Abigail Taylor
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How to Deal with Social Anxiety

What I Have Been Doing to Overcome My Mental Illness

*DISCLAIMER* I am not a professional. The things stated below are simply my experience and my opinion. Please seek professional help if you are having serious mental issues.

Social anxiety is something I have struggled with for years, and so have approximately 15 million other people across the United States. It's a mental illness that affects so many, yet solutions to the problem aren't openly talked about as much as you would hope. If you don't know, social anxiety is a mental condition in which social situations cause irrational and intense anxiety. And, no, it is not the same thing as being shy or being introverted. Social anxiety causes us to avoid situations that we find to induce anxiety. This can be anything from public speaking to eating in public. It is not all just being afraid to stand up and speak in front of a crowd, it can be little things, too. Even doing something as simple as asking to go to the restroom during school can cause you to sweat, your heart to race, your hands to shake, and your thoughts to spiral.

Because social anxiety causes us to avoid situations we fear, it is not an easy thing to overcome. However, it is possible. I would highly recommend seeking a therapist if you are able, but I also have a few things you can do yourself. For example, I have been practicing exposure therapy myself, and have found it to be quite helpful. I had to give a speech in a public speaking class recently, and normally I would go into complete panic mode, black out, and block the entire thing from my memory. But, I didn't. I stood up there in front of these people I barely knew and I spoke. I was anxious, of course. My heart was racing, I was sweating, it was hard to breathe, but I did it. And I was okay after.

Facing your fears is the only way to teach your brain not to fear them. You put yourself in these situations that you fear, you tell yourself it is okay to feel anxious (This is important. Don't suppress these feelings. Acknowledge them and acknowledge that feeling anxious is not dangerous.), and you assess the situation afterwards. You think about how you felt before, what your anxious thoughts were, what your symptoms were, what you thought would happen, and what actually happened. I would also recommend getting an anxiety workbook. This will help you sort through your thoughts and emotions and use them to overcome your social anxiety.

Above all, remember that anxiety does not have to rule your life. You may feel helpless or alone, but you are not. You have the power to fight this, and you have the power to see the other side. Your life can and will be good again. You will feel okay again. It is not going to be a fun, nice process. It is going to take months of hard work and reflection, but you are capable of doing it. A year ago, I thought social anxiety was just a part of me; something I had to live with and just learn to deal with. But, now, I am taking the steps necessary to overcome it, not just live with it. I encourage all of you, if you suffer with social anxiety, to try some exposure exercises or seek therapy to beat your social anxiety. Remember, no matter how dark and hopeless things may seem, you can overcome it. It may sound cheesy, but it's true. I wish you the best, and good luck. 

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