For as long as I could remember, I’ve been hypersensitive. If I were misbehaving and a parent or babysitter spoke to me harshly I would break down in tears.

“Stop all that crying before I give you something to cry about!” I never understood that logic but I figured I better do something quick to hide my emotions. Entering into my teenage years caused my sensitivity to enhance with the help of those wonderful hormones I couldn’t control. Also being tall for my age and the only black girl in my grade at a majority white school caused me to stand out when all I wanted was to blend in.

After every conversation, I replayed the discussion in my mind to see how I could have said it better or if the other person was mad at me for saying something wrong. At times I would call and apologize for no reason. The fear that someone was upset with me or I was a disappointment would cause loss of sleep.

Social anxiety is commonly misunderstood and therefore many people with this anxiety choose to use alcohol or drugs to self-medicate before entering social settings.

After I graduated high school I knew I wanted to own an art gallery to display amazing artwork; helping art lovers and artists connect. This dream wouldn’t be a reality if I hadn’t overcome my anxieties.

Here is what I did:

First, I made the decision to act in-spite of my fears. I could’ve used excuses such as I’m shy or this is how I am. No, I believe we have the power to evolve every day.

Second, I took action. Waking up with the goal of speaking to a stranger at the checkout counter or restaurant bar. Also, attending social events alone with the mission to meet one new person.

This was not easy, at times I felt a lump in my throat and when I tried to talk my voice cracked.

Before long, I realized that all my fears were in my head and I wasn’t going to die or get yelled at for starting a conversation with a stranger. I also learned I didn’t need to use alcohol to relax and be myself.

This didn’t happen overnight. Every day I made the conscious effort to keep trying no matter how I felt and soon the discomfort subsided.

At times, I’ll continue to have a moment where I over analyze a situation but I’m proud I’m not frozen. I recognize it’s happening and adjust accordingly.

Three steps you can take to overcome social anxiety:

  • In a social setting, focus on your surroundings. Redirect the negative self-talk and concentrate on the fashion other people are wearing or admire the art or decorations of a room. If outside, deeply inhale the smell of the grass, flowers or fresh air.
  • Take an interest in others by asking questions and sincerely listen. It’s hard to worry about what people think of you when you’re discovering their interests and hobbies.
  • If you need to step away from the group to practice positive self-talk, go for it!

I’ve stepped into the ladies room and admired something that gave me a boost of confidence. “Carla, you are rocking those heels” I take a minute to smile and come out the ladies room prepared to mingle.