How I overcame social anxiety



When I was a kid, I had selective mutism. While this sounds like an awesome X-Men superpower,
it was quite the opposite. In certain situations, I didn’t speak — I
was mute. This happened every time I entered a social
situation alone without my parents. School was always the place I dreaded the
most. I’d get paralyzed with fear. I’d look like this… My parents had no idea I was selectively mute
because at home I was a chatterbox. My teachers didn’t think I had a problem
– they just thought I was shy. This happens a lot with anxious kids — since
they usually don’t cause problems, their struggles can go unnoticed. Why did this happened to me? Anxiety runs in my family, so I was wired
to feel it more intensely than other kids. I also remember feeling weird being one of
the only brown kids in my school, so I tried everything I could not to stick out more than
I already did. I also learned if I kept my mouth shut someone
else would feel bad and speak up for me. As I got older, I learned to speak up when
I had to, but it still terrified me. Our brains are association machines, they
make connections between situations and emotions. Mine connected people with anxiety. In middle school, I started worrying there
was something wrong with me, that I was weird. That’s when my selective mutism turned into
social anxiety. I panicked whenever a teacher called on me,
kept thinking I had made a fool out of myself in front of other kids at school, and avoided
everyone except my family and a few close friends. As other kids started developing crushes,
I started to believe that no one would ever want be interested in me. In high school my friend convinced me to enroll
in public speaking. I thought it was a class about listening to
famous speeches. I HAD NO IDEA IT WAS GOING TO BE A SEMESTER
OF SPEAKING IN FRONT OF OTHER PEOPLE!! I was terrified and wanted to drop the class…but
that would have meant I had to speak to the teacher and get her permission to drop out. Since I was too afraid to speak to any authority
figure, I was stuck in the class. My teacher, Georgianna Hayes, started the
course with each person practicing short speeches in front of 1 other person. I was anxious, but it wasn’t as bad as speaking
in front of the whole class. Then we’d repeat the speech with a different
parter. Things were a little bit easier the 2nd time. We kept repeating this exercise until everyone
got bored of the task. Later, we shared what it what was going on
in our heads during each speech. To my surprise, I learned EVERYONE was worried
about coming across as weird, dumb, or strange. My deepest fear, people thinking I was different,
turned out to be a common fear shared my everyone in that situation. We moved on to short speeches in front of
a small group, then medium sized groups, and pretty soon we were speaking in front of the
whole class. Here’s the first big speech I gave in that
class — it was all about getting rid of bad breath. It was my passive aggressive way of telling
the person I sat next to that their breath really stank. They didn’t get the message. I learned years later that Ms. Hayes was doing
exposure therapy. Avoiding social situations, trying to eliminate
anxiety, that was the cause of all my problems. But when I faced my fears in incremental steps,
I got used to them. My thoughts began to change — they became
more realistic. It was like riding a wave — my anxiety would
start, rise, and then eventually fizzle out. Learning I could ride out my emotions became
my superpower. I sought out every opportunity I could to
expose myself to anxiety. I joined the speech and debate team, became
a Rally Board commissioner, and started wrestling. By the time I graduated high school social
anxiety wasn’t something that bothered me anymore. It’s not that I’ve eliminated anxiety
from my life. That’s impossible — I still experience
it, especially when I’m speaking in front of my mentors, the first day I teach a class,
when I talk in front of famous psychologists, or when I present at comic con. I also developed a brief case of panic disorder
after my brother died…but that’s a different story. Now, I know we’re SUPPOSED to feel emotions. They communicate important information. Fear warns us of potential danger. Sadness tells us a loss or setback has occurred
and helps us to reflect on what’s happened. Anxiety reminds us to prepare for something
in the future. Anger tells us we’ve been wronged. When we avoid our emotions, that’s when
the problems begin. That’s how we fall into thinking traps. That’s how we isolate ourselves. This isn’t just true for anxiety, it’s
also the case for depression, tics, body focused repetitive behaviors, eating disorders, personality
disorders, substance and addiction disorders, and may more mental health problems. This is why I became a clinical psychologist
— I want to help others face their fears, ride out their emotions, and change their
lives. What are your fears and how have you overcome
them? Let me know in the comments below. I’m Ali Mattu on Twitter, Instagram, and
Snapchat. Be sure to Like The Psych Show on Facebook
and subscribe on YouTube.

