Extreme Social Anxiety Almost Ruined My Life

How I deliberately overcame anxiety by forcing myself out of my comfort zone.

Social anxiety and roommate with a artistic take on beads dimaberlinphotos, Miriam Alonso | Canva

Tightening my grip to steady my trembling hands, the jagged surface of the desk grated against my skin. Beads of sweat colonized my forehead as my ears burned.

Breathe in slowly, I told myself. It was useless advice. The hammering in my chest only got fiercer. I was a few seconds away from passing out.

No, I wasn’t sick or anything. It was worse. Much, much worse.

Forty pairs of eyes gazed at me in silence, patiently waiting for me to deliver my announcement. They were just my juniors in high school, but they might as well be a pool of piranhas — my brain couldn’t tell the difference.


Slurring through my announcement quickly, I finally dragged myself out of the classroom. I welcomed the rush of air deep into my lungs like I had been starved of oxygen for months. The world spun around me, and I had to cling to a pole just to keep my balance.

It wasn’t the first time I had been paralyzed by social anxiety. It was so bad that I often avoided those situations unless I had no choice, like in the above scenario. Had I not been selected as a Sister on Duty (SOD) — a mandatory position weekly assigned to seniors in my all-girls high school — I would never have subjected myself to this torture.


My anxiety grew worse as I got older, and by the time I was in my third year in the university, the fear of public speaking and mere social interaction had me in iron shackles. If I didn’t overcome it, the real world would chew me up once I graduated. I just knew it.

Thus began my lifelong mission to crushing my social anxiety and becoming more self-confident.

RELATED: The Extremely Strange Way I Finally Overcame Severe Social Anxiety


Learning to talk to strangers

In my second year of university, I had a roommate — an Economics major — skilled in making stuff with beads. She handmade bags, slippers, purses, necklaces, and bracelets with nothing but balls of strings and a buttload of beads.

Incredibly good at her craft, it was quite soothing watching her create from scratch like it was nothing. And the best part was that she made money from her handiwork.

As one who was proud of her hustle, I said to her one day, "Hey Bee, I can design an ad for your work. It will help you get even more customers if I publish it on our Facebook walls and WhatsApp statuses."

I also had a little blog where I inconsistently published my work. I thought that it would be great to write an article promoting my roommate’s business to my nonexistent audience. But of course, I planned on sharing the article on Facebook, where I had a larger audience.


Thrilled by my suggestion, she agreed. So, I designed her ad, wrote the copy, and used it for her social media marketing. It garnered some attention, and even a few of my Facebook friends enquired about the products.

The sense of accomplishment I felt was incredible. My writing and designing skills were actually helping someone.

But then in my third year, I had an idea that was a catalyst to changing my anxiety-ridden life forever.

Instead of just copywriting (which funny enough I had no idea was what I was doing), I thought I would sell directly to people, face to face. Offline.

I could take the beads to class and sell them to my friends. It shouldn’t be too difficult since I already knew them. Right?


Convinced that this was a great opportunity to get my social anxiety under control, I told my roommate about my plan, though I didn’t tell her the underlying reason. She agreed, offering to pay me a commission based on how much I sold. I would have done it for free for obvious reasons, but I wasn’t going to turn down money, so yeah.

The very next day, I took some necklaces and bracelets to class. As soon as class was over, I mustered some courage to approach my colleagues. Believe me, it was much harder than I thought, even though they weren’t strangers at all.

I did it again the following day. Again and again.

Each day, I got more confident in selling the beads. Suffice it to say that I sold a lot of pieces. Some students even wanted customized products, which I assured them my roommate could do because she was incredibly talented.


Though things were going well with my social experiment, I didn’t for a second delude myself into thinking that I had gotten over my anxiety.

I had to ramp things up. Enter phase two: Selling to complete strangers outside the confines of my classroom.

Back in my university, it was very common for people to go door to door, peddling a variety of goods and services. If I went door to door to sell my beads, it wouldn’t be strange at all. I would be killing two birds with one stone — combatting my deep-seated fear of talking to people and making some money.

So as usual, I told Bee about it.

"Are you sure about this?" she asked, a bit skeptical. Knowing how reserved I was, she probably thought I was putting too much pressure on myself to sell her products.


"It’s okay," I told her. "I really want to do this."

Let’s just say that it was one of the three most difficult things I did in all my four years at the university. The closer I got to the first door, the more I almost lost my nerve. All I wanted to do was turn around and run away like a coward.

But each time the thought crossed my mind, I reminded myself about why I was doing this. I was trying to get myself out of my comfort zone for my own future.

My fist hovered over the door, internally debating whether I had lost my mind. Screw it. It was now or never.

I knocked. Once. Twice. Then waited.

I could still run while I had the chance. And maybe, I just would have done it had the door not flung open unexpectedly.


The world seemed to have stopped spinning when a mildly annoyed-looking young woman glared at me.

Crap. Maybe I didn’t think things through. But I was already here. I might as well get over with it.

