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Are you afraid to talk on the phone, apply for jobs in person, or hand in papers because they’re not “perfect”? You’re not the only one!

Are you too afraid to make phone calls or speak up in because you fear you’ll “choke” or have to deal with conflict?

Would you rather accept a consequence you do not deserve because you do not want to cause a scene or inconvenience anyone by bringing it up?

Do you avoid applying for jobs or other opportunities because you are terrified of interviews or even walking into a business to get an application?

If you’re a student, do you agonize over writing papers, even to the point where you can’t turn them in or even write them at all because you fear they may contain mistakes?

As a therapist who has helped many people years, especially young people, I have recently noticed a new kind of problem. So many of my younger clients have confessed to me about this problem that I can’t just chalk it up to a random occurrence.

In fact, I hear about it so often that I would venture to call it a potential epidemic.

What is this problem?

  • Having social anxiety, where you have “intense anxiety or fear of being judged, negatively evaluated, or rejected in a social or performance situation” (ADAA). When talking to another person, you’re afraid they’ll judge you on how you speak or act, making it hard for you to speak up to begin with.

  • The presence of severe, debilitating fear to make phone calls, walk into stores to ask for job applications or be interviewed for a job, and/or terror of writing essays because they may contain mistakes.

  • Not wanting to create a nuisance or an inconvenience to the other person by making them address a difficulty situation. Since you don’t want to waste their time by putting effort into fixing their mistake, you’d simply rather take the blame and move on.

  • Feeling selfish or needy if you’re trying to resolve something purely for yourself, so you refrain from speaking up.

Some examples?

How about refusing to make a call to the police station about a ticket you did not deserve, or talking to a professor about a grade you were wrongly given? What I find is that people would rather pay the ticket or accept an incorrect grade rather than speak up for themselves and correct it!

And after some quick online research, I realized I’m not the only one noticing this dilemma. Yahoo Finance reports: “According to a 2013 Wall Street Journal article, millennials see the phone as "an interruption" — picking up the phone ‘without emailing first can make it seem as though you're prioritizing your needs over theirs.’

For a generation who spent the hours after school Instant Messaging, calling can feel foreign — and presumptuous.”

Although there are people who can easily speak their minds in a public setting or make a call to an organization, others are struck by paralyzing fear and self-doubt.

The obvious consequences of social anxiety are damaging enough: paying fines you were wrongly charged, accepting grades you do not deserve, and missing out on education and job opportunities because you’re too scared to even apply.

But Fortune reveals that there are additional, serious, consequences that can also affect your health: “The coping mechanisms of those with social anxiety, according to Joyable’s survey, point to the plate and the bottle. Fifty-one percent turn to eating to help get through social events, while 38% turn to alcohol.”

Severe anxiety can trigger eating disorders and substance abuse problems, which makes it even more urgent for those suffering to seek help and learn how to manage and overcome their anxiety.

The truth is, in life, it is necessary to live and communicate in a society with other people - if you need other people to resolve a personal situation or get ahead, you will have to learn to talk to them directly.

And luckily, although your anxiety may feel insurmountable, it is actually highly treatable if you use the right techniques and get the right kind of help and support.

Here are some tips you can start using today:

  • Solve ONE issue at a time.

    • By solving your problems in chunks and not all at once, you will be less overwhelmed and more likely to get all of them resolved over time.

  • Don’t assume you know how the other party will react.

    • Most people are decent human beings and will they will notice the error and happily fix it for you. If they try to defend their actions, you need to explain the situation as best you can and try not to feel intimidated.

  • See if you can solve the problem in a less direct and less confrontational manner.

    • This includes sending an email or letter, in which you would only have to type or write down the problem rather than speaking directly with the other party – this is a good stepping stone to work on your anxiety, but it’s important to work your way up to having the courage to talk with people directly.

  • Make a script as to what you are going to say and how you are going to say it.

    • If you write out everything you want to say before you make a phone call or confront a person in real life, it will make the process more efficient and less stressful since you will be able to simply read from a piece of paper.

  • Practice conversations first by yourself and with loved ones.

    • It may be hard for you to even speak up in the first place, but it is important to be assertive - your tone needs to be clear and confident so others will have more of a reason to take you seriously. Eye contact is important too! You can practice speaking up either by yourself in front of a mirror or with a family member willing to role play.

  • Have a friend or family member help you directly.

    • By getting someone who you know is on your side to help you, you will feel a higher sense of security. They could either just be by your side in support or could help you in conveying what you want to the other party.

  • If none of the above options work, it may be best to seek professional help.

    • Seeing a therapist gets you direct one-on-one aid to stop your anxiety at its source. They are trained in helping to solve these social problems, and the sessions would be tailored to your specific situations. Sadly, though, “anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only 36.9% of those suffering receive treatment,” so please take action (ADAA).

Learning how to speak up to those around you is a vital skill in life. There will many instances where being confident will come in handy and help you get ahead and set healthy boundaries.

You are the spokesperson for your own life - no one else is going to stand up for you as much as you could do for yourself.

The way you choose to improve your social skills depends on how severe your situation is - sometimes it is best to just reach out to those who you know will help.

It’s never too late to get back out there and try again – and remember that we are anxiety treatment specialists and help people overcome their fears every day!

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