Can You Understand Social Anxiety?
This example which follows is to help someone understand social anxiety. I hope it paints a picture for you of social anxiety and what it feels like in the rawest sense.
Imagine you are visiting a rich uncle who lives in New York City. The two of you go downtown for some sight-seeing. Your first request is to stop by Times Square.
You and your uncle step out of the cab and begin walking across the street to have a closer look. As the two of you are walking towards the famous flashing lights, one by one your clothes just fly off. It is like an invisible person is ripping your clothes off. First he takes off your shoes and socks. Then your New York Yankees long-sleeve t-shirt. And lastly, your jeans and your undergarments peel right off.
“What the hell is happening!?” you shout trying to figure out if this is a dream or not. Your uncle along with everybody else are now staring at you in disbelief. Some people look appalled, while others are pointing and laughing, and everything in between.
Naked in Times Square or Social Anxiety
Have you ever had the dream of being in a crowd and you are suddenly naked? Even if your answer is no, I think it is possible for you to imagine the feelings of someone with and ultimately understand social anxiety. Just like a person with this mental illness, the fear would drain your body from head to toe if you were standing on the street corner naked.
What would be the descriptors of your emotions standing in Times Square naked? Embarrassment, paranoia, judged, closed in, difficult to breath, overthinking, “what ifs”, panic attack, body shakes, tension, and possibly crying. These emotions spell out what it is like to have social anxiety and walk into a work party, give a speech, or accept an award in front of a large crow.
Is my example REALLY extreme?
I know the image of being naked in a crowd in order to understand social anxiety is extreme, but I wanted to get your attention. What about the company’s receptionist who has social anxiety so bad that she eats lunch in her car after she has spent all morning surrounded by visitors at her desk? Or that kid who would rather fail gym class than face his social anxiety? Wherever they go whether it is work, school, a field trip, the mall, a party, church, or the grocery store, it is about as torturous as being naked in Times Square.
To help friends and family understand social anxiety, I explain my aversion to it through my experience at the grocery store. When living under the control of social anxiety, I often get anxious going to the grocery store. I didn’t want anybody to see me. Before I was sick, I was just the opposite – always looking for eyes to catch and my million dollar smile to flash at a stranger or a person with whom to strike up a conversation. Nowadays, it is much easier to look people in the eye and smile because I know that everything is going to be alright.
How do you understand social anxiety?
In this new era of mental health enlightenment, we are trying to show that people with social anxiety are real people. They are not fabricating excuses, seeking attention, or trying to win an Oscar. No! We want you, our friends and family, to listen, be ready to change plans, and try to understand even if if it is difficult to do so.
Listen to us. We know what we are talking about. We have lived in this body riddled by social anxiety for years. When your son says he does not feel like going to the sports’ store to pick out his gear for field hockey, do you instantly think he has a valid reason or is he lying because he just wants to stay home and play video games? Why don’t you talk to him and see what is going on? Communication is key when understanding social anxiety.
My husband is pretty intuitive concerning my social anxiety. Although I might not say a word, he can sense the tension in the air, the look of not-quite-terror on my face, or maybe it is how I am fidgeting. He knows me well enough to ascertain from my non-verbal ques that I am not in a comfortable or secure place right now. Other times I just have to blurt it out. That gets his attention, too.
Be ready to change plans. Many times with social anxiety, there is often a dual diagnosis such as social anxiety and OCD. I have a multiple diagnosis with bipolar 1 mixed and rapid, ADHD, OCD, GAD, social anxiety, and psychotic features. Needless to say, it is sometimes difficult to make a decision and stick with it. From the racing thoughts of bipolar mania, the inability to focus from ADHD, and the blanket of fear of generalized anxiety disorder, I might skip over the social anxiety warnings sounding off instead of siphoning out the the ques that point to the reason for this change.
