I've noticed that since my depression has gone away because of treatment and my general anxiety has been reduced because of lifestyle changes and treatment, my social anxiety problems have re-emerged and are the major issue bothering me now that I'm in recovery. The biggest factors of social anxiety for me have always been 1) fear of social situations and 2) fear that I did something wrong in a social situation. Today, I'm experiencing both, but especially number two.
I had to give a presentation in class this morning. I was up late last night finishing the PowerPoint but I managed to get it together. I was nervous that I wouldn't have my thoughts collected, so I rehearsed what I was going to say this morning before I left for school. The speech went pretty well and I was happy with what I had said and my inflection of tone, etc. But then I looked at the clock and realized that I had spent 20 to 30 minutes talking. I guess that's the problem when you are giving a summary of a ten page paper! I was horrified because the speech was supposed to be seven to nine minutes, but I had to head out so I just tried to think of little things to trim and hope for the best.
I usually get very nervous for presentations even though I'm a surprisingly confident public speaker. But my social anxiety just makes my body go into adrenaline overdrive whenever I'm anticipating a social engagement. I typically get a pounding heart, queasy stomach, and rushes of nervous adrenaline. It's a truly awful feeling that makes me dread anything out of the ordinary being scheduled for my day.
But today, I didn't have that much or a physical or mental reaction, praise be! I think that the supplements and overall less-stressful lifestyle I've been leading as well as the regular therapy to build confidence and a healthier outlook on life are definitely helping to decrease even my physical anxiety symptoms, which I never thought possible. Even now, I am writing this while awaiting a phone call for an interview without my body flipping out, something I never thought possible.
Anyways, I went through the presentation and cut out some of the original content, threw in some jokes that landed pretty well, and overall was able to get my thoughts out with minimal pauses or stammering. I even made eye contact and looked at the class the majority of the time. People seemed fairly engaged (for college students) and I actually got around five questions at the end. The professor even said something positive. Overall, I would say it was a success...if what happened next had never occurred.
As I took my seat and the professor set up her own PowerPoint, she commented that she was glad we had the flexibility for people to spend more time on their presentation if needed. I know that is, at face value, a positive comment, but it sent me into a bit of a tailspin. Here's a snapshot of my mental narrative:
Oh dang. I went wayyy too long didn't I. I thought it was a fine length, but maybe I just got caught up in talking. What does the clock say? 11:15? Okay, how long is that? Wait. Did I spend thirty minutes up there? No. it couldn't have been that long. But what if it was? Oh my gosh. I must have looked so freaking stupid. I must look ridiculous. She said she didn't mind but if she really didn't mind, wouldn't she not have said anything? I'm such an idiot. I should've have cut that one part...And I could have covered that other part much quicker or cut it out completely...
And so on. If I pushed the thoughts away, they would soon re-emerge and my mind would begin chasing its tail again. This process is far from new to me; I've struggled with it all my life. The irony of this second-guessing game of social anxiety is that it's a combination of searching for both evidence to condemn yourself yet really wanting to find out that you actually did do just fine anyways. If I perform or hold a conversation in front of my mom, I will ask her as many times as I can get away with afterwards, "Did I do okay?" But the reality is that no amount of assurances that I did fine will alleviate the feeling that I completely humiliated myself. The consequence is, of course, that your social anxiety gets even worse because 1) you are afraid to say anything that might make you look stupid and 2) you don't want to be involved in social situations because you know that no matter how well you perform, you will still feel miserable afterwards and spend days going over every sentence you uttered on a repeat loop in your head, searching with a fine-tooth comb for any possible snarls, real or imagined.
The sad thing is that I think I did really well today and deserve to celebrate 1) not getting nervous, 2) doing well in my speech, 3) working hard and gaining knowledge, and 4) knocking another school assignment off my syllabus. But it's overshadowed by this obsessive anxiety about how I did. The good thing is that I'm learning ways to cope with my anxious tendencies. And the fact that I didn't get quite so nervous while anticipating the speech is proof that even the most deep-seated tendencies of anxious minds and bodies can be tamed.
Here's to hope, fellow warriors.