomes too much to manage.
Take calming supplements
I’d heard really great things about CBD oil (the non-THC element of the marijuana plant) and it’s healing powers. I have started to take it before I head to public speaking or social gatherings and I think it helps.
Try breathing techniques
Honestly, I do not do breathing techniques. But I have heard and read that they are the keys to overcoming social phobia or anxiety of any sort.
Ultimately, I believe don’t cope well and it is definitely a personal hurdle I face. I just hope that one day I level up to remembering there is no need and no person who should ever make me feel this way.