The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

A student journalist’s quest to overcome social anxiety

graphic created by Casey Rafter using Canva ([email protected])

The spring 2020 semester had already felt like a weight upon my shoulders before it even began, and I could blame that not only on the COVID-19 pandemic turning everything online once again but also my anxiety. It’s the beginning of my second year in college, and I was questioning what my future looked like after a global pandemic changed the course of my year. 

I was going to write for the Express for the first time, and I didn’t know exactly what I was getting into—I just knew it was one of the requirements for my major. The only sort of publication that I had ever written for was my high school newspaper, where I wrote mostly about pop culture and random think pieces that ran through my head. So, basically, I had never done anything serious in journalism. 

On the first day of class in fall 2020, meeting my fellow Express staffers and advisers over Zoom, I was told that I had to interview people for articles, and my first assignment was to write a feature piece about one of our editors. I instantly felt my body freeze. I smiled through the Zoom call and played calm, but, the moment cameras were off, I felt stuck in my body and mind. I was overthinking every bad scenario that could happen throughout any interview that I might do. 

For an entire day, I felt like crying because of how tight my chest felt. You would think I was about to be put on a guillotine in a few days instead of talking over the phone with a person I had just met. I lay in bed for the rest of the day contemplating if this was what I wanted my path to be. 

I thought hard about ways to get out of having to do any of my assignments, and maybe even ways to get out of having sources on articles so that I could have a semester without all this anxiety. I searched online for the form to switch my major. I thought about what I might change it to and what would require less social interaction. But I was still passionate about journalism. 

I questioned myself for the first time: why did I want to be a journalist when I have social anxiety? 

My social anxiety has consumed me ever since I could remember. Presentations, speeches and group projects with new people occupied my nightmares. I felt like I was being suffocated with so much anxiety during my senior project in high school that I seriously considered dropping out. I still struggle to order my own food, call new people over the phone and meet new people at social events. 

There’s a big difference in feeling nervous for a presentation and having a panic attack over one. I wish that I could say that I was just nervous or that I would be fine after it was finished, but I still felt incredibly shaky and out of breath after every presentation that I ever did. I internalized my panic attacks so well that all people could see was my hands shaking. They had no idea what I was feeling. 

However, I decided to stay on the Express staff, even as my panic attacks flared up a lot more due to the influx of social interaction that I had been avoiding so well during quarantine. 

One way that my brain attempts to cope with my anxiety is by dissociation, where I disconnect from my thoughts and identity for at least a minute. It’s a weird, out-of-body experience where I don’t feel much anxiety, but I don’t fully know who I am or why I’m in the room I’m in—which can sometimes cause even more anxiety. But I have learned to remind myself aloud that I’m OK and to name the objects nearby in order to return. 

This semester, I actually did have to interview people for stories for the Express, and every single thing that I did in those interviews—either on a video call or over the phone—went to my head. I tend to read other people’s reactions to my very minor slip-ups completely wrong. I’d say to myself that they probably will make fun of me after, even if I just simply stuttered over one word.

“They definitely think you looked stupid just now,” my brain would tell me. 

And I’d believe it. 


A career in journalism was never my first option until I got into my newspaper class in my senior year of high school. I had always been creative and loved writing, but I never knew what outlet I would put that passion into. I had always assumed I’d just end up being an English major with no real idea of what I would write about. But the moment that I began writing opinion pieces and articles about things happening around the school, I realized that I loved news writing. 

I had to interview only one person during my senior year, and I remember feeling an intense amount of fear that entire day. My body was reacting as if I knew I was going to die during lunch, when I had to speak to her. I had one of my friends go with me, and my anxieties slipped away only after the interview was over. I stumbled with my words, not understanding exactly what I was asking; I was just hoping it would end. I treated that conversation like a punishment, and I felt sick to my stomach. I didn’t even eat my lunch.

I’ve always pressured myself to be the same way I imagined everyone else: perfect. From a young age, I was on the internet and constantly saw lives that I wanted to live and people whom I wanted to be. That person that I wanted to be was never me. 

I’ve always wanted to be the perfect person who never made mistakes. I was the smart kid in elementary school who got straight As, and I enjoyed the praise that I got for doing things perfectly. So, when I got into middle and high school, I felt pressure to be a perfect student while also wanting to look and be like everyone else. 

I’ve always been constantly afraid of making a fool out of myself because I know that I’ll take it way too personally and think that any minor mistake means that I’m a failure. I put myself too high on a pedestal and expect the worst of myself at the same time. Lack of confidence has long been my downfall. 

