New York, September 2017
The one thing I didn't anticipate about going back to grad school was how much anxiety I would have. I've spent a lot of time thinking about why that is and I've come to realize that it's a combination of reasons: personality and environment.
I'm an introvert and have always hated being in the center of attention. I was very, very shy growing up and didn't break out of my shell till 5 years ago when I was working on my startup and kept putting myself in uncomfortable situations (e.g. doing interviews, sitting on panels, talking to strangers) in order to gain more exposure for our business. Before that, I would never attend parties or get togethers if I didn't know at least one close friend, I wouldn't show up to networking events alone, strike up a conversation with a stranger or explore new activities that were unfamiliar with me. I was very reserved but that has changed a lot over the years, especially after moving back to New York. I didn't (and still don't) have a large circle of friends and have to do a lot of things I'm interested in alone, such as checking out different wellness events, trying new workout classes and exploring different parts of the city.
However the one thing I still really struggle with is speaking up. In high school, college and work (before and after my startup), I didn't have to actively participate in classroom discussions or meetings. I've become so used to keeping my thoughts and opinions to myself that it's actually very hard and awkward for me to do that now in class, especially in a claustrophobic room of 50-60 students. If I had to rate my anxiety just thinking about participating in class, it consistently ranks at an 8/10. I definitely recognize this is a problem and do not want my anxiety to hold me back from performing well academically or achieving my career goals, which is why I've been really committed to improving.
Here are 4 things I'm doing to tackle my anxiety head on:
I started going to public speaking classes last year because I always wanted to be able to speak confidently in front of a group of people. Going to class consistently really helped me. I was able to deliver a speech at my wedding with little anxiety. In the 14 months since, my anxiety has come back at full-force which is why I'm doing the program all over again. I love Speakeeezi's approach of treating public speaking like a phobia. They tailor your weekly exercises according to your level of anxiety. It's such a supportive, non-judgmental environment that allows me to move at my own pace without feeling like I'm failing or embarrassing myself.
The Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) group I originally wanted to take at NYU is full so I'm currently waitlisted for next semester, but I'll be going to a anxiety workshop next month to learn tips on how to manage my anxiety.
3. Individual and Group Eating Disorder Therapy
Yup, that's a shit ton of therapy but I need it. I've struggled for 15 years and I don't like how uncomfortable I am in my own skin. I realized that a lot of my issues, such as body weight and anxiety, are very closely connected. One interesting thing that came up the other week was how I used to define myself (e.g. being super skinny, having materialistic things) and how I want that definition to change moving forward. It's required a lot of contemplating and I don't have an answer yet. With the help of my husband I'm reevaluating my values and beliefs and journaling every week to try and figure it out.
4. Take on more leadership opportunities
I recently joined NYU's Food Studies Graduate Society as one of their newest board members. I wanted to meet and engage with more of my classmates and also have an opportunity to speak in different social settings and environments. It's definitely uncomfortable for me but I know that if I keep forcing myself through the awkardness, it'll only be a matter of time before I feel confident.