Being open with others about social anxiety and seeking expert support can help reboot your life and your career, advises specialist education provider National Learning Network (NLN).
NLN is the education and training division of the Rehab Group. NLN provides inclusive education and training opportunities with specialist supports to promote student success in personal, vocational, and occupational goals.
NLN is hosting a free, public webinar on social anxiety on Thursday, July 20, at 2pm. The event will be of particular benefit to anyone struggling with social anxiety and related mental health challenges, with insights from people with personal experience.
Among the webinar guest speakers will be Ciara Glynn, a former NLN Maynooth student who lived with crippling social anxiety for years. She is now employed as a peer support worker with the Health Service Executive (HSE).
Ciara said: “In my early 20s, I started to experience debilitating mental health challenges. Panic attacks and overwhelming anxiety made it extremely challenging for me to cope with daily life and routine. I spent many years feeling lost and not knowing what to do.
“I had lost confidence in myself, and my abilities and I developed social anxiety. I needed somewhere to heal. Somewhere that felt safe and comfortable and that would help get me back into the world again.”
Ciara joined a course in National Learning Network in Maynooth, and her life soon changed.
“I joined a course in NLN Maynooth. Being in there normalised my experience because I wasn’t the only one who struggled. I felt less alone. It was the first time that I sat in a room and heard other people talk about their mental health openly.
“Up until that point, I had thought that I was the oddest person on the planet. In my time there, I realised that it is a normal human thing to struggle.”
Ciara attended an 18-month course called Jobstart, which she found hugely beneficial.
“The instructors were brilliant,” she recalls. “I worked with an NLN instructor named Fiona, and she was such an amazing woman. She had these strategic ways, little games, and activities to help us all build confidence. She was really rooting for me and everyone else in there.
“I felt NLN was different to other colleges as I didn’t feel the need to hide my mental health. Everyone was there because they needed extra support in life, and there was something really comforting about being in that environment.”
“I realised that I wanted to work in mental health and use my journey of recovery to support others. I am now working in the HSE as a peer support worker.”
Ciara is working full-time in the HSE. She is also an occasional lecturer in DCU and UCD, delivering recovery/peer support content to peer support and nursing students.
“I owe so much of this to National Learning Network, Fiona and all the staff who helped me get my life back. NLN was a significant milestone in my journey back to wellness, and I always recommend the organisation to the people I support,” said Ciara.
National Learning Network offers over 70 certified, supported training courses across Ireland. It caters for people with learning, sensory, intellectual or physical disabilities, mental health issues including anxiety and social phobia, autistic people, or people who have suffered an illness or injury. All courses are fully-funded by the local Education and Training Board or the HSE.
Lucianne Bird, director of National Learning Network, said: “As a wider context to students’ learning at NLN, the pandemic had significant socio-emotional impacts on young people.
“While for some, it offered a comfort level insofar as they were able to stay within the parameters of the home, for many, it had negative socio-emotional effects, including heightened anxiety, damage to their social networks and contacts and a disruption to daily routines.
“We have witnessed a significant increase in students presenting with social anxiety and related mental health difficulties in recent years. Anxiety is huge among the younger students coming to us. NLN provides a safe space to achieve educational and career goals in a supportive environment surrounded by people living with similar challenges.”
NLN’s training centres offer students a lot of one-to-one support and individual support. NLN assess where each student is at and then creates a personalised learning plan for them.
Dr Denise O’Dwyer, principal psychologist with National Learning Network, said: “The defining feature with Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is really the fear of negative evaluation by others. SAD is most often linked to social and societal standards and norms, as well as personal roles and expectations.
“If we feel we’re not living up to the standards that are expected of us, or that we have imposed upon ourselves, this can create tension and anxiety within. This often results in safety-seeking behaviours such as withdrawal, isolation, rumination and under or over-performance.
“Many NLN students reported struggling to leave their rooms during Covid, the consequences of which has had a sustaining impact for many. There also appears to be a rise in anxiety related new referrals, with co-morbid addiction patterns and low mood to further complicate matters.”