MENTAL HEALTH: SOCIAL ANXIETY

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Social Anxiety

A few tips and tricks I have learnt along the way.

'Family and friends' gatherings have never been my favourite thing...

In fact, I would have gone as far as to say that I hate them. If you had asked me why a few years ago I could have easily given you a number of intellectual reasonings as to why this was the case. This would of then been followed quickly and confidently by reasons why I wouldn't be attending.

After years of missing family reunions and Christmas parties I finally figured out the truth. They scared me. No, let me rephrase that, they terrified me. They always had.

Growing up, while others were casually catching up over some tasty nibbles my head and heart would be racing. My skin would feel uncomfortable like it didn't belong to me and I'd struggle to find the strength to focus my gaze across the room, silently hoping the tiny chair in the corner I’d squeezed myself into would swallow me up. From before I even entered the room I’d be frantically rehearsing conversations in my head and roleplaying the choice of greetings. Handshake, hug, hug and kiss, kiss on one cheek, kiss on two cheeks, kiss of three cheeks…over and over. The subconscious yearning to be accepted would be almost paralysing and my perception of the situation so distorted my body would literally go into fight or flight mode. How crazy is that? A conversation with another human being could be so dramatic that it would cause my body to deliver the same fight or flight reaction our ancestors used to outrun literal death. 

I’ve always suffered from anxiety and periodically throughout my life it has become incredibly challenging, so much so that I began to treat myself with a number of negative vices. With these vices now removed however, I have spent the last few years learning how to face my emotions with a sober mind. By no means is this to say I no longer get anxious. That would be a complete lie. What it does mean though, is that I have learnt the ability to look through the haze and faulty perception and see things a little more truthfully.

Turns out I don’t 'hate' family events or big social situations, I just simply don’t know how to deal with them very well. The truth is I would love nothing more than to sit and get lost in conversation with my relatives or friends. It just doesn't come naturally to me. I focus far too much on myself and the way other people see me which leads me to feeling uncomfortable and on edge. I overanalyse every aspect of the social interaction causing me to panic before its even started and then negatively overthink once it's come to an end.

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Does any of that sound familiar? For someone who doesn't suffer from anxiety you may be reading this a little bewildered. That totally makes sense. I would feel the same. For someone who does suffer from anxiety though, I'm hoping I got you to nod your head a few times. That's important. If you get nothing else from this post whatsoever please remember that you are not alone. The way you feel is not uncommon and it does and can get better.

As I said, I still get anxious. I am also not a therapist or a person with any professional knowledge in this department at all. I am however someone who experiences it and here is one tool I use when entering these situations that really helps.

Here goes...

Commonly, as I enter a room I will get a thought along the lines of 'What if this person hates me me?'. This will generally be followed by 'Oh man I want to leave'.

Up until a few years ago I had no idea that I didn't need to listen to this thought. I believed I had no choice but to follow this negative trail of thought all the way down to a point where it totally overwhelmed me. If that sounds like what happens to you then I have good news. Turns out a thought it just a thought and you have the power to accept or reject it. This realisation literally changed my life. These days, when I get a thought like mentioned above I generally laugh and then ask myself the following questions. (Or get Ebony to ask them because I'm too caught up in my own head haha)

1) Is there much evidence in this thought? Or in other words, do most social events and conversations end with the person hating you? 

Well no, generally when I get chatting to someone it's actually quite okay and very rarely do I leave an interaction with someone hating me. That means there is no evidence to prove this thought is correct or justified and therefore it does not make sense to worry about it. Reject.

2) Before you rush out and leave, how are you going to feel about this situation in a few months? Or in other words, is this event really as important as you are making it out to be?

Well no, I'm going to have a bit to eat, have a little surface conversation and probably be home in a few hours. That shows me that maybe the intensity of the thought is wrong and that this is actually a much less stressful and worrying situation than I first thought. Reject.

3) Is there another way to look at this? Or in other words, are you maybe looking at this situation from a self centered, negative stand point?

Turns out i am. I have been so focussed on how people are going to think of me I didn't even stop to realise I am not everyone's focus. In fact, when I look at it differently i'm sure everyone else at a family gathering is slightly uncomfortable. It's quite funny when you think about it, a bunch of people shoved in a room that only see each other once a year. It's also quite a beautiful thought. We are all doing it for the sake of unity.

So when I think about it that way maybe I can try to smile and work on conversation to put other people at ease. We are all in this together after all. It really is crazy how much better I feel when I take the emphasis away from myself and see things in a different light.

These are simple questions when you think about it. But they are the tools that enable me to completely change the perception of a situation for the better. Now this is in no way a complete blog post and I'm sure I'm going to continue to ramble about this topic for a while but I do hope those little little questions might come in useful to you one day.

I'll finish on this. When heading into a social situation I can put so much focus on myself that there is no room for anyone else. It's a horrible place to be. At this point I like to remember the word Sonder.

Sonder

NOUN / the realisation that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complete as your own.

Just remember next time you walk into that room that we are all human, we all have our worries and concerns and are all just doing our best to get by. Truth is, that person you think is judging you is probably far too busy in his own head to even notice you've entered or left the room. Lets focus less on ourselves and more on what we can give to a situation. You'll be surprised how much better it feels.

David

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