I was 16 when I first experienced social anxiety. I was on a half empty train to London when it pulled up at the last stop and then, a tsunami of passengers spilled onto the train. I panicked as I got squeezed amongst the passengers and broke into a cold sweat that drenched my entire clothes from top to toe. Walking through these crowds my heart was pounding so hard I thought I was having a heart attack. As an introverted teenager I lacked social skills and self-esteem, but luckily I wasn’t feeling depressed or suicidal. I spoke to my GP about treating anxiety with medication, but felt too nervous to be influenced by medication side-effects because there were risks. According to mental health charity, Mind, Benzodiapines mediations such as Diazepam, commonly used to treat anxiety, can cause side effects. Then there were ‘paradoxical’ side effects, being the opposite of what the medication is meant to do. These side-effects included aggressive behaviour, feeling detached, and even suicidal thoughts. Long-term use of Benzodiapines could risk feeling cut off from my emotions and being ‘dulled’ down. And all this to treat one condition- anxiety. I decided to explore safer options. I got referred by my GP for counselling to treat my social anxiety. During my sessions my counsellor addressed my past experiences and gave me CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) that changed how I thought and felt about anxiety, and by confronting the fear itself- my fear of people. My task was to expose myself more and more to that fear, known as exposure therapy. I changed my mindset to think people were ok, and that nothing bad would happen in crowded spaces. The more I exposed myself to being in crowds with this mindset, my symptoms radically improved. I felt confident and comfortable in crowds, and I wasn’t sweating. I improved my anxiety without taking medication. I don’t believe medication is the answer for everyone, including everyone with anxiety, but I do believe it is necessary only in severe cases where anxiety poses a serious danger to one’s life and mental health. – by John Apples.