Ava Mac ’21
You’re swimming in doubt. You’re tripping on fear. You’re drowning in anxiety. You’re questioning every syllable. Your words stop and stay behind your tongue.
This is what social anxiety feels like.
Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is a mental health condition that according to the Anxiety and Depression Association (AADA), affects about 15 million Americans and is the second most commonly diagnosed anxiety disorder in the United States. The AADA defines social anxiety as “intense anxiety or fear of being judged, negatively evaluated, or rejected in a social or performance situation.”
Essentially, this means that those who suffer from this disorder worry about what others think of them when they have to engage in conversations or speak in front of a crowd. For those that have this mental illness, or even a mild form of it, it can be extremely difficult to contribute to discussions whether in school or in day to day conversations.
People with social anxiety also feel disappointed and strong regret when they don’t speak out. “You tend to miss out on things like interesting conversations, or opportunities to speak up,” SLHS freshman Chloe Pomann said when thinking back to many times when her interests were being spoken of yet she was too scared to add to the conversation.
Living with this disorder, in general, can be very frustrating, as your own self doubt suffocates your thoughts and opinions and blocks them from leaving your mouth. You hope and pray that somehow these fears of speaking would go away, but these kind of things do not go away that easy. You may wonder, ‘What can I do to feel more confident?’ Or, ‘How do I feel more comfortable about opening up and speaking out?’ Well, the Gay Straight Alliance is a good place to start.
The Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) is a club in high schools designed to create a safe, accepting environment for any student regardless of sexual orientation, gender expression, or identity. Over 6,500 of these clubs exist in high schools around the United States.
At SLHS, our GSA is advised by math teacher Mr. Jacob Sayraf and has around 12 members. They meet every two weeks on Friday from 2:30 to 3:30 to discuss and question political, cultural and social matters. Members engage themselves in conversations proposing ideas and solutions to current issues that affect us as students or even as American or world citizens.
These discussions not only allow members to become educated on social and political topics, but also build up their abilities to speak in groups. They can gain confidence in their own words and ultimately, in themselves.
“When I first joined GSA, I didn’t quite know where I stood on social situations, especially in political and social [issues]. Discussing it and becoming educated on it – which is something I need to do in order to gear up for every GSA meeting – has really brought insight to who I stand for and who I am,” SLHS junior Angelica Cook said passionately after the recent GSA meeting.
Cook has been in GSA since freshman year and, since then, has found that this club has allowed her to understand new topics and strengthen her self confidence.
The GSA also helps deal with another aspect of social anxiety: being so insecure of your mixed opinion to the point that you can’t share it.
Sophomore Lily Sayset-Gorsch, a member of GSA since freshman year, explained,“Examining what other people’s stances are shapes my view on things because I’m very indecisive.” She described that GSA gave her the opportunity to hear other people’s opinions and formulate her own. This can help someone with social anxiety who is unconfident with their opinion feel supported in hearing others and in turn, feel more comfortable sharing it.
This feeling of being comfortable to share is also strengthened by the encouraging members. Freshman Alondra Reyna detailed that her favorite part of GSA is “the way everyone is able to speak their mind with supportive and amazing people around.”
The setting that the club creates allows members, both old and new, to feel comfortable voicing their opinions. This can help those with social anxiety start to feel comfortable speaking in places in and out of the club, such as in class or group settings, where they may have previously struggled.
Social anxiety can be a very serious mental illness, but it’s not impossible to overcome. Take advantage of the groups at your school, such as GSA, to find a place to develop self confidence and a group of people to support you as your social abilities improve.
Photo courtesy of http://www.onhold.on.ca
Bravo to the writer of this article for highlighting this vital, life saving-(yes, I mean life saving) student organization! LGBTQ+ students are four times more likely to commit suicide and are often the target of bullying. The GSA’s presence on campus is rarely acknowledged and yet these wonderful, civically engaged students and faculty advisors work to educate students about important social justice issues and promote compassion at SLHS.