How I Manage My Social Anxiety in a Public Speaking Career
Happily waking up at 6:00 in the morning isn’t typical for an elementary school student, but it became the only thing that could help get me through the day. While most kids my age were sleeping through their alarm clock buzzer, I considered that loud obnoxious sound my own piece of serenity.
I woke up an hour earlier every day to ensure that I could get to school before any of my other classmates, and heck, sometimes even my teachers, just so that I didn’t have to walk in front of groups of my peers. This behavior continued throughout my grade school years until I hit my breaking point. By fifth grade, I had my first full-blown panic attack. It led to a hospitalization that ended up sparking my eventual recovery.
After that incident, I came to understand that waking up early to avoid being seen, and the number of obstacles I put myself through to ensure no one would see me, was, in fact, not actually living. Even though I feared the unknown, I knew that I couldn’t continue living that way if I wanted to make it to high school.
I asked my parents to get me help and almost immediately started going to a wellness center by my house. Within a short amount of time, I went from dodging any sort of visual attention to running for class president and teaching stress management workshops to my peers. In my personal biography online, I often say, “and the rest was history.” Just like that, I solved my anxiety issues and went on to have a career as a speaker and an author.
However, the part of the narrative I often leave out is that I still continue to struggle with social anxiety. In fact, I have to plan and take precautions in my own career, and anxiety impacts the things I can and cannot do.
For example, when my first book launched in 2012, I decided to embark on a two-week book tour in which I had a book event planned for every single day and night. Leading up to this, I was so excited to be going “on tour” and to have something to do every night. However, by day three, I was already emotionally spent. I couldn’t wait to get home and, in turn, I don’t think I performed at my personal best.
This was really the first time I saw my social anxiety make its way back into my life, and I realized that I needed to learn what my body and mind could handle and what I needed to do to take care of myself.
It was then that I decided to structure my career and my speaking schedule differently. While some of my speaking colleagues can give several talks a week, I can handle about two to four a month. If I have a larger scale event, I need a solid week off afterward to recover. I’ll often use an email responder on to say, “I am recovering from a large-scale event this weekend. Please expect a delayed response.”
In May 2016, I delivered a TEDx talk. I knew this was going to take a lot of me before, during, and after, so I actually cleared my schedule for two months beforehand and about two weeks after to ensure I had the time and space to devote my energy toward the event and also my recovery afterward.
I have also had to pay extra attention to the seasons of the year. While lots of people dip into a depression during the winter months, I actually hit that during the summer months. So, for me, summer moves a lot slower and I don’t like to do a whole lot. My sweet spots are fall and spring, so I try to plan a majority of my engagements and events around the seasons that give me energy.
When it comes to social anxiety, part of this disease will never fully go away. Sure, I can do things I never thought I was capable of doing, and sometimes, I can even push myself to perform when I am not feeling it.
However, what I’ve realized is that it comes down to listening to my mind and body. Sometimes that means being okay with not being okay 100 percent of the time. Sometimes it means doing less, even though the type-A side of me wants to push to do more.
And most importantly, I’ve learned that even my career is a learning journey. Just because I have to change the way I conduct my business or offer speaking engagements to complement my mental and emotional health doesn’t mean I am weak or unsuccessful. The time and space I take for rest and reflection isn’t a sacrifice; rather it’s an act of self-love.
The more aware I am of how to cultivate my best self, the healthier, happier, and more successful I become. Social anxiety is no longer a hindrance because I’ve simply accepted it as part of who I am and have incorporated its presence into my life. I can continue to nourish my career if I continue to nourish my mental and emotional health.
Lindsey Smith, AKA: The Food Mood Girl, is a nationally recognized health coach, speaker, and author. Her work inspires others to live a more vibrant life through self-love and guilt-free living. For more self-loving nutrients, visit www.foodmoodgirl.com.
(Featured photo via Facebook)