SIUC Dept. of Communication Studies RSOs
by Randi Burns, Public Relations student
When I decided to continue my education, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to study. I always thought education wasn’t for me. I spent 10 years of my life negatively worrying about school, rather than thinking about its opportunities. Now, as a communication studies student at SIU, I see a well-laid road in front of me.
But the road to get where I am today was not smooth. At the age of 12, I was diagnosed with social anxiety disorder. I was a very shy and quiet kid. If I was a superhero, my nemesis would be communication. Being around people, talking with them, whether in person or on the phone, gave me such great anxiety that the only thing I could do to remedy the situation was to run away from it. So I avoided communicating with others! This is a common response to overwhelming communication anxiety. It’s called the flight response. It’s your brains way of negotiating what can be done to get through the situation and return to normal. Some stay to fight, I ran.
It’s hard to explain what anxiety attacks are like. They are extremely scary and painful. They can cause significant mental, emotional, and even physical damage. Imagine someone hiding in a closet and then jumping out and scaring you. You quickly jump up or scream but then, as fast as that feeling came, it’s gone. That’s called panic. It lasts for only a second but causes an extreme jolt to the body. This is what I feel during panic and anxiety attacks, only instead of a second it can last hours or days. My panic attacks were mostly triggered by the idea of speaking with someone.
During my teen years, I experienced the worst of being anxious and alone. I stopped going to school to avoid social interactions. During the week, my mother would go to work and my brother would go to school. I was left to myself for eight hours out of the day. At the beginning, I just slept. Then I would watch tons of TV and movies. I recorded everything that I liked so I would have something to continue to watch. As time went on, it got increasingly harder to come up with things to do. I had to entertain myself. I listened to music and I taught myself to play the drums and piano. I even found one of my older sister’s cassette tapes that she used to help her speak French. For a moment, I could easily say several sentences in French.
After many years of trying to entertain myself, I began to become more anxious and more depressed. I was afraid to be around people; yet, I needed to be around people to be mentally and emotionally healthy. It was a push and pull relationship. If you ever saw the movie Cast Away with Tom Hanks, you see how his character, just after a few weeks, became so overwhelmed with aloneness, that he had to create Wilson, a personified volleyball. The need to communicate with others is more important than people realize.
I came to realize how important communicating and interacting people is after watching a Lifetime movie (perhaps something I will cover in a future post) and doing some self-evaluating. I soon realized I needed to overcome my fears and make something of my life. I worked on earning a GED, and eventually enrolled in a community college.
After graduating John A. Logan Community College, I felt that I should continue my education at SIU. It was an idea I would have never entertained; however, I felt this need to keep going. I looked through most of the degree programs and wasn’t sure if I fit in any. So, I decided to create a list of things I’m interested in and sent it to an advisor. I was later scheduled to meet Dr. Craig Engstrom, the undergraduate director for communication studies. He opened my eyes to communication studies and what I could expect out of a career in public relations.
If you were to tell me 10 years ago that I would not only be overcoming my anxieties with communication, but would be studying it for a career, I would have looked at you as if you had two heads. How did this happen? I chose to believe nothing is coincidental and everything happens for a reason. We might not see that reason today, tomorrow, or even 10 years from now, but it’s always there.
It might seem like I easily overcame anxiety as I got older; however, it couldn’t be further from the truth. Check out my next blog post on the strategies I used to overcome my anxieties and tips you can use to overcome your communication anxiety, no matter the source or degree of stress.
About the Author
Randi Burns studies Public Relations at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. To contact her or learn more about the program, contact Dr. Craig Engstrom, director of undergraduate studies.