Social anxiety disorder can also be called social phobia.
I always knew I was shy around strangers, and friends. I find social situations incredibly draining at times, and get my energy from being alone, or with one or two people I’m very close to. It’s very hit and miss trying to figure out when I’ll especially anxious and have a bad day. Sometimes I wake up and feel confident and my day is smooth sailing, but more often than not if one thing goes wrong in the morning, I get worked up and set myself up for feeling anxious and on edge for the rest of the day.
The main cause of anxiety for me is just doing what are considered ‘normal’ things on a daily basis. This can be anything from popping to the shops, going to the gym, or even just walking outside to go to the car and back. Or taking the bins out. It’s almost like I’m holding my breath out there, waiting for the bad thing to happen, and when I get back indoors it’s a huge sigh of relief. It sounds ridiculous, because I know there’s no real rationality behind it. But that just makes it more frustrating, and makes me more angry with myself.
It only occurred to me about a year ago that my, now severe, anxiety isn’t just me being ‘stupid’, but may actually be a legitimate problem.
Before that, I knew something about my behaviour wasn’t normal, but I wouldn’t acknowledge it as I didn’t understand it. I would just avoid situations or people. I had never even spoken about my fear of social situations until last year, to my partner. Even then, I just thought I was being an idiot, but needed someone to cry to at the confusion of it all. It’s not even like I hate the outdoors – I love being outdoors, around nature and staying active. Which makes it more upsetting.
Around March 2015 time, I had taken some much needed time off work. This was all great. Except for the part where I couldn’t leave the house.
I had holiday, yet was stuck at home. I would look outside at everyone walking past and feel sick to the stomach at the thought of walking through them all. I’m not usually so bad that I won’t leave the house. Usually, I could go somewhere as long as there would be someone or a ‘safe place’ at the other end (i.e. meeting a friend/going to work). But for one week, I only left to do food shops after dark, and spent the days inside writing or reading, as everyone else I knew was working or busy.
A few months ago I started my current job. I was walking to be picked up. I knew roughly where I was going, but as it was a new town I wasn’t exactly relaxed. I felt a little nervous, but I had Simon on the phone, which always relaxes me. However, plans changed last minute and I had to change my route and go along a main road.
I almost had a panic attack. I didn’t feel prepared for it. If there’s one thing I HATE about going outside, its main roads. I hate the fact that you’re being watched by so many people. My heart was thumping, my eyes were watering and my palms started sweating. All at the thought of walking along a busy road for 2 minutes.
I know what you’re thinking… ‘If she’s suffers so much, why is it that she manages to make it to work, or to see friends?’
Heck, I even worked as a hostess in a club for 2 years. That is one of the most social jobs going. So yeah, I couldn’t quite understand the thought process behind being able to work in a socially demanding job, but not being able to go and do a food shop, or arrange to meet a group of friends outside of work. It was incredibly frustrating. And even more frustrating when ‘friends’ would lose their patience with me and just ‘give up’ on me, without fully understanding why.
For some reason, it took me 6+ years to think to myself:
‘Hmm. Maybe this level of anxiety isn’t normal. Maybe I shouldn’t be beating myself up so much for not understanding it. Maybe, there’s a valid reason I’ve been feeling these things, and perhaps I should take steps to try to understand it myself, rather than hating myself for feelings that are beyond my control.’
After typing into Google:
“I hate going out in public alone…what’s wrong with me?”
Social Anxiety Disorder appeared.
After researching a little about SAD, here’s what I’ve found…
General symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder:
Dreading activities such as:
- Meeting strangers
- Talking in groups of starting conversations
- Speaking on the telephone
- Talking to authority figures
- Eating or drinking with company
SAD sufferers may…
- Have low self-esteem, and feel insecure about their relationships
- Fear being criticised
- Avoid eye to eye contact,
- Misuse drugs or alcohol, to try to reduce their anxiety.
I could go through each one (apart from the latter) and go on and on about examples in my life where these are every day experiences for me. But I won’t, don’t’ worry.
I wanted to find out why it was that I managed to get to work (even though I would be anxious on the journey), but not meet a group of friends or go food shopping on my days off.
Of course, social anxiety disorder will be different for everyone. For some, it means struggling to go out to places like parks, towns or to do particular things, like take the bus somewhere. For others, they can travel to and from familiar places, such as between work and home. Others cannot even leave the house at all. This verges on Agoraphobia.