40 thoughts on “How I overcame social anxiety

  • Loved the video! I just have a question, speaking in public would be a conditioned or unconditioned stimulus? and feeling anxious would be then a conditioned or unconditioned response?

  • asperger syndrome makes difficult to communication and interact in social situation and pragmatic to language . This also make someone like me to get socially anxious. Can make video on this syndrome.

  • I recently enrolled in a public speaking class of my own next semester. I had deliberately chosen it so I could get better at it, but when I thought about it later, I felt like it was a horrible idea. However, your video helped me rethink what the class would be like, and decreased my anxiety. It also gave me a better understanding of how to manage exposure therapy for oneself. Thank you <3

  • Can’t it just be a part of someone’s personality (being more reserved and quiet) instead of being labelled as a form of mental disorder? When do we draw the line? Thanks!!

  • I've had social anxiety for so long. I absolutely hate talking to someone on the phone when it requires relaying important information. I also struggle with being afraid of getting a negative reaction from strangers. That is why I let a complete stranger into my car even though I didn't want to, and nearly had a heart attack from the amount of anxiety I was having.

  • Public speaking class was the worst. I would just think about all of the things that I had done wrong for days and became very anxious other people were judging me because of what I said.

  • I have generalized anxiety, panic disorder and social anxiety. While around friends I'm super chatty and I feel comfortable in being kind of a weirdo, but I'm terrified of talking to people I don't know, because I dont know what they'll think of me and how the conversation will go. The thing is, I'm an actress, I've been acting since I was a kid and I love it. I never felt shy to be on a stage, but that's because it is a controlled situation, I know exactly what to say and do. I'd rather perform in front of 500 people than do small talk to a group of 5 strangers I just met. When I talked about this to my dad, he half-joking said "you're an actress, just ACT confident". I thought it was silly at first but then I realized it could work. When I met new people I pretended to be chill and confident (even though I was literally shaking and feeling like I was about to faint), and it worked! People would like talking to me and sometimes I would even comment on how I was nervous about going to that social event and they would reply with "but you look so confident!" and then little by little I would actually feel confident talking to them. Fake it until you make it haha. I still get very anxious when going to social events without people I know very well, but now I don't cry in the car before going in and, even though I'm anxious, I can actually enjoy going and meeting new people.

  • I just watch your video and i like it..
    I am afraid of facing my weaknesses
    It's hard for me to interact other people because of this..

  • I tell people that social anxiety is a PHYSICAL condition with MENTAL symptoms. It derives from a lack of Serotonin, and possible imbalance in other neuro-chemicals, i.e. Dopamine, Norepenephrin, etc.. It is a basic survival state of heightened awareness required in the most dire situations, that is, to deal with a vicious lion in the bush. The problem is, there is no lion. The anxious person KNOWS THAT. Telling them "it's OK, no reason to be stressed" does NOT help. It only makes it worse, since they already feel bad about being anxious. Anyway, one main trigger is social speaking. Practically everyone feel that "butterflies" anxiety, but for social anxiety sufferers, it's like having to walk into a cage of lions. Again, we KNOW that there are no lions, but our body reacts as if there are. Positive experiences are critical to maintaining a functional life, as does familiarity and repetition. And although he didn't mention it, getting the right medication (usually SSRIs) can mean the difference between a life of suffering, and one that seems worth living. Remember that we are treating a PHYSICAL condition with the meds, not a mental one. But if we lessen the physical condition, the mental component will be less severe. Then there's years of therapy and practice to build up that library of positive experiences to give you some confidence in new situations, and to be able to recognize the onset of symptoms, especially panic attacks. Oh one more thing, social anxiety sufferers are experts at hiding the fact. So the next time you see that person at a party sitting in a corner trying to hide, they might not just be "shy," but could really be suffering and need someone to get them out of the crowd where they can breath and get their head straight.

  • Great video but could you try to normalise the volume between the outro jingle & the spoken audio? You nearly blew my speakers!

  • You may think you know what other people are thinking, or assume that they are thinking the worst about you. But I'd be willing to bet that most of the time, 99% of the time, you're wrong, because most of the time people are thinking about themselves.