For instance, I have plans this evening to meet a new friend for ice cream at Comfy Cow. We first met at Jake and Sam’s veterinarian clinic since she is one of the receptionists there. Mania has kicked in this morning and I am already head over hills excited to meet up for ice cream with Sandy. I have not had “girl time” in over a month. As the day progresses, the clouds of depression roll in and roll out the mania. That is when I feel “too tired to go” – my first excuse. Or “I have too much work to do” – my second excuse. Before the afternoon is over, mania takes over I will have changed my mind yet again. Watching the clock count down, butterflies the size of penguins begin running around chaotically in my stomach.
At 6:03 pm, I feel the walls closing in on me. My heart is beating faster, my face is flushed. In 23 minutes when I will leave, my social anxiety will either take control, paralyzing me or I will push through and focus on the positives of the situation
Before I get in a tizzy over ice cream, I put my foot down and decide I want to spend time with Sandy getting to know her and her family. I also like to think about ordering a delicious fudge brownie ala mode at the Comfy Cow. Chocolate can perk me up in half a second.
You may not be able to understand. At the very least, give it the ole college try! I believe my husband had fought with being able to understand social anxiety on Sunday morning. He used to get frustrated now he laughs at my change of mind. I was planning on going to a women’s Bible class at church or go to the church service since we missed it the night before.
That Sunday morning, I began an exercise challenge. My MO is usually letting my illness get the best of me and I make up some flimsy excuse why I didn’t work out. So, instead of sleeping on the couch I sweated my butt off.
It was established in my schedule to get a shower at 7:00 am. Now getting a shower is very laborious for me. It takes so much energy to take care of my personal hygiene and I do not want to forfeit my time away from writing that it gets overwhelming trying to do everything.
Sunday morning ended up being pretty momentous for me! I jumped over one major hurdle when I refused to sleep and instead I exercised. Then, to immediately shower after my sweat session? Boy, was that another huge step for me. Next, I dressed up. I wore slacks instead of baggy-falling-half-way-down-my-hips jeans. It felt so good to destroy another hurdle.
When it was time to leave to go to church, I was celebrating on the inside these nods toward recovery. These great strides I made was a bit overwhelming. I needed to unpack the thought processes before I lost my momentum. Instead of going to church, I stopped by Star Bucks instead to clear my mind and pray.
Going to Star Bucks allowed me to reflect on the morning’s victory. Plus I was feeling overwhelmed about going to church by myself for the first time in nearly 13 years. I desperately needed an emotional break from everything happening in such a short period of time and the frustration I had at home.
Does this make sense? Do you understand? If you don’t understand your friend, do NOT laugh at the situation or go off and rail on him/her because they changed their plans. Ask questions to figure out what made your friend want to do something different than already planned.
Friendships, marriages, work relationships, and family are hard to maintain as it is without a mental illness thrown into the mix. Do you want to understand social anxiety? You as a friend can help someone get through a social anxiety episode by listening and sometimes just keeping your mouth shut. Hang with them while they are suffering through it. If you pray, then quietly pray for them.
Do you want to be a Super Hero?
If you stick by your friend through a rough experience with a social anxiety episode or even a panic attack, you will be a super hero to them. Your calming presence might have a peaceful effect on him/her that nobody else has. To reach a point of calm and peace is like nirvana for some people with this mental illness. As you may guess, it is also extremely difficult to find some one who cares enough to be a friend.
Call to Action
You do not have to be the greatest living expert on social anxiety – just a super hero. LOL! Just being a good listener has a farther reach then you spouting off facts. At the same time, it won’t hurt to learn something so you CAN better understand social anxiety . I firmly believe knowledge makes oneself more understanding in general.
Your call to action this week is to make it a point to seek to understand someone today. Come back and share in the comments section below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Social anxiety is the fear of social situations that involve interaction with other people. You could say social anxiety is the fear and anxiety of being negatively judged and evaluated by other people. It is a pervasive disorder and causes anxiety and fear in most all areas of a person’s life.
