Today we bring you a very special guest post from long-term volunteer Mark about the social anxiety support group meeting held here at the foundation every Thursday. It’s a comfortable, non-threatening space where we get together and practice speaking in group situations and at the same time, have a lot of fun. It’s also a great place to get to know some of the quieter members of our community!
For the last eight months, we have been holding a social anxiety support group here at the foundation. We come together every Thursday evening, using exercises to practice public speaking. It is a safe environment where people can support each other, where people can identify with each other, and where people that are already further along in the exercises inspire the people who are just starting. It’s comforting to know that all of us in the support group know what it’s like to feel anxious in groups. Something essential we keep repeating in the meetings is that it’s about practicing, not performing, and that it’s okay to stop or share you feelings at any time, or even to just sit and watch.
We started the social anxiety support group based on the initiative of Scott, an assistant life coach here who suffers from social anxiety himself. He introduced a method we now use which is based on the idea of overcoming social anxiety through steady but gradual exposure in manageable steps. The method consists of numerous exercises in public speaking. Starting with an exercise where you remain seated and where you describe what you see around you, we move on to exercises where you stand, use gestures and movement, respond to questions, interact, and are required to think on your feet. When people are ready they can also practice making speeches. We start with the first exercise and then move to the second, third, and so on. By building on the success of the previous exercises we move on to the next ones. We emphasise gaining confidence and learning to be kind to ourselves on the way. Each time we take a manageable step, one small step at a time. However, it’s a big step if you look back after several months of practicing and getting support from your fellow group members.
I myself have been joining the support group since the beginning, together with Scott and Carrie (yoga instructor and assistant life coach here at NLF) and the progress that we have all made is amazing. With a genuine desire to overcome my social anxiety I started with exercise one, with my heart pounding, throat dry and all the symptoms that go with social anxiety. At the same time, I was determined to move on to the next exercise and the one after, one exercise a week. I wanted to slowly start practicing it more outside the support group meetings and at some point starting facilitating the meetings with the support of Scott and Carrie, which I managed to achieve after a few months of joining the group. The most important thing I learned is that by allowing and accepting the anxiety, the anxiety recedes. I achieved the biggest change by looking at the anxiety without judgment and by being open and honest about it to others. In recent months, I have also been leading the evening community gathering with around 40 people, as well as the morning community meetings on some weekends. I could never have imagined myself doing that eight months ago. It’s amazing how well the method, in combination with the support of the group, worked for me!
– Mark Hoogers