For me, I can travel to and from work. I don’t particularly feel relaxed, but I’m not as anxious as I would be if I, for example, were to go food shopping or to the gym. For me, going to the gym requires a lot of mental preperation, and unless someone is free to go with me, I usually end up working out at home.
I could also, for whatever reason, work in a busy night club environment. I think in this situation, I felt like everyone was either too drunk, or it was too dark for many people to pay much attention to me or what I was doing.
Any social interactions I’ve had since college have usually resulted in me being shy and completely not myself. I figured this was due to my fear of being judged, laughed at, or considered an idiot. I guess that in terms of working, if I’m working and customers don’t like me, they can go away and bitch about me. But if any co-workers or classmates or ‘friends’ had any issues with me, I would be surrounded with it pretty much constantly. It was a constant fear of not being liked, or looking like an idiot because I didn’t know how to, or just felt like I couldn’t, handle a certain task.
The other thing I hate about feeling these things is that I know it’s not rational. And I get really angry with myself. Because I know nobody gives a fuck about how I’m walking or how I’ve done my hair, or what shoes I’m wearing or how I talk or look at them. Nobody cares.
I feel so self-centred sometimes, only with so much negative energy. It’s soul destroying not understanding your feelings and being made to feel (by others or yourself) that your way of thinking or your behaviour is ridiculous or stupid.
I’d like to make some suggestions if you think you may have social anxiety disorder. Not that I’m an expert – I still have bad days, just like anyone else. But since learning about SAD and working on myself and anxiety I do feel better in myself.
- Be patient with yourself – read about SAD and understand that you feeling these things doesn’t make you an idiot or incapable of anything. Understanding that it isn’t your ‘fault’ will take off so much pressure for you to stop trying to be someone you’re not.
- Surround yourself with loyal friends, and confide in people you can trust – including teachers, bosses, and family. I was having a bad day at work recently and let my line manager know how I was feeling. She was really understanding and told me that if I needed to take five minutes if things got too loud or busy, then I could. It really helped. You’re far more likely to be relaxed if you know that the people surrounding you understand your behaviour. It shouldn’t be taboo or ‘brushed off’ !
- Take a mental health day – It’s okay not to have your shit together all the time. Some days, everything gets too much. You aren’t any less capable because you need to take a day to re-charge and step back.
- Think about the future – plan. It will sooth your nerves to plan your day, as you will know what to expect. However, this does cause problems when plans backfire. But in these situations, I stick to my point of thinking about the future. Try to take some deep breaths and think rationally (unlike me with my near enough panic attack about the main road.) Think to yourself ‘what really is the worst that is going to happen here? Do these people really care about x, y or z? This time tomorrow, I will no doubt be looking back and wondering why I was so anxious.’
- Challenge yourself – As much as it is sometimes necessary to take time out and be patient with yourself, it is also important to challenge yourself. In order to change, you have to step out of your comfort zone from time to time. Trust me, I know this is hard. But take the first step. It could be anything, from teaching yourself to build confidence on the phone, to being able to eat in front of others. For me, my next goal is to build up my confidence in regards to going to the gym/running. For the last few months I have been working out at home, and have only been for a run once or twice either very early in the morning or late at night. And the thought of going to the gym alone terrifies me! But I want to be able to do it, so I’ll make it happen, no matter how long it takes.
Don’t try to avoid your feelings, make an effort to understand them. Be forgiving of yourself, and challenge yourself.
Keep a positive and supportive tribe around you at all times.
This can be one person, or 10 people. But keep it positive. In the past couple of years I like to think that my ability to judge characters has greatly improved. I now have the most amazing friends, who I openly talk about my social anxiety to. They have helped me so much.
It’s also important to understand that whilst it’s great to have a supportive network of people, that ultimately you are responsible for looking after yourself and making sure that you feel comfortable and happy. Self love is key.
Don’t rely too much on other people’s words to make yourself feel better. As much as that is what friends and family are for, you have to know that when things get hard you won’t get too angry and frustrated with yourself for too long. Instead, work on being kind, understanding and good to yourself and doing what you need to in order to recover from an episode of anxiety, because everything will be okay.
Speak soon, much love…
Make sure you take a look at other SLA posts on anxiety: