In my case social anxiety symptoms were a result of my speech problem, not the cause. With social anxiety the most common fears are interaction with strangers, any kind of public speaking, or that we will be publicly judged, rejected, humiliated or embarrassed. It lends itself to vocal problems that may show up in the form of a shaky or nervous-sounding voice, a voice that cracks, rapid speech, a dry throat, a stammer, stutter, or muteness. It is not unusual for any of us to occasionally experience any of these symptoms, but if they become a pattern, we need to seek help from a doctor or therapist. In order to begin treating it, though, it is essential to understand if the symptoms are due to something wrong with the voice, or if something is wrong with the voice due to a social anxiety.
The work place is where I have seen people suffer the most from social anxiety. Two people I have worked with come to mind. One lovely young woman is a teacher. She is excellent at her job where she works with special needs children. Although some might view her job as stressful, she seems very relaxed in the classroom. She appears to be comfortable in most situations outside of the classroom too. However, if she is asked to speak to a group of adults or is placed in a position of authority amongst adults it is almost impossible to hear her. Her voice becomes so quiet that it sounds like it is almost gone.
Another very artistic young person I know is a joy to be around. I always feel very relaxed when I am with her and I usually find myself complimenting her on whatever she is wearing because of her creative flair. On the surface she looks like someone who has a lot of confidence. However, if she is asked to say anything in a large public venue or to a group, her throat gets so dry that she can’t speak at all.
Sadly, children also suffer from social anxiety. One I know is a darling and very bright four-year old boy. When he is at home with his family he is constantly talking. In this environment he is active and normal for his age in every way. However, at school and out in the world when he is with strangers, he becomes mute. His parents had worried that something was wrong with their son’s speech but this little boy can speak very well when he is emotionally at ease. He suffers from a form of social anxiety called Selective Mutism. It occurs when someone who is capable of speaking is unable to do so, but only in certain situations and/or with certain people. Adults and children both suffer from this, but one of the big concerns about Selective Mutism with children is that it can and often does impede their academic growth.
Like stress, social anxiety is brought on when we think we are in danger. However, stress is a response to a particular thing or situation and goes away when the stressor is gone. Anxiety doesn’t. Social anxiety might be based on a bad experience or come from our imagination. In either case, the stressor can be long gone but someone with this condition will still be suffering from it. When I thought I might have social anxiety I had to learn how to handle it. Here are some of the things that helped.
Exercise definitely helps to ward off anxiety. Even though my symptoms of social anxiety were due to a speech disability, exercise helped me to calm down and make my ability to speak a little easier. Since social anxiety plays with the head as much as the body, find an exercise that gets you going like jogging, cycling, hiking, walking, or even gardening. It will greatly help you to naturally relax, sleep better, and distract you from whatever causes your problem.
Relaxation techniques like a yoga class can be greatly beneficial. Just like a meditation, anything that attempts to slow you down and helps you to breathe more easily will calm you and relieve anxieties.
Too much caffeine, sugar and alcohol can increase anxiety. This is also true for any kind of drug and/or supplement, including herbs and vitamins. Always check with your doctor if you are using any kind of substance regularly. You may want to cut these out entirely and overhaul your diet. This alone can make an enormous difference in your overall health.
Some severe social anxiety does require seeing a therapist and/or taking medication. Since the main problem concerns other people, the best type of therapy is in a group setting. However, if you work on improving the basics like diet, sleep and exercise, you may be able to manage and eventually remove this condition from your life in your own way and time.
One of my favorite things is what I call decompression. I rarely have bright lights or loud music on because I find them to be over-stimulating and stressful. Similarly, if you’re feeling anxious, don’t watch a scary movie, action film, or listen to any kind of angry music. Instead, find something that soothes you. Watch a film that is light and funny, or occupy yourself with a creative outlet that you enjoy, like painting or writing. Creating a journal about your anxiety might help you to come to grips with it better too.
Although social anxiety can create speech problems, we can learn to control and even get rid of it. I actually think of social and other anxieties as bad habits, like anything we unconsciously adopt. But bad habits should be broken. I believe the best way to start is by accepting it. We need to recognize that social anxiety wears down a person’s confidence so our job is to build ourselves back up. This means being kind to ourselves and to others who may be suffering from this condition, and not being hard on ourselves if a social situation or someone throws us off. It’s important to move on and focus on our good points. Then, hopefully, as easily as the social anxiety came into our lives, we’ll notice one day that it has suddenly rolled off our back and is simply gone.