A Personal Story of Social and Performance Anxiety

A Story From the About.com Guide to Social Anxiety Disorder

Up to this point I have not shared my own personal story related to social anxiety on the site. Given that I am asking everyone here to share stories, I thought it would be helpful for you to learn a bit about my own situation. Truth be known, it is not something that even those who know me well know in detail. Hopefully by sharing it will help others know there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Beginning around high-school age I had severe struggles with public speaking and other performance situations such as playing music.

Ironically up to that age I don't recall too much difficulty with those situations, though I was always considered shy and quiet. In grade 6 I was even nominated to attend the local speech competition. I know that I turned down that opportunity but I don't really remember why.

In grades 7 and 8 I was moved to an enrichment program at a different school with kids I had never met before. I was no longer considered the "bright" one in the class as all of the kids placed there were advanced. I think it was during those years that I started to feel less sure about myself and more anxious about my abilities; particularly in terms of performing and public speaking.

Once in high school there were a few events that I clearly remember that may have been the seeds of my performance anxiety. On the first day of music class we were asked to show our new teacher what we knew about our chosen instrument.

I had played the clarinet in previous years, but when I tried to play nothing came out. I couldn't get out a single note. I remember thinking that the teacher must have felt sorry for me. Intense fear about performing eventually led me to stop taking music classes in high school.

After I stopped taking music class, my fear migrated over to public speaking.

Although I always seemed to make my way through, I was deathly afraid of the oral presentations we had to give in English class. So much so, that I would worry weeks or months in advance, once I knew the date of my presentation. I remember having the equivalent of a panic attack during one presentation in spanish class.

Things continued this way all through high school and into university. My fears also shaped the choices that I made; choosing courses and dropping courses based on the oral speaking requirements. However given that I was in psychology, there was no way to avoid it forever. Eventually it became too overwhelming and threatened my ability to finish my degree. That is when I got a little bit of help.

It is ironic that the help I received came through the university program in which I was enrolled. I admitted to one of my professors the difficulties that I was having. I was lucky enough that he also taught a course in behavioral therapy at the university, and as part of the course his students were required to deliver behavioral therapy for phobias. He asked if I would like to participate as a client and I agreed.

Behavioral therapy consisted of me first coming up with a fear hierarchy (a list of my feared situations in ascending order).

The student who was administering the therapy then led me through progressive muscle relaxation exercises while introducing different levels of the fear hierarchy without letting me become too anxious.

The whole process was so relaxing I often left feeling rejuvenated. I looked forward to it every week. The icing on the cake was when I did my presentation at the end of the year for that professor's class. He said I hardly seemed anxious at all and he was right. I felt very little anxiety.

Although I will never be a natural public speaker, I am no longer overcome by fear. When necessary I am able to speak in front of an audience and know that I will not have a panic attack.

I still feel anxiety from time to time, but it is nothing like the fear that I used to have.

Although my fears were mostly limited to performance anxiety, I have also struggled on and off with social anxiety in regular settings. However, it has not been signficant or impairing enough that I have sought treatment for those concerns. I do believe that without the help of that professor early on I would have been struggling much more in general at this point in my life.

What I hope everyone will take away from my story is that you are not alone, that things can change, and that it is okay to admit your fears and challenges. In addition, there are effective treatments that can make a difference in your life.

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