So Apparently I Have Social Anxiety - Now What?
So apparently I have social anxiety. Which was a bit of a surprise to me actually. Because I genuinely like people. Not that those with social anxiety don't, but again, I was pretty inaccurate about my understanding of the condition.
I have sung an original song on the piano in church. (Many, many years ago mind you.) But someone with social anxiety wouldn't do that, right?
I have taught classes. (Same concept).
I have spoken in front of people at book signings. (Not that many of these either.) But, again, that doesn't sound like social anxiety.
Yet my therapist told me this week she thinks I have it.
Ok, yes. I have a therapist. That's not exactly something I want to shout from the rooftops, and yet still here I am shouting it from my Chromebook. Why? Because it's OK to not be OK sometimes.
A fresh perspective is good. Meaningful insight. A nurse practitioner for the mind/emotions so to say.
Anyway, I got off topic. If you are surprised or disappointed that I'm seeing a therapist, well, so be it. That's the part of social anxiety I'm trying to work on anyway. Other's opinions of me.
You see, I always thought I was just an introvert. Quiet. Reflective. Prefer solitude. Crowds drain me. And while on some level I think I am, in fact, an introvert that does not predispose me to be socially anxious.
So after the possible bomb drop of this opinion led me to investigate further. This is what I found.
The Difference Between Being An Introvert and Socially Anxious
You were born with the traits that make up being an introvert. It is biology.
Social anxiety is a learned behavior based on a variety of factors or experiences.
An introvert is not afraid of social settings. They just need time afterward to recharge and reflect.
The socially anxious will avoid social settings to avoid feeling inferior or incompetent or judged.
An introvert is comfortable with who they are.
Social anxiety robs an individual of ever feeling complete, good enough, or worthy.
The Traits Of Social Anxiety
The overwhelming common thread of those with social anxiety is the fear of not measuring up. Being self-conscious about almost every aspect of themselves. They are constantly on the lookout for subtle or perceived judgments.
Socially anxious people will be the first to leave a meeting to avoid small talk. Will back out at the last minute to social gatherings. If they do attend a party or function they do their best to fade into the background so as to avoid being drawn into a conversation where they may reveal a flaw or inadequacy. Every interaction (and subsequent action) is driven by fear.
On a positive note, they are highly intuitive people who pick up on the feelings and emotions of others easily. They like to fix things. Solve problems. Make people happy. But sometimes at the expense of their own.
What Causes Social Anxiety
Well, this is a little trickier to pin down.
It has its roots in feeling inferior, but many things in life can create that misconception in someone's mind.
One is a series of distressing events in childhood. Being teased or bullied for being different. Being excluded from groups.
Having overprotective parents can also contribute. Or parents who were highly critical and difficult to please.
There can be some biological factors as well with neurotransmitters. (Don't ask me to explain that please.)
Where Does That Put Me
Well based on my research, I do believe I have at least some social anxiety. I also believe I'm an introvert. This combination does not always allow me to thrive outside in the world.
I really have no idea what may have caused mine. I am certainly not contributing it to my parents. And everyone has experiences of being made fun of, singled out, or excluded. Maybe I didn't adjust as well as others.
The one thing I do know is that I want to work on it. I'm OK with the introvert part. That's a good thing I suppose since I probably can't 'fix' that anyway. But I am a little tired of watching my friends socialize, date and dive into life, while I'm on the sidelines watching and wondering why I can't do the same.
I am tired of going to events and being afraid to say something stupid, or look unfashionable, or appear uncultured. I'm tired of always being consumed with what others think of me. Or if they even think of me at all.
No, this isn't a pity party. This is a wake-up call. And I share these feelings with you in the belief this is the first step towards a sort of freedom. And also in the HOPE for others reading this who identify can also now understand what has been happening with them and tips to change.
How To Improve Social Anxiety
Get Out There!
I know. That's what you didn't want to hear. Me too! I had plans last night that I, again, canceled at the last minute. The thought was overwhelming. I was sure the 'bad' would outweigh the 'good', so I didn't even try. My bad.
As with anything that you want to improve on, you have to practice. So, we have to get out there. I'm not saying you have to attend a gala by yourself at an elegant venue. But you do need to take positive steps.
That will mean different things to different people, so I'm not making suggestions as to where to go, but make a goal to do something outside of your comfort zone at least once a week.
Journal Your Feelings
Ok, this is another thing people (including me) don't consistently do. But I believe this will really help. When you do go out, come back and write about how it went. What you felt. Your interactions with others.
Point out the wins. Be proud of yourself. Acknowledge the struggles. Take note of patterns. If certain people or situations continue to bring the most stress, avoid them. But not the entire world.
Writing down your experiences will help put them into perspective. We tend to over complicate things in our heads. Taking the time to express them in writing will highlight the areas you need to work on and those you excel.
So, yes, I'm back to the therapist thing. I did not seek help for social anxiety. As I mentioned, I was very surprised when she mentioned it. But I did recognize certain struggles that I needed help with.
It's not a weakness. And if you think it is, you are wrong or misinformed.
Cognitive behavior treatment works very well with overcoming social anxiety. It is a process, but with the right person, the outcome is highly promising. (I guess I will put that statement to the test. Stay tuned.)
Go Easy On Yourself
Everyone wants the approval of others. Some to differing degrees. Most people want to impress. Like the concept of belonging. Want the feeling of community. Even the ones who seem to do it effortlessly have doubts and insecurities. Remember that.
You are valuable. You do have something to say. Your experiences are unique and worth sharing. Your voice matters.
You will probably not fit into EVERY group of people you run in to. Don't even try. Learn when to walk away because you want to, but not out of fear.
Go easy on yourself, but don't let yourself off the hook. Don't deny yourself relationships and experiences. Trust me, I know how EASY it is to say this and how HARD it is to implement. I'm giving myself a pep talk as I type.
Don't Be SAD
In an ironic twist, the acronym for Social Anxiety Disorder is SAD. And that's how those of us with it feel much of the time.
Feeling inferior is not fun. Feeling judged or ridiculed is difficult. Feeling like you are looking in from the outside is lonely. But these are just FEELINGS. And not FACTS.
The facts are social anxiety is real, but it is also treatable. The key is to learn and accept your worth and value.
My HOPEFULS, this has not been the easiest blog to write. It exposes a side of me that I am not necessarily proud of. But I want to improve in this area of my life. And it starts with the first step. Anyone want to have dinner?
One article I read said that many people perceive those with social anxiety as unfriendly or hard to connect with. I would hate for anyone to think that about me. Because I don't believe it to be true.
So here's to learning something new about myself. Climbing a new mountain. Tackling a new situation. Join me on this journey. Let me know your thoughts and your experiences. Share with me your victories.
And as always....
Hope With Abandon