    The sooner you except that, the less likely you are to put yourself in a position that makes you uncomfortable.

    -Marc Maron

  • I have difficulty performing in front of my parents. I am comparatively better at socialising when my parents are not around. But when I am just with my parents or friends I am a chatterbox. I literally don't shut up. But I am very quite around relatives. But I have a distinct anxiety of communicating with new people older than me or just certain people with whom I am not acquainted enough to know how to react to. Can you help?

  • Number one fear: Spiders. We live in a place where they are always in our unfinished basement and are large. I've come up with a few ways to manage this. I check the stairs and walls before going into the basement. If there's one on the wall, I won't go down, but if it's on a step and it's not a big spider (pea-dime size body and small legs), then I can cause a vibration that makes it move, or I skip that step (if possible). If it's on the floor, then I will go down, grab a broom or spray and kill it. I never used to be able to even kill one. Sometimes, if it's on a wall but away from where I need to go, I'll ignore it. Acknowledging that it's there seems to help. I read that a fear of spiders and/or snakes might be an evolutionary trait, i.e., it developed as a safety feature in our ancestors. Any thoughts on that? I always thought it was simply because my mother modeled it for me!

  • Excellent video! Extremely informative and very helpful. I have arachnophobia (fear of spiders) and from when I was little all the way into my adult life now, it's stayed with me. However, around high school, when a hoard of giant spiders infested the outside patio door, I started to slowly overcome my phobia–or at least cope with it. Seeing the spiders not really going out of their way to break through the glass and attack me made me realize that they're just simple, if not creepy, creatures. So, I reasoned that I wouldn't let myself be afraid of them or kill them unless I saw them in the house or inside of where I may be like my car. If they were outside, I'd let them be; in turn, I managed to cope with my phobia and now I'm less afraid of spiders (but I won't ever watch any horror movies or documentaries related to spiders as they trigger my anxiety).

  • My biggest fears are bugs and germs/infections/infects/illness and traveling on my own. Don't really have a solution for the first two, but I did find my fear of traveling on my own slowly decreased when I started visiting my sister more often or going to a class, basically just the same old routine, the same route always.
    And then I got less scared of taking new routes that I didn't go yet, because I knew I'd eventually make it (even if I took the wrong train).
    Also, since I had such high motivation to visit my best friend (who lives in another country) I flew there myself. Which was a huge step haha, but I did it again and will visit her once more in a few weeks.

  • Thank you so much for your videos! 💜 I'm a psychology major and your videos are really interesting and help me understand things better!

  • I totally would've freaked out if I was in a class that involved public speaking, let alone one that revolved around it. Weird thing about my anxiety is that it's pretty severe but at its peak, I'm overcome with a sense of desperation that makes me do social things I wouldn't otherwise be able to do in order to get out of the situation. As in, I get so anxious that I absolutely need to get out of the class and will go to the teacher and tell them if I really have to. But if I were in your situation, I would've just not attended class. I've literally hid in bathrooms for hours because I've been too scared. Funny how having social anxiety can make you too scared to see a therapist when they're really the only one who can help you and so you get stuck not doing anything but wanting to.

  • For myself, I have always felt that CBT/exposure is something that won't do much for me. I feel my SA symptoms most often come organically from my brain's imbalance and not from thinking bad things into being, which is the basis of CBT. My disorder began and I tried so hard to be normal, the way I was before, and I couldn't, my body and brain were betraying me. And my cycle of fear began off of the basis of my symptoms occurring without any just reason for them. And then I would avoid because I KNEW that the symptoms would occur in a social situation. The symptoms did not occur because I feared them, I feared them because they occurred. I would like to know your thoughts on this, please?

  • I've gone through speech classes and smaller intimate group talks with friends and classmates but my social anxiety is still awful. It's actually gotten worse over the years…

  • I suffered from both selective mutism and avoidant personality disorder. I grew up in an abusive house hold and was bullied all the time and sometimes I still am because of it and its miserable and bitter. But I think my plan is to join toastmasters. since your video gave me a little bit of hope that it might be fixable.

  • Sir please make a video on diary writing and how to better diary…And the role of punishment and reward in learning…

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