Recently, though, I learned that I’m not the only journalist who struggles with this. I had a conversation with Marcos Breton, columnist at The Sacramento Bee, about how he overcame a lot of his social anxiety over time, and a lot of his experiences tied in with mine. 

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“Once I got in the business, I realized that we all had to start off somewhere,” Breton said to me over the phone. 

I had explained my situation to Breton earlier, and I told him I was even nervous about our phone call. My hands shook a little and I was still overanalyzing the way my voice sounded when I talked. Breton seemed to understand what I was going through; he explained that he used to be painfully shy when he started community college in the ’80s—a time when the term “social anxiety” was not used. It was called social phobia before then, and not enough was known about it. He wrote for San Jose City College’s newspaper, the City College Times, and every interview that he did was a struggle for him then—just as it is for me. 

“It was a years-long journey for me to arrive where I’m at now,” he explained. 

Breton told me how he still has moments of anxiety and discomfort, but, over time, it got easier for him. He knows people in this profession, aside from himself, who sometimes still struggle while talking to others. 

“Remember that there’s always another newspaper the next day where you can try to do better,” said Breton.

To help me understand social anxiety as a whole, I got on the phone with Corrine McIntosh Sako, a former City College student and Sacramento psychologist who specializes in anxiety disorders. Even though I was very interested in finding out more about social anxiety, I was still feeling my typical nervousness spreading through my body before I called her. 

According to Sako, the reasons for social anxiety depend on the person. It can be genetics, being codependent since birth, experiencing different kinds of social trauma or even a combination of it all. 

As I explained to Sako about how my social anxiety flared up for the first time in middle school, she told me that the biological stress of going through puberty can have an impact on a person’s social anxiety. 

“It’s like a light switch turns on,” said Sako. 

She explained that people can recognize that their anxiety may have no logic, but, because anxiety is not based in the frontal lobes—which is where the logic center of the human brain is—they can’t think their way out of their social fears. The amygdala is the part of the brain that experiences and reacts to fear, and, for someone with anxiety, it can react to anxiety-inducing triggers the same it does when the body is in immediate danger. Whenever the anxiety comes in, the parts of the brain that react when there is danger start working, and that’s what causes the physical reaction of a panic attack. 

“The potential of [social anxiety] getting triggered again is always there,” she told me after I described how the pandemic had actually made my social anxiety worse. “After times of limited social interactions, it can definitely flare back up.”

Sako explained that she urges some of her patients to do small and simple things to ease them into being social. If they are afraid of calling someone they don’t know, she suggests that they call a pizza place over the phone or call a store to ask if an item is in stock. That way, her patients can tell their brains that they can handle the stress, and it won’t hurt them. 

“Instead of saying, ‘I can’t do this,’ you can say, ‘This is going to be hard for me, but I am going to do this,’” said Sako. 

She told me that putting oneself into socially anxious situations is a type of behavioral therapy, and it is something that can be practiced so it won’t feel as scary over time.


As I’ve written for the Express this semester, I’ve gone through some very painful anxiety. But even in these few months, I’ve noticed that I’m not as scared as I used to be. Interviewing more than one person can still terrify me, and I feel distressed until the phone call begins, but I’ve already felt a difference in how I see interviewing people. 

While I’m still going through it all, I tend to look at my anxious thoughts as a miniature heckler yelling at me to mess me up instead of real things that will happen. I’ve learned that fighting against my thoughts has always ended up with them winning. Now, instead of fighting, I just see them as what they are: thoughts. They live with me, but I push myself to understand that they are never a reality. 

During the beginning of this semester, when my social anxiety was at its worst, I worked with a therapist for the first time. Although it did not cure me—nothing truly will—I definitely have learned from my own therapist some of the techniques and mindsets that Sako mentioned. If I did not have someone to talk to during the times I was feeling the most anxious, I probably wouldn’t be writing this right now. 

I may not be at my best yet, but I can tell that, over time, as I practice exposing myself to challenging situations and holding my passion for writing and journalism dear to me, I will be able to interview people without feeling like I am about to die. 

Even though I’ve had a rough semester figuring this out, I’ve interviewed and talked to more people than middle and high school me would have ever been able to. And I’m not dead yet. 

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    every day optimalJan 12, 2021 at 10:49 am

    Thank you for such an article, I would even say thank you to the author for opening our souls. As a person who has anxiety problems, I read this experience test, I always worry not only through my problems, but other people with the same problem also bother me. This story touched me very much. I would never be able to tell or write this, it is a very big step for the author to share this. Only for this he already deserves praise! Good luck, and do not stop writing the main thing!