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  • Writer's pictureEmily

How does social anxiety affect the way we speak?

human evolution

The definition of social anxiety is a disorder whereby a person has an overwhelming fear of social situations. In fact, one in ten people have social anxiety in the UK. Before we dive into how it affects the way we speak, we need to understand what verbal communication is and how we've been conditioned to speak even for people who do not have social anxiety.

Humans have a basic need to communicate in order to succeed and survive. In this case, verbal communication means to be able to speak out loud to satisfy our wants and needs. This need is a primitive and organic entity that lives within the human body. For examples, babies crying for food or someone seeing danger and shouting stop. Humans are designed to communicate with words and language. We use this to educate, to persuade and to entertain others. When we need to communicate, it just happens. There is a voice, an energy, a presence. We match our tone to the specific situation using our emotions which demonstrates empathy towards the person we are talking to. Overtime, since the beginning of cave men times, we have improved our communication skills but not everyone is as confident with speaking and talking as they would like to be.

bored school boy

This is due to today's society that we live in. At school, we have been conditioned to be quiet. From a very young age as children, when they go to school they are told to sit down in silence, they can't shout out, if they want to speak they have to put their hand up and wait their turn. Once this behaviour is repeated over many times, the children learn what to do and what not to do. There are various other factors such as social environment, background, culture, religion etc, which inhibit the organic and natural process of speaking. And as those children grow up into adults, we have to relearn how we talk without asking permission. I'm sure most of us have heard the saying such as think before we speak, well as we grow up we learn to put a filter over what we want to say especially if what we want to say is rude or causes dangerous consequences. We do not need to ask for permission to go to the toilet or to have a drink at our workplace unlike at school. But surprisingly, students at university are still asking their teachers if they can go to the toilet and even adults at work are asking "Can I go to the toilet?" Madness!

confused face

Sometimes we lose confidence and we feel anxious when we talk. Sometimes we don't know what to say or how to say something. We feel that if we get an answer wrong we may be embarrassed or people will laugh at what I will say and then all these questions pop up in our minds creating self doubt and hindering our own abilities. This then creates a cycle of negativity, closing ourselves down, moving ourselves away from people to ignore the problem of speaking to others. We overthink what we want to say and by the time we have thought about it, what we wanted to say is not relevant to the current conversation because the topic is long gone. However, for people who have social anxiety this is an everyday occurence that happens many times throughout the day. There are many symptoms for social anxiety. Not only do they overthink but their whole body starts to tremble, they have sweaty palms, they can feel their heart pounding really fast and they have a shortness of breath. Making eye contact with another person can be really difficult at times. Their whole body starts to seize up which can cause them to faint or have an anxiety attack. There are many factors which increases a person's chance of having an anxiety attack from general day to day stress to past traumas in their lifetime. But how can we be comfortable with speaking with or without a social phobia?

hiding face

Conversing is a skill we all need to learn just like riding a bike. We should be able to talk, confront a person face to face with an issue, ask questions whenever we like, without feeling all the problems above and creating a psychological and emotional block in our body. This is why most of us carry tension in our shoulders, neck and lower back because we hold it all in and we forget to breathe or if we do breath it is from our chest and not from our belly, our abdomen. A bad habit that people seem to have is grabbing a drink after work or having a few drinks to chat to our friends and relieve some stress. We shouldn't need to be under the influence to be able to speak freely.

To improve our conversational skills, it will take time. We do not learn a skill overnight, we need to practise, understand what happens when we are speaking and analyse why it works or why it doesn't work. In order to find our voice, we must release those tensions, breathe from our bellies like babies do and go back to the basics! Speaking in any given situation can be challenging but speaking with social anxiety can be even tougher. Unlock the power of speaking out loud with me. I've been through this before and now I'm here to share my knowledge. Check out my Professional Speak In Public Course where I dive into the practicalities of speaking out loud and provide the answers to communicating effectively.

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