If you know twenty people you know someone who suffers from social anxiety. That’s when a person has anxiety or fear about being judged by others or rejected by others when in some sort of group activity. People with social anxiety often feel like other people are looking at them and thinking negative thoughts about them. Sometimes social anxiety can be so severe it can lead to agoraphobia, a fear of going out of the house at all. Most cases of social anxiety involve avoiding social situations if possible or showing up late and leaving early.
It’s a rare person who talks about having social anxiety because they already feel “weird” and out of place. They don’t want to draw any more attention to the fact that they’re counting the seconds until they can leave and escape the discomfort of the situation or that they have a heart beating closer to the way a rabbit’s heart beats than a human’s or feel nauseous or have sweaty palms or all of those symptoms. Social anxiety can be so severe a person can actually get sick before having to go somewhere and often this results in the person not going after all.
Most people who suffer from social anxiety experience a milder form of the problem than what I describe above. They are more likely to avoid invitations to a social event and do feel like they are being judged by others so they experience relief when they can finally go home.
People with social anxiety feel tremendous relief when the “event” is over but they most often don’t look like they’re even uncomfortable and can even look like they’re having a great time, inducing even more discomfort.
And then there are those who drink more than they should in order to overcome their anxious feelings. Doing this long term can result in alcoholism and that’s called “self-medicating.” It can also result in people thinking the anxious person is the life of the party but a bit too loud after drink number two and that he/she is obnoxious and drunk and someone should take them home after drink number four, not a good presentation if the person happens to be in a room with people he or she likes.
If any of this sounds familiar and you think you might have social anxiety there are some things you can do to help yourself. The first thing to understand is that, when a door opens, people look at the place the door opened because, well people look when something in a room changes, they’re not looking at you. Try it. Have someone you like go out and come back in and notice how many people look at the door when it opens. This is a likeable person so you’ll know they’re not being looked at because they’re weird. Remember that everyone’s life is a personal drama of sorts and no one is interested in being in your play even as a judgmental villain. Also notice your breathing. You need oxygen or you’re going to feel worse simply because you’re breathing from the upper third of your lungs, fast, shallow, breathes. Slow your breathing down and notice it when you inhale slowly and deeply and exhale the same way. You’ll notice an immediate lessening of the tension you’re holding. It also takes your mind off of thinking about what other people are thinking about you.
You can limit the amount of time you stay at an event. Start out with the smallest amount of time you feel like you have to stay until you’re comfortable with that amount of time and then when you go out increase the time by five minutes until you feel comfortable with the increased time and so on until you’re comfortable can enjoy the company of other people without fearing that they are judging you or thinking negatively about you.
It’s also a good idea to see your doctor and explain the situation. Your doctor may want to evaluate you to make sure there’s nothing physically going on with you or send you to a specialist for medication evaluation if that’s agreeable to you.
If your health is good and it appears that you have social anxiety it’s a good idea to see a counselor to work on reducing or eliminating your symptoms. You can learn about yourself and learn to relax and enjoy rather than experience the dread and fear that comes with social anxiety.
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