Dear Miss Dinna –
I am a 17 years old senior in high school. I’ve always been shy and awkward, but more recently I feel like I could diagnose myself with full-blown social anxiety.
I spend most of my time alone, and am terrified to open my mouth in fear that undoubtedly something stupid will come out and everyone will brand me as a loser and/or start laughing at me in unison. I’ve even become self conscious crossing the street, imagining all the horrible things people are thinking about me while sitting in their cars at the red light.
Most of the time I just want to disappear or become invisible. My biggest fear is being called in in class and to have to answer publicly. I will be attending college next year and am starting to have massive anxiety about it.
How the hell am I going to survive living with strangers in a dorm, socially interacting etc. Any advice would be greatly appreciated as this situation just seems to be getting worse and worse.
Stop Looking at Me
Dear Stop Looking at Me –
You are right, you are experiencing social anxiety; and as with most anxieties, there is usually the source, which creates the initial anxiety, and then there is the birth of the anxiety over the anxiety, which exasperates the initial anxiety and eventually feels like an avalanche of anxiety.
Fear of the fear is what I call it. Sounds overwhelming I know….but here is the good news: it’s totally in your control.
Social anxiety is an affliction. This affliction is caused by many factors, such as our upbringing, the situations we find ourselves in as children, how others react to us, and finally, our perception of that reaction. These experiences and our perceptions in turn create for stories and narrations we tell ourselves. We believe these stories to be our truths, and even believe them to be facts; when in truth they are completely mutable and we can change them any time we want. The moment we realize they are based on misconceptions is the moment we begin to realize that we can rewrite and tell ourselves a different “story.”
This moment of employing an internal locus of control (knowing that you have control versus external – believing the outside world has control over your destiny) simply deciding to change your self-narration, can quickly guide you towards a life filled with confidence, self-acceptance, friendship and freedom from social anxiety.
Regardless of what you have “learned” to believe and apply to yourself, the anxiety you feel isn’t a product of something WRONG with you. You are not a loser or unworthy. You simply were taught to look at yourself in all the wrong ways. Most people with social anxiety, when they look at themselves in the mirror, note, almost instinctually, what they don’t have instead of what they do have.
Did you know that by simply recognizing and embracing your strengths you could not only conquer social anxiety but draw others towards your confidence and therefore gain the friendship, validation and love you so desperately seek.
So, Stop Looking at Me, this is where we start: in the mirror… with YOU looking at YOURSELF and deciding to say something different to yourself. Your negative voice or narration is a very developed muscle that we need to stop working out.
Let’s build the positive muscle now. I encourage you immediately to write a list of all your positive attributes, even if you doubt some, make a list of at least 10 and try to work towards 20. Write them out on post its and stick them on every mirror and recite them, like a mantra, multiple times a day. Fake it till you make it… because somewhere in there they will sink in, outweigh your negative perceptions, and eventually take place of them (the negative) and become (the positive) your reality.
SL@M, it’s not about, nor will it ever be about, what others think of you. Learn to love, admire and appreciate yourself and others will follow suit. You can stand in front of crowds and know that they respect you because you respect yourself. It’s as simple as that. In order to conquer social anxiety we must simply love the person we see in the mirror each day.
Smile at your reflection and the world will reflect a smile back to you.
I love you. You’re amazing.
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