By Jiyoon Sung, Meditation Instructor & Translator
As a person who’s suffered from social anxiety and have tried so hard to fight it- a little too hard in hindsight – I want to say that learning all there is in the world about it and developing skills to fight it every minute of your life isn’t the way to do it. There’s a much better way, which is to eliminate it from your mind altogether through meditation so that you don’t have to fight it anymore. Seems impossible? That’s what I thought too. I want to share my experience in the hopes to open up the possibility for others like me.
I’ve struggled with social anxiety for a long time. When I was younger, my hands would get sweaty and I had to take a few deep breaths before I called to order a pizza. I would pick up the phone, dial the number, and as I waited, so many thoughts were going through my mind. ‘One large pepperoni, one medium Hawaiian…wait, was it the other way around? Crap! And what about drinks? Right, sprite. But wait, what size? I forgot to ask mom!’ By this point, if the guy picked up, I would panic and hang up immediately, not ready to ‘face’ a stranger while I didn’t have all the information for the conversation yet. So yeah, you get it. 😬
I always tried my best not to show it, but even to me, my face felt awkward. And although I wasn’t a loner and had some friends, every social situation still came to me as stress, not enjoyment. I hated that I wasn’t like everyone else and my self-esteem was very low. I was determined to ‘fix’ it and went through self-help books, read internet articles, etc. But the harder I tried, the more frustrated I became with myself because none of them were working and I blamed myself for it.
I would stand in front of the bathroom mirror and practice smiling, kept a journal, and complimented myself on the efforts that I made to be more social that day. And I would force myself to behave as if I was super social but it resulted in more anxiety and awkwardness. This one time in high school, I randomly smiled and said hi to a girl who was walking by with her friend, and when she kindly said hi back and smiled, I just blurted out with a big smile on my face. “You’re very pretty.” As soon as the words left my mouth, I silently screamed in humiliation in my mind. What the hell are you doing?!! 😱 The girl smiled awkwardly and said “Thank you” before walking away with her friend, whispering to each other. Now that I think about it, she must have thought I was hitting on her or something.
I was so frustrated that I couldn’t fix this problem about myself despite all the efforts I made. And I began to think that maybe I was a basket case. Therapy wasn’t an option for me at the time because it wasn’t a common practice where I come from, and it was too expensive.
At this time, I knew meditation was an option for me because my parents were into it, but it just sounded too vague and ineffective. Plus, I wasn’t going to do anything my parents thought was right for me, you know? It took me another couple of years to reach my rock bottom pit of anxiety to try the meditation for real.
I realized I’ve been constantly denying it and trying to shove it away without even knowing what it was, and where it came from. It’s the same as taking random medicines to try and ease my symptoms without even knowing what’s causing them.
Meditation allowed me to calmly reflect on myself and actually face my issue instead of being hell-bent on fixing it. Through meditation, I realized that my social anxiety was rooted in chronically low self-esteem and a desperate need for approval, which came from the life that I lived. When I looked back on my life in meditation, I could see that I always felt my parents didn’t accept me for who I am, which led me to believe something was wrong with me, thus the low self-esteem and everything else.
They taught me in the meditation that the life that I’ve lived until now is stored in my mind, which was referred to as ‘pictures’, and that’s where it was all coming from, and that I will be free from it once I discarded them. I couldn’t believe that it was supposed to be so simple like that. I thought my social anxiety was like this crazy wild animal inside me that I had to keep fighting off or tame somehow. I never knew it was possible to get rid of it altogether! 🤩
I meditated, discarding all of those ‘pictures’ of my life lived and felt the gradual yet lasting changes in myself. The crazy beast inside me got smaller and smaller until it became almost unnoticeable, and then I didn’t even care anymore. The beast was gone.
I now work as a meditation guide, which requires me to meet with complete strangers every day and interact with them, and speak in front of them. And now I can genuinely say that I get excited to meet with them.
For those who are suffering from social anxiety right now, I want to say just take a deep breath, relax, and take a step back to observe it first. Instead of obsessing over fixing it, take a look at where it came from and what it is. Meditation can be a very powerful tool that will help you do so, and I highly recommend you try it. I’ve attached a video below for those who are interested in learning more about meditation. I wish you all a happy, anxiety-free 2021!