There is no telling how many times I have canceled plans due to my social anxiety spiking at the last minute. Just the thought of being around people would make my heart start pounding in my chest, like an out of control jackhammer. I would cancel plans often upsetting friends and family. Additionally, there have been many times where I have been in public and started crying out of nowhere. Which would cause me to become embarrassed and spike my anxiety into pure panic attacks. Many people I have spoken to, or have read about with social anxiety, have experienced similar situations. Through the years I have learned how to manage my social anxiety with different techniques. Life has taught me to have two more plans in motion just in case the first plan falls through. Keep reading below if you would like to see how I manage my own social anxiety, tips, and advice for those with social anxiety, and how to be there for someone who has social anxiety.
What is Social Anxiety
According to WebMD, social anxiety is also known as social phobia and it is one of the most common mental disorders. It is more than your typical shyness. Social anxiety affects your everyday life and can cause problems like IBS, panic attacks, and can even make you lightheaded. Moreover, it can make your job a living nightmare if you must deal with a lot of people. It can also affect your grades in school by not being able to focus on your work. You constantly worry about being judged, talked about, saying the wrong thing, offending others… the list goes on and on. As one can see, social anxiety is more than being shy and can cause many problems in everyday life.
Many people with social anxiety struggle with things like talking to strangers, making eye contact, going to social events, talking on the phone, public speaking, using public restrooms, etc. They can spend hours trying to convince themselves to go out and have fun with their friends and at the last moment cancel plans. Or they may have to write down what they are going to say over a phone because they panic and freeze up, forgetting what is needed to be said.
People with social anxiety tend to be overthinkers and can make up some of the worst scenarios in their heads before going to an event or talking to someone. Often after mustering up the courage to go to a social event or talk to a stranger, they worry about how things went. This can be for days, weeks, months, or even years after the social situation. It can cause mental exhaustion and stress on those who experience this disorder.
What is social anxiety? It is a deep-rooted fear of social interactions that can cause many life problems.
Ways to Manage Social Anxiety
Now, before I go into ways to manage social anxiety, understand these are some of the things I use to cope with social anxiety, and they may or may not work for you. Managing social anxiety can be challenging, however, it is doable. For starters, getting your mindset into a more positive outlook can help in many ways, especially when it regards social anxiety. Getting into positive thinking habits can be challenging, here are a few ways to get into a positive mindset to help cope with social anxiety:
- Thinking of the things you can receive from by the social interaction
- Having a close friend or family member go with you or be next to you
- Having an anti-anxiety plan for when your anxiety begins to spike
- Making a list of calming music to have on your phone or music player
- Carry a small journal and write or draw when you feel overwhelmed
- After going out, write down three good things that happened and how you felt
Social interactions are not always avoidable, especially when you must go to school or work. Having multiple ways to cope with social anxiety is always a great idea. Above I mentioned an anti-anxiety plan, you might be wondering what an anti-anxiety plan is, here is an example of one of my anti-anxiety plans:
- When I become overwhelmed in public settings I can:
- Find five things I can see, hear, and feel
- Count to 10 and take a deep breath
- Find an isolated spot and recollect my thoughts
- Put in my headphones and listen to music
- Remind myself I am okay
- When I become overwhelmed talking on the phone or online I can:
- Write important things down before calling
- Have a pen and paper near me to write down information I might forget
- Let the other person know I have social anxiety and ask them to bear with me, sometimes letting the other person know can be a tremendous help.
- Finding a quiet place to talk
Having an anti-anxiety plan does not mean you will not have anxiety, it is a plan for when your anxiety pops up. It is there to be a guide to help you overcome and conquer your anxiety at that moment.
Ways You Can Help Someone with Social Anxiety
If you do not have social anxiety it can be difficult to understand some of the actions of someone who has it or knowing how to help them in general. Like knowing when they are about to have a panic attack or how to help during one. Here are a few ways you can help someone who may experience social anxiety:
- Take them by the hand and reassure them they are okay and to relax
- Never leave them alone when in a social setting, if you must, text them often to make sure they are okay
- If they are terrified of making phone calls, sit by them and remind them to breathe
- Ask them what helps
Remember, everyone responds differently. What works for one might not work for someone else. Most importantly, be patient and understanding. People who have social anxiety do not enjoy having it, we are trying.
My Personal Experience with Social Anxiety
I have always been shy; however, my social anxiety did not start until around the age of 12. Before the age of 12, I was very social after I became comfortable around people. For example, I loved going overboard on book reports. One time I dressed as Hermione Granger from Harry Potter to give a report on The Prisoner of Azkaban in 3rd grade. I did not care if the other students thought I was a loon, I loved sharing what I read.
Honestly, I am not sure why I developed social anxiety. I will say, I had experienced several types of abuse from the age of 6, but having social anxiety was never a problem until I reached 6th -7th grade. I became very reserved and I did not talk to many people after moving to yet another school. By the time I was in 6th grade I had attended 5 different schools from having to move around a lot. I became afraid of finding friends and having to move again. I remember failing an English class in 7th grade because I refused to give the required speeches or do the projects that involved presentations. I was not trying to be defiant, I was having panic attacks and freaking out on the inside. The first time I gave a presentation in the English class I tripped on a student’s shoe and fell in front of the whole class. Mortified, I did not give another presentation that entire year.
If you have read my other blog posts then you know it was also around this time when I started cutting and sent to live in facilities for 5 years. When I was released from the facility my social anxiety skyrocketed. Additionally, I gained a lot of weight from all the medications I was on and it added to the anxiety I already had. I locked myself away from everyone and was very awkward in social situations. Many people admitted they thought I was stuck up or mean, which is simply untrue. I was just terrified of people. I thought everyone was judging me, talking about me, or out to hurt me. Looking back, I know people were not talking about me and that I let my mind become overly paranoid. It took a couple of years to gain my confidence back. However, I ended up snapping, lost most of my memory and had to go back to one of the facilities I grew up in. This completely undid all the progress I made on my social anxiety. However, it took less time to reclaim my confidence after enrolling in college. After I had my son my social anxiety lessened a lot. Children do as they see, and I did not want him to see me afraid of the world. So, I started working on my mental state of mind.
My anxiety still pops up every now and then, but I have learned how to manage it a lot better. I still have trouble going into stores alone and making phone calls, but it is getting better. Another thing I do is compliment strangers when I am having a confident day. I found out by complimenting strangers it makes me feel good and I become a little more self-assured. Additionally, having a blog is helping me in many unexpecting ways. By sharing my experiences and aiming to help those through similar situations I am finding my voice I thought I lost long ago.
Social anxiety is the fear of being in public situations. Whether it is making a phone call, going to a party, or meeting a stranger. Social anxiety is more than being shy, people can usually overcome being shy. When you have social anxiety it can be a lot more challenging and cause many health problems like stomach problems, mental exhaustion, and panic attacks. Many people with this disorder have trouble making eye contact, going to public events, making phone calls, etc. Having ways to manage anxiety can be very beneficial for your mental mindset. Additionally, those who do not have social anxiety can help in several different ways like being patient and understanding.
Having social anxiety is never fun. If you have more tips and advice on how to manage, overcome and help others with social anxiety comment below. Just remember to be courteous of others.
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Social Anxiety Disorder: When It Happens & What It Feels Like. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/anxiety-panic/guide/mental-health-social-anxiety-disorder#1