I introduced myself, a little shaky at first.

Then something magical happened. The more I talked, the stronger my voice became.

Feeling great about jumping my first hurdle, I knocked on the second door. Then the third. Most people were polite. Sure, they didn’t buy anything, but that encouraged me to keep going.

To my surprise, I actually had a knack for speaking with people. Once I got over my initial fear of cold approaching a stranger, talking to them was a breeze — like I’d known them all my life. I didn’t even know this about myself. At all.


I mean, I knew I was funny, but I didn’t realize how stupidly easy it came to me, cracking jokes at the most appropriate times to get people to lower their guards around me.

This social experiment was eye-opening, to say the least. It taught me an incredibly important life lesson that I’ve never forgotten since then:

People are just people. Not so different from me.

It made no sense to fear them and put them on a pedestal. What could they possibly do to you when you fail at something? Laugh at you? That’s it?

Everyone fails. No one knows what they’re doing, so why should you care what other people think?

This mindset completely altered my perception of random strangers. After all, it was my perception of people that directly caused my extreme anxiety.


RELATED: How To Calm Yourself Down When Social Anxiety Kicks In

Learning to speak in public

Once I had my fear of interacting with strangers under control, I decided to work on my fear of public speaking.

Sure, it’s easy to walk up to a random stranger and strike up a conversation. However, public speaking, especially in front of several hundreds of people, was a whole other animal.

Even when a lecturer asked a question I knew the answer to, I absolutely refused to raise my hand in class.

The first time I volunteered to answer a question, I did it because the lecturer promised to pay up if anyone got the right answer. No, he didn’t pay even after I put myself through that stressful situation … I’m still mad about that. But I also learned that money was a great motivator in getting over my anxiety. Who knew?


During group projects, my talents were best seen behind the scenes through research. But as for the presentation, someone else would have to do it.

Basically, I hid behind everyone as best as I could, just to get the attention off myself.

If I wanted to learn to speak in public without feeling like I was dying, then I would have to crawl out of my shell and do the very things that made me uncomfortable.

And so I got to work.

I started by answering questions in class. It took everything inside me to raise my hand, and once the lecturer called me, my insides coiled in fear. The pitch of my voice increased two octaves higher, shakier than an 8.9-magnitude earthquake as I barely squeaked the words out.


But I would always patiently remind myself why I was putting myself through all this trouble, and then power through.

Little by little, I became more confident in answering questions in class.

I even kicked things up a notch when I volunteered to be the key speaker for my group’s presentation.

Of course, a big part of me worried that I would blow up the whole thing. But at that point, I had come to understand that having doubts was part of the process. As long as I prepared myself well, and knew exactly what my presentation entailed, I had nothing to fear.

Sure enough, I aced that presentation despite my anxiety. Never in my life had I given a speech in front of such a massive audience of my own free will. It was liberating and exhilarating.


RELATED: The Public Speaking Trick That Will Instantly Increase Your Charisma

I became a teacher

While doing my National Service as a fresh graduate, I met one of my old teachers. Owning a remedial school, he had taught me mathematics and science when I was still in high school.

It had been about five years since we’d last met, and he was so proud to hear that I had finally graduated.


"You studied geography, right?" he asked.

"Yes," I said.

"Good, good." He nodded, beaming with a smile. "I have some senior high students who do geography. Why don’t you come over in the evenings to teach them after work?"

And that was how I got a part-time job as a teacher.

To be honest, my first instinct was to refuse. Even after all those years of relentlessly working on my social anxiety, teaching a whole class still sounded dreadful. But then I told myself to relax.

I once stood in front of hundreds of people to speak — the number one hardest thing I’d ever done in the university. How hard could it be to teach a bunch of high school students?


When I taught my class for the first time, it was so natural you would think I had been doing it for years. That was when it dawned on me how far I had come.

Eventually, with more practice, I stopped feeling that massive pit in my stomach every time I was in any social situation.

It still boggles my mind that anxiety had once been the bane of my existence. I just cannot fathom how I gave so much crap about what people thought of me. It feels so foreign to me, like who I was eight years ago was a completely different person from who I am today.

Of course, I’m still very reserved and would much rather keep to myself. But it’s more out of my choice to be alone, than the fear of being around people. There was a time I used to say that I was naturally an anxious person, I was born that way. There was nothing I could do about it since it was encoded into my DNA.


What a load of crap.

The older I get, the more I realize that I don’t really know myself at all. Who I think I am is not really who I am. I am much more than that.

And each and every day, I’m on a lifelong journey of learning more about myself, unlocking a new level of self-confidence that will certainly give my younger self a massive heart attack.

I can’t wait to see who I become in five years.

RELATED: I Was Wrong, Anxiety Is Not A Superpower

Torshie Torto writes fiction, creative nonfiction, and rad sales emails with high conversion rates. Her essays have been published in several major publications on Medium such as The Narrative Arc, Modern Women, Prism n Pen, and Age of Empathy.