Social anxiety disorder (also called social phobia) is a mental health condition. It is an intense, persistent fear of being watched and judged by others. This fear can affect work, school, and your other day-to-day activities. It can even make it hard to make and keep friends.
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Life Conquering Blog – A Mental Health Outreach focuses on encouraging and educating the community and beyond about mental health. Through Life Conquering’s various blogs, articles in other publications, and public speaking events, I share personally out of my own experiences as someone who is diagnosed with a mental illness. To sum it all up, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of mental illness, Jesus walks beside me.
Mental Health Outreach Speaker
I speak about the topic I am most passionate about. My heart quickens whenever I hear, speak, or write about mental health outreach. One reason is I have a mental illness. Another reason, I know just how difficult it is to live with scrambled eggs for a brain.
Life Conquering – A Mental Health Outreach speaks at schools, community events, churches, hospitals, police departments, businesses, conferences, law offices, Bible studies, retreats, military bases, your office and pretty much anywhere else I am needed and can help.
Topics I might discuss at these sessions are:
- my personal story as someone with bipolar 1 with psychotic features, mixed episodes/ultra-rapid cycling, ADHD, OCD, GAD, and social anxiety (I will take questions from the audience);
- stigma – what it is and where we see it (this is a great time to do small group discussions);
- your part – how can you decrease stigma in your world?
- proper accommodations in the workplace/academic setting, (brainstorm in small groups various ideas to help people with a mental illness feel comfortable at work/school);
- are schools preparing MI students for what awaits for them at the job site? Why/why not?
- famous people with mental illnesses (who do you know? How has that celebrity impacted or hindered the fight against stigma? Speak honestly about celebrity suicide);
- how to talk with your boss, teacher, mentor, spouse, friend and children about your mental illness (brainstorm ideas);
- the pros and cons of abusing the accommodations that are/should be afforded to you at work or school. (discussion in small groups); and
- share with them my brush with suicide as a middle school student and as an adult. (open up for discussion).
I have been living in this bipolar 1 body for over 20 years. Therefore, I have first-hand experience of the roller coaster which includes manic and depressed episodes daily if not hourly, plus some psychoses so bad that I wanted to kill myself, and crippling social anxiety where I have not been able to go to leave my house.
Having a front-row seat all these years to mental illness, I make an excellent choice to come to speak at your meeting about mental health advocacy and stigma. I can listen to the audience’s concerns, share general information, talk about how to get help and coping mechanisms.
Hire me to be your Mental Health Speaker
I would love to come to your place of business or meet you at Starbucks and discuss my passion to change the world’s view, one person at a time, on this overly misunderstood topic. Just email me at email@example.com. Together with knowledge and a caring heart, we will be able to tear down the walls of stigma!
Life Conquering is an award-winning blog.
“Top 100 Bipolar Blogs”
“2018 and 2019 Best Bipolar Disorder Blogs”
Check us out on the web and become a Follower while you are there.
Psych Central https://blogs.psychcentral.com/discoveries/#archives
ADDitude Blog https://www.additudemag.com/category/blog/
Blasting News http://us.blastingnews.com/editorial-staff/amypromine/
Print Magazine Guest Writer
Today’s Christian Living
Print magazine and website
- “Strength in Weakness” (bipolar) published in the October/November 2015 Vol. 53 No. 6 issue on page 40
- “Praying Through Fear” (anxiety) published in the November 2017 Vol. 52 No. 6 issue on page 50
Public Speaking Events
Pinterest and Popcorn
A Women’s Ministry Activity at my church to share ideas and to fellowship.
- Introduced Life Conquering
- Shared information to educate on mental health
- Spoke individually with the women and ministered to them
Fruit of the Spirit Bible Study
- Introduced Life Conquering
- Shared information to educate on mental health
- Spoke individually with the women and ministered to them
- Shared my life with bipolar 1
Email me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org