Social anxiety disorder/phobia is a horrible form of anxiety and often misunderstood. I know my SA can make me come across as shy, arrogant, nervous, withdrawn, stand offish or quiet when in reality my personality is nothing like that.
So we all know that to be anxious is a normal human emotion but to have anxiety you are very anxious about almost everything and anything at any place, time or situation. Social anxiety can make seeing friends/family difficult and sometimes even leaving the house seems like a daunting thing to do. It’s the fear of either potentially or having to interact with people.
What is social anxiety disorder?
Social anxiety disorder (or sometimes known as social phobia) is the intense fear, paranoia or worry of social situations. Those that suffer with social phobia have a strong fear of being embarrassed, judged, humiliated or criticised by others.
Me and my SA.
I’ve always been socially anxious. Even as a child social interactions weren’t easy for me. I think as I became older it was easier for me know when other people were getting judged or humiliated (this happened a lot!) which then magnified this fear in me. If I was out in a group of friends I would usually be the ‘quiet’ one. I would be the one who was scared to say something in case it didn’t get received the right way or I would be ridiculed. I was the one who found it easier to be quiet as that would give me less of a chance to be noticed by the group.
Giving presentations during my high school and college years were probably the worst memories I have. I managed to get out of a couple of presentations I was supposed to do in high school by faking being ill (sorry mum!) but if I couldn’t fake being ill, I’d avoid it till my teacher hunted me down or failed me. Imagine having a intense fear of being humiliated and criticised and having to give a presentation to a group of people who mostly you don’t like, some of them are absolute twats and you know for a fact that they could easily rip you to shreds (That never happened to me but I did see others get torn to pieces by fellow peers). Imagine having a fear of being centre of attention to then have over 20+ eyes all staring at you gormlessly as you try so hard to stay calm and not rush through a presentation that is supposed to take 15 minutes but you were done 5 minutes in. Yeah, 100% the worst memories I have of high school and college.
Before, During and After:
My SA can kick in either before, during or after a social interaction. The lead up to meeting up with a friend/family can be stressful. Sometimes the lead up to a social interaction can be that stressful for me that I just cancel. I could cancel because the stress and worry I am enduring just isn’t worth it, so I get rid of the main factor (which is meeting up with someone) or the worry that I will meet up with them and they might make comments about my outfit or how I look, I might say something stupid, I might make a fool of myself, what if I spill my drink down myself etc, the list goes on and it’s a list of worries that could open me up to be humiliated, criticised, judged or embarrassed.
During a social interaction is probably the worst time for your SA to kick in. For me it feels like I have no escape. I’m in potential danger and I have nowhere to run. So my body heats up, I begin to sweat, my cheeks will go red, I’ll keep the majority of my eye contact to the floor, talking will be at a bare minimum and I’ll probably run off to the toilets about 8 times to run cold water on my wrists, dab any sweat away, re applying make up and spray shit loads of deodorant (gotta love anxiety). Sometimes this will manifest into a panic attack, sometimes I’m able to compose myself and sometimes I just have to go with it till I get home and collapse in bed exhausted.
I find the aftermath of a social event is usually the cruellest. Your mind is asking you all these questions that are pointless because you won’t be able to get a answer. I will nip pick at every detail. Every little thing I did or said. Everything from what they might have thought about my voice, the topic of conversations, my body language to how I came across, was what I wore suitable? I shoulda done this instead of this or I shoulda engaged more. It’s like a script in my head that I’ll read over and over again and the interactions will either stay stuck in my head or eventually fade away.
My SA Triggers:
Everybody has different triggers. With SA the triggers may seem pretty similar (in some sense they are) but attending a meeting at work might not be as daunting as going out on a date for some people. Or giving a presentation might not be as scary as meeting up with a old friend. Some of my most common SA triggers are:
– Being centre of attention. I hate, absolutely hate being centre of attention. It can be hard for me to sometimes go out in public and not feel like all eyes are on me, but if you are centre of attention, all eyes ARE on you and that is just a no from me.
– Speaking in public or groups.
– Meeting new people.
– Seeing family.
– Being watched.
– Ordering drinks/food. Yes, even this can trigger my social anxiety and make me become a hot sweaty mess.
– Eating or drinking in public (thankfully I have gotten past this trigger now).
– Large groups.
– Being assertive.
– Making small talk.
– Having to lead a conversation.
– Going to the gym.
– Making phone calls.
– Eye contact. I find eye contact really intense, too intense for me. You’ll probably find I spend more time talking and looking around the room than talking and looking at you.
– Being introduced to people.
I try and take my anxiety as it comes. There will be times where I push myself out of my comfort zone, if I am 90% sure it will be worth it. There have been times where I have pushed myself out of my comfort zone and kinda wished I didn’t but there have been more times where I have pushed myself out of my comfort zone and have been glad that I did. You can’t really predict how a social situation will turn out, even though your anxiety might think you have it figured out.
I’ve come a long way with my SA. I’d say my top tips would be:
– Trust yourself. Deep down you know what is right and wrong for you. Listen to your intuition.
– Learn about your social anxiety. The power of knowledge!!!
– Write it all down. Whatever it is that is worrying you, whatever questions are flying around your head, write them down. Get it all out and take a look at it. Does it all look worth it? Can anything be changed now?
– Speak to someone you trust. I’m lucky to have L who also suffers with SA. Although there wasn’t ever much he could say or do when I spoke to him about my difficulties, it always felt better to just say it to someone.
– Seek help. If your SA is getting in the way of your work, family and social life speaking to your GP will help guide you back onto the right path.
I cut out negative people. I cut out the people who used to make me feel guilty for not being social. I spent more time with myself and those who valued and accepted me for me. I became my biggest fan. Only I knew truly how difficult some tasks/situations could be for me. I’d always reward myself afterwards. Whether it was a well done, pat on the back, food or even just thanking myself for remaining in control. You can’t beat yourself up or you’re just going to keep spinning around this vicious circle.
Sometimes there will be a choice you have to make. Whether to stay in or go out. This can feel like a life or death choice. It’s not. You’ve just gotta decide whether you want to stay in or push yourself out of your comfort zone. There’s been times where I have pushed myself out of my comfort zone and have ended up having a shit time but most of the time it has resulted in a fond memory. Sometimes you’ve just got to pick the right situation for you. If someone was to ask me to go for a late night trip to get some food, I’m not gonna turn that down (providing I’m not in bed of course…). It’s spontaneous (who doesn’t like a bit of spontaneity?) but that means I have had less time to stress and worry about the what ifs and food…need I say more? But if someone was to ask me to go out for drinks, that leads to soooo many questions and makes me feel a bit uncomfortable. So know what situations will be worth it to you and which ones really aren’t worth your valuable time. Know which situations you could benefit from, which ones could make you happy or could be fun. Put yourself first. Explore new places or activities with yourself or your current friends. Figure out where you’re comfortable and what you are comfortable doing. Get to know yourself, practise with your current friends and when the timing is right, push yourself out of your comfort zone. It will either result in a new lesson learnt or a fond memory.
You can do this!