Anyone who has met me in person would be shocked to know that I suffered from terrible social anxiety up until about 10 years ago. It was so bad I left school, I’ve left jobs, and I’ve been put on medication. But now, I don’t need medication. I’m happy, I’m confident and I’m strong. It’s a complete turnaround from the person I used to be.
I was never exactly popular at school; I wasn’t pretty, nor was I the “teacher’s pet”. I was goofy, I had dreadful hair (bushy, frizzy curls before curly hair products had been invented), and I had a big cut on my forehead from when I fell over as a child. I once got asked out by a boy in the playground. I said yes, and he burst out laughing as his friends had dared him to do it. I had a small group of equally goofy friends, and we sat on our own away from the popular kids.
When I got to around 14, I still had a small group of friends but I began to distance myself from them. I didn’t feel like I fit in. I was miserable. The friends I had were happy, they’d compliment each other. I hated compliments, I never gave nor received any. I didn’t feel happy enough to compliment other people or be nice.
Slowly I isolated myself. I sat alone in my school lessons. Anxiety and panic attacks kicked in and became so bad, I stopped attending school. I left before my GCSEs started, and only went back to sit my exams. My doctor prescribed Propranolol to help with the panic attacks.
I left home at 18, and moved in with who is now my husband. I developed a few close friends but still suffered a huge lack of confidence. I would dread walking into a room in case people were in there, in case they looked at me. I detested attention. I would try to avoid going anywhere on my own. When I did need to enter a room, I’d keep my head down and avoid eye contact. It made life difficult. Blushing was a huge part of the problem; no one else I knew blushed, and the friends I made at work appeared confident, appeared normal. I felt weird, isolated, a freak. Don’t people stop blushing when they grow up? Why was I still doing it? What was wrong with me?
A red face to someone watching is just a red face, a display of embarrassment or some other emotion. To the sufferer, it’s so much more than that. Physically, you heat up and start to sweat. Your face burns, as does your neck and chest and it does exactly what you’re terrified of – it draws attention to you, like a beacon. Sweat trickles down your forehead, and your eyes sting with tears from the humiliation. You sweat everywhere, which increases anxiety as you then worry that you’ll smell sweaty. You feel light headed, like you want to black out and not have to sit there and suffer any longer.
Over the years, it got worse. In my twenties I couldn’t go up to the bar in a pub and order a drink. Other people would have to order my food if waiting staff came over, or I’d blush bright red.
The after effect
I remember one occasion when I was at a work’s away day, aged about 26, in a room full of about 30 people. We were asked to go round the room and stand up to introduce ourselves (a technique known as ‘creeping death’). Just before it got to be my turn I could feel the panic rise. When prompted I stood up to give my name, department and one thing I was looking forward to. I blushed bright red, attempted to speak but my voice was quiet and pathetic, and I struggled with my words. I felt light headed and like I was going to faint. Afterwards, I sat down and went to sip my water, but my hand was shaking so much I had to put the glass back down. I had helpful people telling me I was ‘fine’ and that no one likes doing things like that, but it’s OK once you’ve got it over and done with. But with social anxiety, that’s when the neurosis starts. You replay the mental movie of you standing up and failing as a human being over and over again. The pain and humiliation starts again as you obsess over it, beating yourself up and not letting it go. You don’t feel better, you feel worse; stupid, weird. Social anxiety is a process, a cycle, which is on constant repeat.
Hitting rock bottom
I was in a job I hated, and I’d not been there long. The blushing continued, the paranoia creeping in. I would blush not only when I was embarrased, but when I was scared to blush – at inappropriate times. I’d blush when people made sexual references, or said something had gone missing or was broken and started a ‘who did that’ kind of conversation. I’d think to myself “Don’t go red now or they’ll think it’s you” and boom! Let the blushing commence. I blushed once when a colleague said her tobacco had gone missing, in case she thought I had stolen it, I didn’t even smoke at the time!
It would also happen when I felt trapped, or claustrophobic. When someone in a room asked me a question and I couldn’t get away, I couldn’t run out the door. I’d be trapped and forced to speak.
I decided to seek help in the form of a life coach who was recommended to me by a colleague. She changed my life. She saw me for a period of three months, with one weekly session. She introduced me to a few things; TFT (thought field therapy), breathing techniques including one I’ve detailed below, and my ultimate lifesaver – The Sedona Method.
The Sedona Method
The Sedona Method ‘The Method’ helps you to let go of any unwanted feeling or emotion. It’s easy to do, but it needs to become a habit. I used this technique to overcome my fear of heights, spiders, and social anxiety. The social anxiety was the last thing to go, but once you learn how to release, it affects many areas of your life. The struggle dimishes, life starts to flow. It’s an amazingly simple technique but it has worked absolute wonders for me, and has allowed me to turn my life around. I’m now a Manager, I attend networking sessions alone and am confident to meet people, I walk into busy rooms with ease and make conversation with whoever is there, I travel alone, and I present to groups of people at work. Sure, I still get a few nerves when I’m presenting, but no more than anyone would. I’m a completely different person, thanks to this Method! Learn more about it on the Sedona website, and I’d thoroughly recommend the book, which you can buy from Ebay (try this link).
7 – 11 Breathing
Another useful technique is 7-11 breathing, where you breathe in to the count of 7, and then out to the count of 11, pushing all the air from your body. This reduces anxiety as when we breathe out, we slow our heartbeat and decrease our adrenaline production. Find out more from this 7-11 breathing factsheet.
Hopefully that has given you an insight into me as a person, and my battles with social anxiety. I really hope others get some benefit from this method. It’s been a lifesaver, social anxiety has loosened it’s grip on me and life is fabulous now! I feel like an enormous weight has been lifted from me, emotions can be wonderful but they can also hold you back in so many ways. Now, I don’t let anxiety stop me doing anything. The world is my oyster!
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