Overcoming social anxiety and opening up to new connection with Ani Castillo, author and illustrator

Author of the wonderful books Ping and Spark, and the brand new People are My Favorite Places, Ani Castillo shared her personal journey overcoming social anxiety, the role of religious communities, the power of inner dialogue, and much more. 

Watch the full interview here or listen on your favorite podcast platform here.

Overcoming social anxiety to build connection

Social anxiety is more than just shyness; it can be a crippling condition that prevents people from forming meaningful relationships. Ani bravely shared her personal experience with severe social anxiety, noting,

"I was born with social anxiety or it was given to me by experience, I don't know. But I'm one of the people on earth who had received the gift, the terrible gift, of social anxiety."

She further explained how therapy helped her manage this condition:

"My therapist introduced people, like almost like you have phobia of snakes or heights. They had to introduce interactions with people little by little, and they started giving me homework."

The key takeaway here is to approach people as if they are already friends. This simple mental shift can have profound impacts on your comfort level and the quality of the interaction.

The role of church and religious communities

Ani appreciates the sense of belonging she finds in her church community. But what really stood out was her emphasis on the intergenerational nature of these communities and the built-in social rituals. She mentioned,

"Churches are amazing just to bring people together."

"I think churches are amazing just to bring people together and it’s funny that we have to agree to believe in Jesus or Buddha or something."

The power of inner voice and self-talk

The dialogue we have with ourselves often goes unnoticed but has a significant impact, especially for those dealing with mental health issues or loneliness. Ani shared her experience:

"When I went to this talk, for example, first of all, I get really nervous going to a crowd. So when I tell myself on my way there, I'm brainwashing myself the whole way there because I get really nervous."

And she also emphasized the power of inner dialogue:

"If you tell yourself, 'Nobody likes me.' You know, when I went to this talk, for example, first of all, I get really nervous going to a crowd."

Conflict resolution and the dangers of "othering"

The conversation touched on the timely subject of societal tensions and conflicts, often fueled by a lack of understanding and communication. 

"I feel we all want the same thing. We all want to be peaceful, healthy, and our family safe and us being safe. That’s what we can agree on."

"I feel like a lot comes down to a lack of understanding that we all want the same things. And if we work together towards that, like it wouldn’t be any worse or anything."

The importance of imagination and vision

Imagination is not just the realm of artists and children; it’s a crucial tool for personal growth and societal change. Ani highlighted:

"It's a book about living in your imagination and that's the source of change and growth and like bigger things happening for you and daring more and reaching out for more and growing more."