I was delighted to receive the following guest post from Jo Fenton, author of The Brotherhood, due for release on July 25, 2018. I’d love to hear what you think of it:
Whilst doing some research for the sequel to The Brotherhood, I began reading Social Anxiety Revealed by Miriam Drori. I was shocked to discover that this was a condition I suffered from badly in my teens and through into my twenties. Occasionally, 20 years on, I still find myself in a situation that reminds me it never quite goes away.
My main symptoms in my twenties showed up at work. Prior to that, I had put everything down to the typical teen angst of a frequently bullied, nerdy and uncoordinated young girl. During my university years, most of the symptoms disappeared. I made loads of friends, had a great social life, and met the man to whom I’m still married after almost 25 years.
But then I started work. I had always wanted to work with people, and actively pursued a career in the health industry. I hadn’t quite realised how daunting it would be. The first time I was sent to call in a patient for a scan, my heart was racing, my hands were clammy, and I felt slightly sick. It took a few weeks before I got over these symptoms, but even for years to follow, I often had to take a deep breath before calling in a new patient, particularly if it was an intimidating situation – a very poorly patient, a doctor (they can be patients too), or occasionally, a celebrity.
During my time as a Nuclear Medicine technician, I attended regular team meetings. As an interested and ambitious member of the team, I wanted to ask questions, but the thought of putting up my hand was terrifying. Once again, the sweats and palpitations would take away my breath and my voice as soon my hand headed towards the ceiling. I remember an occasion when I couldn’t string the words together to form a coherent question, and with everyone staring at me, I had to take a deep breath and try again.
Gradually though, I devised a technique for asking questions. Sitting as close to the front of the room as I could, so I couldn’t actually see everyone staring at me, I found it felt more as if I was having a private conversation with the presenter.
Nowadays, working as a clinical researcher, I attend lots of meetings, often with very senior people, and rarely raise my heart rate when I need to ask a question. I don’t need to sit at the front any more either.
The technique I use for this is to assume that there are lots of people in the room wanting to know the answer, but who are too nervous to ask. By taking that burden, I’m being helpful to those more nervous than I am. And I am a compulsive helper!!!
My other main fear when I was younger was phoning strangers. We all have to do it – calling the plumber, the Inland Revenue, Council Tax, the bank – all these things were horribly daunting, and I would defer them to my husband until he realised why. Then he made me do it. As he said, there wasn’t much damage anyone could do to me over the phone! I gradually realised that most people are very pleasant and friendly on the other end of the phone, and I began to wonder why I’d been so frightened. Huge thanks to my husband for forcing me to make those phone calls.
So you’re probably wondering if I’m cured? I would say I’m about 95% there. I’m still nervous in difficult and new situations. I do often have to tell myself not to be intimidated when I’m about to give a presentation to a lot of people, either for work, or for author activities. But then, at other times, I feel okay. I face challenges head on, and refuse to let my fears ever stop me from doing what I want or need to do. As a result of that, the fears have receded. Activities like asking questions in a meeting (or even a conference!), and meeting and talking to strangers, have become commonplace, and don’t bother me anymore.
I do believe anyone can learn to deal with this, but it takes time, patience, and the determination to conquer those fears. The best advice I was ever given was this: Do something outside of your comfort zone every day. That way, your comfort zone will grow huge, and keep growing.
Thank you, Jo. That’s a very uplifting post. I’m very glad you succeeded in… not conquering, overcoming or beating social anxiety, but in weakening it and learning to manage it. I don’t think anyone ever does more than that.
What about the rest of you? What do you think? Do you agree that anyone can deal with social anxiety in this way? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
Jo’s post leaves me with several questions, and I will put those questions to her in an interview in the near future. If you have any questions you want to ask her, please write them in the comments, too.