More than fear
Social anxiety is more than just an awkward feeling or nervousness when you step outside the door. For those who suffer the effects are felt not only mentally but physically as well.
Social anxiety for those affected can be a debilitating condition, and for those who don’t, I imagine almost impossible to understand.
Everybody feels some form of social anxiety at some point in their life.
You get anxious at the prospect of falling flat on your face while running for the bus, being around people when you’re not feeling your best and speaking or reading aloud is also a common fear.
However, for some, the problem can be much more profound. I think for anybody who suffers mental health issues understands anxiety in social situations seems to have a high level of comorbidity.
Small everyday tasks that wouldn’t ordinarily be a consideration become a substantially stressful situation.
Just driving past a queue of traffic on the other side of the road can trigger palpitations and set thoughts racing.
The feeling of being exposed publicly is sickening.
I have suffered from a fear of leaving the house alone for as long as I can remember. My sister will tell you this! She is always the one I’d drag with me everywhere, even just to grab some milk from Tesco!
Outside involves lots of people. Your head starts spinning your brain can’t communicate with your body. People talk to you, and you can’t answer, the words just disappear.
You just want to become invisible.
Making plans is hard
It all starts before you even leave the house. A planned visit or trip could lead to weeks worth of stress. Going over how awful you suspect the outing will be. Every possible spine-tingling scenario is processed over and over in your mind and before you know it you’re done, and plans are cancelled.
Let me start by saying there isn’t a cure for social anxiety, no magic pill but there are a few practical steps you can take to help elevate the discomfort.
By checking out of your comfort zone and pushing yourself forward, you CAN make progress.
Start with small steps
It’s no good throwing yourself out there straight away. Don’t rush off to your local shopping centre mid-afternoon this Saturday!
The result will almost certainly turn into a massive meltdown and leave you feeling without a shadow of a doubt you can’t do this. Just like your mother said, there’s no such word as can’t!! YOU CAN; You just need to start small.
First of all, you first need some coping strategies.
The best course of action when confronting social anxiety.
Challenge your unhelpful thoughts.
First, you need to be able to recognise fact from fiction. The majority of anxious thoughts are just that, thoughts!
The way you think about things tends to have an impact on your life in general. Anxious thoughts are mostly negative and unhelpful.
Start by asking yourself these simple questions.
Am I predicting the future?
What are the chances of this ACTUALLY happening?
Is there anything I can do to prevent this?
What would I say to a friend if they were having these thoughts?
In the end, most things that you worry about won’t happen, and you’ve wasted lots of valuable time and energy being upset.
Reduce the tendency to focus on yourself.
Anxiety is more often than not less visible than you imagine it to be. Other people around will mostly be focusing on their own thing rather than you. The more time you spend thinking, am I sweating? Am I shaking? The more likely this is to happen!
By concentrating so deeply on yourself, you’re often prevented from enjoying and entirely focusing on what it is you’re are doing.
Reading other people minds.
I guarantee if you could actually read minds you would be a billionaire by now! Making assumptions about what other people are thinking will only compound the problem.
Is there any real evidence that other people are thinking these things?
The what if’ers of the world seem to spend a lot more time thinking than doing. It is far better to deal with problems as they arise not only because the majority of if’s don’t happen. But how can you prevent the if’s before they happen anyway?
Focusing on the negative.
If after a social event you find yourself worrying about things that didn’t go so well, remember what is done is done and can’t be undone. No amount of stress or worry will change that.
Try to focus on the positives, where you did well, new things you tried and progress you have made.
Removing the tendency to avoid social situations.
The best way to do this is to confront the problem head-on. Avoiding social situations will lead to depression and loneliness or worsening of the symptoms you already have.
Practice makes perfect, the more you do something, the better you get at it. This is also true of social anxiety, the more you get out there, the easier it becomes.
Try to talk to people as often as you can; just a few small words can get you off on the right foot.
Try these three easy ideas to get you started.
Plan your trips to local shops at times when you know fewer people will be around; say, first thing in the morning or early evening around 7 pm. Most shops are relatively quiet at these times, so chances of you having to make any kind of verbal exchange are minimal!
Stick some headphones in one ear with your favourite songs playing. Therefore, you will have something else to listen to other than the toughs spinning around in your head. Try and find some motivational tracks something that always makes you feel good.
Though the object of these steps ultimately, is to be able to manage alone, where possible take a friend out with you for support.
There’s no need to rush, set yourself some anxiety reduction goals and work on one at a time.
Do try to push yourself out of your comfort zone though and when you feel anxiety rushing in resist the flight” urge and stick with it. Once you become more comfortable the feelings will pass.
If you do start to feel as though you can’t get through it, leave! There’s no anti-social person police waiting to arrest you!
You got out there, and that is what counts. Keep going until you find the best coping strategy that works for you.
If you feel you require some professional help with feelings of anxiety below are some organisations that may be able to help.
Samaritans provide 24-hour support for people who need someone to talk to with no waiting lists or appointments.
Anxiety UK is a national registered charity for those affected by anxiety disorders. They are a user-led organisation, run by people with experience of living with anxiety, stress or anxiety-based depression, supported by a high-profile medical advisory panel.
Mind provides advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem.