Social anxiety; let’s face it, almost everyone gets it. Whether it be the cringing embarrassment of not having enough money at the checkout or the sweaty-palmed panic at the sound of a ringing phone, it’s an all-round unpleasant experience.
But they say the only way to fight your fear is to face it, so that’s exactly what I kept in mind when sitting on the coach en route to my NCS week one destination.
Over the course of my three weeks on NCS, I encountered my fair share of social anxiety hurdles. The first hurdle? Meeting new people. This can be a daunting task for many, and I was no exception! I worried about every tiny detail; ‘does my hair look okay? Is my suitcase too big? What if I say something wrong?’ These thoughts all felt like mountainous catastrophes at the time, but perhaps that was a good thing, because that’s what made me feel so much better about myself when I succeeded. It felt like I had done the impossible when I was cracking jokes on the first day, when I was the one to initiate conversation, and ended up not even wanting to go home!
With the first obstacle down, I braced myself for the next challenge; our charity fundraiser. We had decided to hold a raffle too, and in order to acquire prizes we had the task of approaching shop counters and asking for donations. This, for me, was the biggest barrier to break. It was the one that made me feel most nauseous, and the one I thought I couldn’t do. But when another member of my group turned to me with an equally scared look in her eyes and said, “Can you do it first?” I didn’t shake my head and run away, I didn’t scoff and push her in first, I didn’t cry and make her feel guilty – all of which a part of me was dying to do. I chose not to listen to that part of me, and what I did instead was take a deep breath, force my feet to stroll up the counter, and boldly make the first inquiry with seemingly no problem at all.
That was when it struck me: if I can pluck up the courage to conquer my fear for someone else, why can't I do it for myself?
With that revelation in the back of my mind, I found myself being able to accomplish more and more in my daily life. Just the other week, for example, I was looking online for driving instructors, thinking I could get away with just a quick email. I wasn't in luck, and I soon realised almost every driving school needed to be spoken to on the phone. A year ago, I wouldn't have been able to think of anything worse! But I knew I had to do it, and most of all, I knew I could do it. I just told myself 'You've felt this fear before, and you overcame it', and in a second I was picking up the phone and chatting up a storm. Even at work, where I would usually hide in the back and get on with the job with my head down, I've been stepping out of my comfort zone – not hesitating to speak up and make the appointments, volunteering to do the run round to the post office (and not even meticulously planning out exactly what I'm going to say).
Looking back, the anxiety came from the fear of failure. No one wants to be embarrassed or appear incompetent, especially in social situations, where you assume everyone else has it all figured out. That's the problem, assuming everyone else knows what they're doing. It's what I realised during NCS and as soon as I did, I was able to tackle things I thought I never would... So, here's the secret; we're all winging it just as much as each other!