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Overcoming Social Anxiety

Personal

September 22, 2016

I have struggled with social anxiety since as early as I can remember. Any time I've been in situations that require me to interact with people, I become nervous, I stumble over my words, and my hearing starts to feel like I'm in a tunnel. I became afraid of talking to people because I have this overwhelming feeling that they are judging everything I say. My attempts to communicate with people can best be described as a car trying push through through a concrete barrier. The car is my words, and the barrier is my brain blocking my voice.

How social anxiety has affected my life

Social anxiety has made me a doormat over the years. Someone who can't defend themselves because they are terrified of speaking up. I've lost potential friendships because of this fear, and I don't want to be like this anymore. I'm envious of the people that can freely chat with someone who they haven't met before. People who can make a phone call without needing a script. Even people who can write a blog post without having to psych themselves up. I want to show my goofy and fun personality to people, and I want to make friends genuinely. But my normal interactions are seriously stunted to the point I just clam up and stay quiet.

It's been especially critical in my job as a business owner and photographer. There's no way I could continue to grow my business and be successful if I wasn't letting myself open up and talk with other vendors or people. More importantly, I needed to be able to carry on a casual conversation to help my couples feel less awkward in front of a camera. We get so many people telling us about how they aren't photogenic, which is never actually true. But in order to make them feel confident in themselves as models, I had to express my excitement and joy without feeling anxious.

The changes I've made

Over the course of this year, there's been a huge change in me. I have recognized that I am always going to be fighting with my brain, and that I need to work harder to overcome that hurdle. Our business would not be here without the trust and support from strangers that eventually become friends. It is necessary that in the very beginning stages of communicating that couples do not feel like they are a nameless business transaction. They are very special to us, and it means something to be the best we can for them.

Getting clients comfortable leads to Shawn and me opening up more to couples. In our meetings, we use to be very stiff and formulaic. Generally, we just talked about the wedding and rarely got any deeper than that. I was always too afraid to ask questions because my head would be worried about if they didn't want to share. But one day, I took the opportunity to try something different in a meeting. I let myself show the genuine interest that I was feeling. Shawn and I asked questions about pets, hobbies, the proposal, and more. We ended up leaving that meeting laughing and joking with the couple. It felt so good to have a foundation of a relationship put in place even before the engagement shoot. That early bond made their session so easy and natural.

From that point, we started approaching meetings with a more open heart. We make sure that we begin each meeting with a goal: focus on the conversation and the couple. The logistics will naturally fit into the conversation as we talk about their wedding. But there is the added benefit of feeling closer to those who are trusting us with one of the most important days. Our intent is never to have a business meeting to try and make a sale, and by making strides in reducing my anxiety, it doesn't end up that way.

This hasn't been easy

It took a lot of energy to recognize and really force myself to be better. I know it may sound like this was a piece of cake, but these small changes were very difficult. It's not easy to overcome social anxiety, especially in a career that is dependent on interacting with others. My brain continues to try and overthink everything I say, but with a couple deep breaths and reminding myself that everyone feels nervous, I'm able to get out of my own head. When I stumble over words, I now try to laugh at the incoherent sounds that fall from my mouth instead of beating myself up.

I'm hopeful that by continuing on this path of pushing myself out of my comfort zone, I'm able to forge better friendships and more genuine interactions. I owe a lot of my success to Shawn and our couples. They are beyond amazing, and have provided me with the right balance of providing a new challenge without ever letting me feel like I'm drowning. Eventually, I expect to have all those anxious feelings disappear completely. Until then, I can be happy that the improvements I've been making mean a lot to our couples and my business.

 

A book I used to overcome social anxiety, Brave Enough by Cheryl Strayed

An incredible book that is full of inspiration to keep pushing forward




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