When You Start Freaking Out
You Don’t Have To Stay That Way
I have struggled with social anxiety for my entire life.
And it’s done some damage to me.
The time that awakened me to my problem was when I went to the store with my cousin. When we were done shopping, she made me go and pay for everything. We weren’t going together.
I got nervous.
My arms started shaking. I felt my vision go a little blurry. My breathing went from normal to quick little breaths.
But the pressure of my cousin not wanting to talk to people (even though there were self-checkouts) got to me. So I forced myself to go through it and paid.
That’s the day I decided to do something about it (at the time I thought it was stage fright; the university psychology dept. taught me otherwise). And I’ve tried a lot of things. Not all of them have worked, but some have. Those are the ones I recommend.
When I went on a voluntary religious experience in a different country, I experienced social anxiety. So my religious leader had me talk to a therapist.
He told me to do a few things. The first and most valuable of them all to me was to breathe.
The specific instructions were to breathe in for eight seconds, hold it for another eight seconds, then let it out for eight more seconds.
And to do that for a while.
One of the reasons why my reactions were so bad was my breathing. It had skyrocketed into crazy breathing. And my brain was struggling for air. Less air means less oxygen. Less oxygen means issues for you. Inability to function normally (i.e. motor skills go downhill). Emotions dictate how you react (e.g. you get mad and suddenly punch a wall; bad idea).
There’s a reason why in old cartoons you see the characters who get mad breathe really quickly (and savagely). Or when people get nervous, they either don’t breathe or take a lot of short breaths. Less oxygen.
Whenever I got that feeling come over me, that I was becoming anxious, I breathed. And it worked. I didn’t feel anxious.
I felt peaceful. Light. Capable.
I have always been a reader. And books have been my happy places. Getting lost in them was like being in a movie instead of watching.
So when the therapist told me to also imagine a scene that’s peaceful and tranquil, I knew I could do it. I knew it would calm me down and put me in a good place.
And I also watched Happy Gilmore.
If you’ve never watched it that’s fine. I’ll give you the brief version. Happy, the MC, was learning how to put. He was not good at it. And it stressed him out. Got into cursing and cussing matches with the golf ball. So his mentor, Chubbs, told him to imagine his happy place. It calmed him right away. And he made his puts (until that one time when his happy place became the bad place, but it didn’t last that way).
It was easy to imagine a place that was peaceful and tranquil. And I usually do it right after the breathing.
But I don’t use these two techniques all the time. I figured that they don’t work when it comes to every scenario.
When you teach something, it’s hard to have the space to breathe and imagine. Especially if the people, or person, you’re teaching have questions related to your subject but isn’t necessarily what your lesson’s about. Which meant I had to figure out something else that I could do (and have done ever since then).
I over prepare.
Usually, I know what I’m teaching a few weeks prior, so I have ample time to learn as much about the subject as I can.
That’s what I do the first week. Research. Write down thoughts. Underline. Highlight. Remember. But I don’t make plans (I have to review other lessons beforehand, so I can’t give as much energy as I’d like to).
The second week, I tend to write rough ideas of potential lessons. I get them to a point that I like them enough by the end of the week that I stop working on them.
The third week, the week that I’ll present that particular lesson, is when I practice teaching.
First to things I own like plants and socks. Then to people who love me. Followed by friends. Ending on people I know but aren’t learning from me.
Through all these different teachings I get a feel for the lesson and then I’m good.
By the time I have to teach, I feel like a pro. And when those inevitable questions come I’m not “shaking in my boots.” I’m happy to move in that direction, eventually steering the class back to my point. But not always (I support learning and answering good questions).
At this point, I’m not scared. Not scared. Not nervous. Not bound to follow my lesson plan to a tee. I was ready. So I taught. (Note: I wasn’t the only teacher, so I wasn’t required to teach every day which helped).
Oddly enough, this didn’t make me a plotter. Can’t plot to save my life (makes me too anxious). But it works really well for me.
A Better Future
I’m still socially anxious. I am. I know it probably won’t go away until I die. Sad, but true.
But I also know that I don’t have to constantly live in a socially anxious state. None of us do. That’s why I shared how I get out of it.
For now, I’m going to my happy place. Not because I’m nervous. But because I wanna wave my wand around and make some magic. Set off fireworks in the form of a dragon. Pants the pretty boy villain (the therapist never said I only had to use my happy place for social anxiety :D)