Breaks, Buttons, and Breath: Three Tools for Overcoming Social Anxiety

Wade Suarez
September 13, 2021
Thick fog hovers over a sea of green, viewed from the window of an airplane

"Please don't sing for me."

I made this request a few days ago to a kitchen crowded with my peers. A view of Dublin poured in from the kitchen window, with the rare Irish sun illuminating a cake on the table before me. It was my birthday, and several people had chosen to celebrate it with me. This was an incredible gift because, at the beginning of my trip, social anxiety had told me that I would spend it alone. Considering that the American Psychological Association has found Gen Z to be the most anxious group in America, I somehow doubt that I am the only one that has felt this way—especially coming off the heels of that uncanny quasi-isolation of our digital-age Pandemic. To fight those feelings, I packed something in my luggage that would never go through customs. 

 (Alright, yeah, I’m being figurative here, but wasn’t it fun to imagine that you were reading the beginning to an international smuggling heist? I’d like to thank the Academy.)

That intangible thing was my social anxiety tool-kit, and I’d like to pass it on to anybody that might find themself obsessively checking their appearance in the mirror of a cramped Boeing 737. I know that these simple tools keep me connecting during this major transition, and they do this without sacrificing my body and mind’s needs. I think these tools can help anybody with social anxiety, but I am especially writing for those of you that must do so in a new country. Without further ado...

1. Give yourself a break. 

If you’re studying abroad, you have time. Sometimes, it might be best to give your bodily and emotional needs a nod during some of that time; at least, it has been for me. You know how inspirational travel content often tells you to ‘dive in’ or whatever? Yeah, um, I did NOT do that my first day. 

I woke up on August 30th at 6 A.M. to drive to Houston’s airport, and I hit the ground in Dublin at 9 A.M. on August 31st. My dear reader, do you think the next thing I did was explore this city—which, of course, I was excited to explore—while shaking through a gallon of coffee? Noooooooo.  I checked in with staff, made some quick and cordial hellos, and crashed. 

I spent the rest of the week, jetlag free, watching the sun rise over Dublin. I felt whole when I greeted my new peers. Many of them had powered through the first day—and there’s nothing wrong with that! But what I needed that first day was to sleep, shower, and meditate. I cut myself a break. In return, I was fully present for the week that followed, and I never had to play wack-a-mole with my snooze button.  Take your breaks when you must. 

2. Speak softly, and carry an eject button. 

What happens when your needs are met, and it’s time to recognize the human need for connection? Well, If you keep your eyes and ears open, you might find that there are quite a few invitations to connect with those around you. These invitations seem common when you begin to say yes to so many of them—and that is exactly what I’m telling you to do. Yes, reader, I am telling you to fight social anxiety, which makes it hard to accept invitations, by accepting invitations. No, wait, don’t close your browser! 

Hear me out. Classmates invite you somewhere, much to your horror. You say yes anyway. Why? Because you have an eject button. If you ever want to say no to a social invitation, stop before you do. Ask yourself—could this be comfortable for me if I knew that I could leave at any time? Such a simple reality might elude the socially anxious, but there ain’t a popsicle stand out there that can’t be blown, friend. Speak softly—say yes—even if you must first prepare an exit strategy. You can always leave, so why not go?

Being abroad in particular provides a plethora of convenient eject buttons, since nobody is going to blame you if you need to go do something else in your new country. Of course you have other plans! Look at you go! If panic has stricken and you don’t even feel comfortable excusing yourself to return home, you have a million Google reviews waiting for you to go do something else. Otherwise? It’s okay to say it’s simply time to go home. You deserve that—cut yourself that break. 

(Er, disclaimer on this one: don’t go off on your own at night in a foreign country, please. Always factor safety into your planned eject buttons.)

3. Breathe

I’m serious about this one. This tool is arguably the most important, because it is the body’s built-in eject button from panic. When that familiar pang of anxiety creeps into your chest, you can’t just ignore it—and I’ll let you know if that ever changes—so greet it. Right where you are, if you must; a few minutes is really refreshing, but even just a single remembered breath has produced tangible benefits on my most stressful days. Take a moment to breathe with intention. Feel the way that your chest expands. Feel it for as long as you can. It is your most basic need; take the others as they come. 

Wade Suarez

<p>Yo! My name is Wade Suarez. I'm an English Creative Writing major attending Augsburg University in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I am attending the Dublin Writer's Program in Fall of 2021, and my current plan is to not shut up about it the entire time I'm there. My favorite thing to do is to write (shocking, I know), but my next favorite hobbies are exploring, reading, and hunting down the best nooks and crannies I can find, wherever I am. My ultimate goal while I am in Ireland is to connect with a place and people that I've never known, so check it out if you want to see how that's going. I'm pretty pumped to share with you the things I learn and the connections I make while I am adventuring abroad this Fall.</p>

2021 Fall
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