How Networking Is Helping Push My Social Anxiety Limits

If you have been around for a while you'll remember I've talked a few times about social anxiety being something I have been working on for a while, it is one of my worst areas in terms of mental health. Around five years ago I was a person who couldn't walk into the hairdressers and ask for an appointment because I was so fearful that I was going to be judged by the lady at reception. I was that person who would walk with their head down 99% of the time because I was too scared to look up and see someone that looked like they were giving me a judgemental look (they probably weren't, but I thought they were). The thought of leaving my comfort zone socially would provoke a an anxiety attack. I left my formal early one year- after maintaining for weeks that I wasn't going and only going in an attempt to prove to everyone that there was nothing wrong with me (there was). 

The level of social anxiety that I was experiencing was not okay, with a lot of work and surrounding myself with the right people who encourage me to leave my comfort zone socially, I've managed to get myself to a point where my social anxiety only rears its ugly head when I am about to really push my limits. On bad days, sure I will avoid going into a shop for fear of being judged, I'll second guess if I really need to make a phone call or if an email will suffice- but they are rare.

For people who don't experience social anxiety- even though it is the third larges mental health problem in the world- it can be a difficult concept to understand, much like every other mental illness. So what is social anxiety? According to Thomas A. Richards Ph.D, a psychologist and the director of The Social Anxiety Institute "social anxiety is the fear of being judged and evaluated negatively by other people, leading to feelings of inadequacy, self consciousness, embarrassment, humiliation and depression." The feelings associated with social anxiety vary from person to person, no two people are exactly the same.

The feelings I have will be completely different to the feelings the girl next door experiences, there is no set in stone way that you should feel. For me, my social anxiety rears up when I put myself into an unknown social situation, something that is new to me and I haven't known how to prepare myself for.

On Friday, to celebrate International Womens Day, I stepped so far out of my comfort zone it was merely a blur when I looked back. I have avoided events like this for a really long time, knowing of the panic they would likely induce. A breakfast held by Fusion Biz Babes and Villa Management at Frasers Restaurant, that was my first leap into the unknown. I don't think I was fully aware of the height of the situation, or if I was I was ignoring it completely. I wouldn't allow myself to even think about the fact that I was about to walk into a room full of 260 strangers- 260!!! The fear was that allowing myself to think about it would cause me to psych myself out and come up with same lame excuse as to why I couldn't go anymore.

Driving up the road to the venue was the first time I allowed myself to give it a thought, or a few thoughts after I saw the huge line of ladies waiting to go in. I had come this far and there was no way in hell I was backing out now, despite the fact that I could feel the anxiety rising in my chest, waiting to get a grip and tighten until I was barely breathing.

I was shaking when I got out of the car, but I ignored it- my method was going to be faking it on the outside, while freaking out on the inside- until I get to a point where I don't have to fake it anymore. It was my thoughts that got me through this one, I knew that the thoughts I was telling myself, they were going to be positive and affirmative for me to not let the social anxiety take over.

Here is a bit of an insight into what was going through my brain:

  • "There is other people here who don't know anyone either".
    Walking into the line the first thought that gave me a little jolt of confidence was that I was not alone in the whole no knowing anyone boat, there was ladies everywhere who didn't know anyone else and I was just like them. 
  • "Your outfit is fine, stop comparing it what other people are wearing." 
    I wore all black- because is there any other colour that I really wear and feel confident in? No. Other ladies were so beautifully dressed and in an array of different colours that my brain used that as a way of telling me I was inferior, that I had dressed wrong. I hadn't, and I look back now and think "hell yeah I loved that outfit!"
  • "Just talk to one person and you'll be fine."
    In the line behind me I could hear two ladies introducing themselves to each other the first time and I knew in my head I should turn around and make small talk with them to get myself off on the right foot. I couldn't though, it kind of felt like I was stuck to the ground I was on, I could move forward but turning around seemed like such a task. It was at my table that I found the confidence to introduce myself to the lovely lady next to me, I couldn't sit on a table for the next few hours and not talk to anyone, could I?
  • "No one is watching how you eat Elyssa, no one cares."
    Eating in public has always been a tender spot for me- I didn't eat in front of Brodie for a good six months when we first started dating (FYI I will now gladly eat whatever I like in front of him and not give it a second thought.) When breakfast came out, the anxiety in my chest got a little bit tighter. Everyone on my table was digging in and yet I was still nervously picking at my plate. I realised what I was doing and literally shook my head at how silly I was being- why would anyone be judging me for eating the breakfast they too are eating? They wouldn't be. 
  • "Just take in what people are saying and respond accordingly."
    I was getting so in my head that my words were coming out completely wrong, I was saying things I wouldn't usually say and I think I over-used the phrase "wow thats so good!" to death. I gave myself a little pep talk when there was a bit of a break, I just needed to listen to what people were saying or asking me and respond in a way that didn't make me sound like I was trying too hard. Conversations seemed to improve after said pep talk. 
I am proud of myself for the huge leap I took out of my comfort zone, at one point I would never have been able to do something like this. I think I was right in waiting for the perfect event to come along, something that I knew was going to be a good stepping stone into the world of being social and networking with like minded people. 

If you are, like me on the more introverted side I actually wrote a post for Boss Mode Radio earlier this week about some of the tips I was taking in to my first networking event. It's called "The Introverts Guide To Networking" and that link is clickable if you would like to give it a read.

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