A couple of years ago I wrote an article about the social anxiety which I suffer from. This article can be seen here and is called ‘Living with anxiety, a scream that cannot get out’. After a discussion this morning with a friend, I thought it would be good to look at social anxiety again and share some recent times on how it has affected me. I will also try to offer some tips on how to deal with social anxiety.
Sadly, social anxiety is still with me. My depression is much better but this aspect has been a part of me most of my life and still remains strong. It can be crippling and extremely frustrating.
The most recent time that Social anxiety has affected me was the past Wednesday (08/02/17). Once or twice a year, the homegroup I attend sing at a couple of care homes. On the surface, this sounds fun and such a great thing to do. The problem is, I find it very hard singing in public. I can often mime in Church. This then triggers the anxiety.
I actually want to do it. The group sing some good old classics and the stories I hear after are so rewarding. This time, I was going to do it. I had it planned out. It was going to be hard to do the first session as work has only just finished. That meant I had time to kill before the second session once work had been completed. I decided to treat myself to a Costa coffee. I love their cappuccino. By doing this and doing some sugar-free recipe research at the same time, I could distract my mind. By keeping myself busy, the anxiety could stay away. Sadly it did not work this time. A distraction technique is good and often works but by the time I was ready to go and drove the next care home. The anxiety was back.
During the short 5 minute drive, I had endured an arse of a boy racer who cut me up and started breaking to try and make me crash into them. With abuse in the shape of fingers, the anxiety found a loop-hole and it kicked in. Although I was able to put this incident to the back of my mind, I was still a little shaken. The panic had put me back and I just could not get myself composed enough to go and sing.
I ended up waiting in the car for it to finish and then have dinner with my friends. With the shame and self-loathing, I used the excuse of getting my times wrong for not making the singing. I am sorry to those friends for not being honest at the time. A route of getting over it is to try and ignore it and not allow it to resurface.
With social anxiety, comes shame, frustration, a feeling of failure. This is on top of side effects from the actual attacks. I talk a bit about this in the article linked above.
I want to be able to do these things, to be a part of something that I know is good. Confusion is also a factor. I can stand on stage and act, public speak and even lead a service confidently but with those situations, I am either someone else (a character or persona) or in full control.
With the singing, I let myself down but I did find a route that might have worked. A route or plan of action is something I try to do to help me get through social environments I am not happy in. I am cricket mad and I am very lucky to be a member at Trent Bridge (Nottingham cricket club). I love watching all formats of cricket whether it is a slow paced test or a fast and atmospheric T20 game. That said, I am in a crowd and stadium environment. Trent bridge can seat up to 17,500 people. The T20 games have loud music, fireworks and giant bunsen burners (look at above photo). This is a nightmare for someone with social anxiety and who is also noise sensitive.
To get around this I look at the eventual goal. In this case, I love the game and I am able to focus on that. To beat the queues, I arrive at the ground early, around 30 minutes before the gates open. I am then near the front of the queue. Once in, I can get a seat at the front. For county games (non-international), you are not allocated seats. By being at the front, everyone is behind me and I have open space. I take my own picnic so I can avoid queuing for food. The music is only for short bursts and the fireworks are just at the start. I know I can control my mind to not allow these to affect me at this time. When it comes to leaving, I do one of two things. I will leave on the last ball to be bowled or I will wait for the stadium to empty. I am either ahead or behind the crowd and I control the speed I walk instead of being swept away.
It took a while to work the above out. I can still suffer at times but overall, the worst of the social anxiety is kept at bay. The atmosphere in most cases at cricket is family-friendly, unlike football where you get the yobs.
Some tips on dealing with social anxiety:
Before I go into these, please remember I am on sharing my experience. I am not a medical professional but these have worked for me and might for anyone else battling.
- when suffering from social anxiety, our emotions and feelings are inwards. We are focussing on our fears. Try to focus on the positive and what the goal you are about to achieve is.
- Try to find a path or route that will help keep the social anxiety at bay. This can take a while and not always work but generally, it does.
- Be selfish! sounds harsh but this is something I have had to do. If you can not see a positive goal in doing a particular social activity, then don’t do it. You have to look after yourself first.
- Do not feel ashamed and do not beat yourself up. You are you! Most likely, you are an introvert and an introvert cannot be an extrovert, vice versa. At the end of the day, we are all different.
- Stop worrying about other peoples views of you. If someone has an issue with you or cannot grasp why you are the way you are, then they are not worth worrying about. This is easy to write but over time you can learn to not worry about other people and how they think about you. Someone’s small mindedness is not your problem but theirs.
If you have any tips, then please add them in the comments below. Just be you and love yourself for who you are. You are unique, I am unique, everyone is unique. Nine times out of ten, the situation we worry about, is a situation where no worry is required.