As with depression, anxiety can affect people in different ways. There are also different types of anxiety which include social anxiety, panic anxiety and specific phobias and generalised anxiety. I can of course only talk about the anxiety that I suffer and how it affects me. As with all my articles relating to depression and anxiety, I am only referring to how it affects myself. It can affect other people a lot more differently.
I have had social anxiety for most of my life. It, however, became more apparent and severe since the battle with depression. It had only been since talking to a psychiatric nurse that I fully realised what I was suffering from had been social anxiety. I thought I was just weird.
In a simple sentence, the best way to describe the anxiety is ‘a scream that cannot get out’.
Suffering from anxiety of any kind is exhausting both physically and mentally. The stereotypical visual sign of anxiety is panic. Often people are seen clenching their chests and struggling to breathe. The clenching of the chest is of course caused by the chest tightening. If you have ever watch Indiana Jones and seen the walls closing in, this is exactly what it is like. Your rib cage becomes that wall and it often feels like your lungs and heart are being pushed together.
At times, when the bout of Anxiety is not as strong or I am able to control the chest pains, you might be able to tell by the pacing and shaking of hands/ arms.
To restrain any shaking of the hands, I resort to counting fingers rolling my thumb across each one. I do this not only to hide the anxiety but to also try and distract my thoughts.
The tightening chest can also lead to palpitations, some of which are just flutters and others quite painful spasms of the heart.
The more you suffer, the more you can learn to control certain signs and of course, as mentioned anxiety affects people in different ways and nearly everyone will show a symptom that is almost unique to them.
The, none visual signs are dizziness. This is quite obvious though, if you are not taking in enough oxygen then dizziness is not far away and this is why some people with serious anxiety can pass out. Thankfully I have not got that bad myself.
While you are going through the spells of anxiety, and not wanting to sound too patronising, you phase out from the real world. Your body is going through a major trauma which sadly to some appears to be a dramatisation.
It’s not all about breathing funny. Your chest hurts, your head hurts and body aches. Very often a bad headache can follow along with fatigue and this is on top of feeling silly and self-conscious.
Social Anxiety is as it sounds. It is anxiety surrounding social environments set around various scenarios. Below are a few examples:
Crowds – This can be stadium crowds or even a shopping center crowd. To give a more recent example, I attended Spring Harvest 2015 at Skegness. The main worship and bible study area was in the Big top (a circus style tent). I could control anxiety by sitting on the end of a row knowing there is a quick exit if required. But stick me in the middle of a row, surrounded by hundreds of people which felt more like a hundred thousand then the anxiety can creep in. This is not just fueled by the number of people but the noise and humidity contribute. There is also the anxiety of walking in and out of the giant tent.
Queues – Being in a queue can be a trigger. It’s not because I am impatient, I am happy to wait my turn but the standing in close contact with people can sadly, through no explanation trigger of the anxiety. Small talk can also be an issue. I dred being behind someone who wants to talk about the darn weather.
Meeting new people – Once I have broken down the barriers, I am like a loyal dog with friends but put me in a room of strangers then the anxiety will say hello. As an example as a member of CreateLincs (a home church or fresh expression style group) we often visit a support group based in Bardney, Lincolnshire. The first couple of times were the hardest and I have found myself focusing on the garden while people mingle. This is a safety barrier, I love gardening so this focus can keep my mind calm and not go into overdrive. The second time, I took myself off to a room for a moment of reflection and prayer. This was not to be rude but again to distract the anxiety and keep focused.
Noise- My hearing is over developed and a possible reason but if someone is too loud or the music in a shop is the wrong type of music or also too loud, this can be a trigger. It is a sensory overload. I am known to walk straight out of a shop if the wrong type of music is on.
Social Gatherings – I attend a weekly home group (bible study). There are around 10 of us, many of whom who have become dear friends and will always be close to my heart but it took me 3 attempts to attend. It’s the not knowing what to expect. There is also the worry of ‘what if I say the wrong thing? when is it my turn to speak? what if they do not like me?’.
Eating out on my own – Sounds daft but I cannot have a meal on my own. I can only put this down to being in a room of strangers. If I am dining out with someone else, then my focus is solely on them.
Despite suffering from Social Anxiety, I try to be in control and not allow it to beat me. This is why I am a Street source volunteer in Sleaford.
Everything about Street source is foreign to me. Music from clubs, people who I would not normally relate too, drunks on the street, the odd person taking drugs. I guess you could say, a social scene that is not fitting to myself. This is of course not through snobbery but simply down to the fact that I do not enjoy night clubs and getting drunk.
So how do I get over the anxiety for this scenario? At first, I very nearly cancelled doing Street source. There is no way I could do this but I knew I needed to push myself so I managed to do it. Thankfully the first couple of times I was on with close friends who showed me the ropes. I was then able to understand the full benefit of what I was actually doing.
Granted there will be the public I cannot relate too but by doing a good deed I was able to overcome the anxiety. I have always been a charitable person whether through giving of money or simply being there to help those in need. I could break down the barrier of someone being drunk, being loud and assist them as required. I also learnt that this task is very rewarding and enjoyable. It also helps not being judgmental. We are all different and for each one of us, our paths through life are different.
I have always been an outdoor person which sounds like a complete contradiction. How can I be an outdoor person yet suffer from social anxiety? I am the generation of the Sega mega drive so I am sure you can understand that playing outside was more appealing than playing some game where a monkey jumped over barrels or a hedgehog collected gold rings. I also chose the outdoor things I do carefully. I focus on the what the end goal is to help me achieve this task.
It is exhausting and no doubt the stress has taken effect on my health, both mentally and physically. It is also extremely frustrating as even now I do not fully understand why I suffer from the anxiety and on occasions what triggers it but it is there and something that has to be dealt with.
There is more that I can go on but already this article is 1426 words long and I do not want to bore you but I do hope you find this a little interesting and an insight into what living with social anxiety is like.