When I had anxiety I used to imagine the worst of every situation and it would completely stop me from going out of my comfort zone. I did not try to make new friends, I did not attend any parties, I stayed home alone and watch tv to forget I had no social life.
I eventually decided to get out of my comfort zone and joined a Toastmasters club. The first few meetings were so painful for me. I would just sit in the back of the room and not talk to anyone unless they talk to me first. When it came time for the Table Topics session where you have to answer a question for one to two minutes, I would pray that I would not be chosen to go in front of the room and talk without any preparation. I would imagine myself in front of 30 people, frozen in place with nothing to say, people looking at me with judgment in their eyes. How embarrassing, they would probably think that I was stupid, how can someone is not able to answer a simple question for 2 minutes.
It was my fourth meeting when I did my first impromptu speech. It was not as bad as I thought it would be. I was lucky to have someone else with me. We were able to make people laugh. Even though it went well, I was still dreading Table Topics. Uncertainty was always something that brought me a lot of anxiety, I would always imagine the worst.
What has helped me deal with uncertain situations is to avoid thinking about negative events either something that happened in the past or something that I am imagining, instead, I focus on things that I can actually control. For example, I was really stressed on the first few Toastmasters meetings I attended because I never knew what to expect and I would be so stressed the few minutes before the meeting started. One day, the club was looking for someone to help them set up the meeting room before the meeting and I volunteer to help. Focusing on setting up the room made me feel helpful and while I was doing that I was not thinking about ways that I could embarrass myself later.
Another thing that halted my progress was the need to be perfect in every situation. I was so hard on myself. After I did my first speech, it took me 4 months to do my next speech. I was trying to find the perfect subject, I ended up doing a speech about procrastination. After that, I started doing one speech a month. No matter what I had to do it even if I was not ready. Eventually, I developed a method to plan my speeches. I had one week to find the subject, another to do research on it, on the third week I had to write my speech and the last week was to practice my speech.
It did not solve completely my issue with perfectionism, I was still comparing myself to other members that joined after me and thinking that they were way better than me. To see people putting so little effort into their speeches and performing so well as I spent hours and hours preparing a speech for a result that I considered mediocre.
I learned that I have to accept that my progress was not going to be as fast as some people because we all have different backgrounds. I had to stop comparing myself to others and celebrate my own victories. I now really focus on what I can do well and not what I can’t do yet. I keep a positive attitude. I make a list of my accomplishments because I am quick to forget them but I don’t forget my mistakes or shortcomings.
I also had to overcome my fear of being judge by others. It took me a few years to stop being self-conscious around people I don’t know and stop thinking about what they thought of me. I wanted everybody to like me so I was afraid to show my true personality, but even then I felt like some people didn’t like me. I’d rather people don’t like me for who I am than like me for who I am not. It was really hard at first, I struggled with what to say in any given situations but the more I got out of my comfort zone the more comfortable I became and the feelings of anxiousness lessened. At first, I did informative speeches, I liked doing research but writing something and giving a speech is not the same. My 10th speech was the first one where I really talk about myself and my struggles with depression. I received so much good feedback, and I was able to connect more deeply with the members of my club. It helped me realize that most people were not judging me.
Talking in public was something that really scared me before but I was able to adapt to this new environment and actually have fun and meet amazing people. This environment helped me become a better version of myself and encourage me to start my own community of like-minded people who can help each other manage social anxiety.