By Elaine Ryan
Life with Social Anxiety
Social Anxiety Disorder, also referred to as Social Phobia can affect your quality of life. There are numerous articles on the web that detail diagnostic criteria for social anxiety, so I will not repeat them here. The page is to outline what it is like to live with social anxiety and what you can do to recover.
Maybe some of this is familiar to you. Sitting at a meeting or course and watching everyone introduce themselves. “Hello, my name is … ” and feeling the anxiety build up as it gets closer to your turn. All you have to say is “Hello” and give your name but you are feeling levels of anxiety that belong with a dangerous event.
I spoke with a friend of mine who had social anxiety when growing up. He had been accepted into a new school and described himself as being extremely shy, thinking
- I don’t belong here
- I’m out of my depth
- All the other kids are middle class and have money and an education that I don’t have
- Everyone knew my name and that terrified me
At break times, he used to sit alone, with a juice drink, and his hand always shook as he took a drink.
Another friend grew up thinking that she was stupid. When meeting new people, she would think
- I have nothing to say
- I’m stupid
- They are all better than me
She felt nervous meeting new people and as a young teenager, remembered watching all the news headlines on TV and reading up on current affairs so that she would have something interesting to say when she went out. Now, years later, she does not remember one conversation when she was a kid that involved current affairs!
You might find that you are in company, having, what looks like a normal conversation, but inside your head, not only are you chatting to the other person, but you are having another entirely different conversation inside your head, with yourself.
- They think I am stupid, boring …..
- They can see that I am anxious
- I have nothing to say
- Everyone else seems to be normal
Thoughts such as these dominate your thought processes, making it difficult for you to pay attention to what is actually happening, never mind, relax and enjoy the company. It is almost impossible to relax as these upsetting thoughts are causing uncomfortable sensations in your body. You may blush, sweat, shake, stammer, feel like your legs are wobbly. You might feel physically sick and be concerned that you may faint. Your thought processes are now taken up with thoughts such as
- What if they see I am anxious
- I’m blushing, please make it stop
- I am going to pass out
These thoughts and sensations in your body make you want to get out of the conversation and leave wherever you are, possibly to return to the safety of your home.
Once home, you replay the event in your head, going over and over every detail, worrying about what people thought of you. Upset and possibly angry with yourself that you behaved (in whatever way you thought you behaved.) Next time you get an invitation to go out, you might refuse as you do not want to put yourself through that again; it’s safer to stay at home.
Social Anxiety when not in Social Situations?
Many people think that if you have Social Anxiety, that you only feel anxious in the company of others. If you have Social Anxiety, you will know only too well, that this is not the case.
You can be sitting in the comfort of your home. The place that you wanted to return to when outside in company, to feel safe . . . and you can still feel anxious. The privacy of your own home, is a great place to mull over what happened when you were talking to someone or worry about the next time you have to meet up with people. Even though the situation that was causing you to feel uncomfortable is over (or has yet to happen), you can still feel the anxiety associated with it! This anxiety can be avoided.
If you think about it. The event is over. Presumably there is nothing in your home that is distressing. Even though we don’t mean to, we are causing this secondary anxiety ourselves. What this simply means is, the first anxiety was experienced, as it was happening, when you were in the company of others. Once you left, and returned home, the secondary anxiety is what we do to ourselves by replaying the event like an old movie in our head. Pausing the movie at points that really upset us to analyze them further. Rewind and play the scary bits again. The more we do this, the easier it is for our brain to make a really good pathway and match up the social event with high levels of anxiety.
How will it help you?
To clarify a bit further. Think of a time you felt anxious in social situations. Did you think about it later and replay it over again in your head? Did you stop and rewind over and over again and feel stressed, upset or angry with yourself? Think of your brain as a storehouse for the movie you are creating. The more you play the upsetting parts of the movie in your head and feel upset, your brain is getting more and more chances to store this as something that it needs to watch out for in the future, as it seems to be a potential dangerous situation.
Coping with Social Anxiety
Often we develop coping skills for almost all situations in life. Usually they work well in the short term. For example, if you could identify with any of the information above, you might cope by avoiding as much social interaction as you can. In the short term, this works well for you. You are not putting yourself in situations where you might get anxious and experience the symptoms mentioned above – you have adapted and found a coping skill that works. But what about long term?
In the long term you life might become restricted. You may miss opportunities that are good for you or that you may enjoy as you believe that you will be anxious, shy or make a fool of yourself. You might look to others for support or need someone to be with you. Again, this is fine in the short term, but limits what you can do in the short term.
Find Elaine on: Google + Twitter FaceBook