Oh, the daily struggles of social anxiety. It follows you everywhere like a shadow, except it’s not silent, it whispers negative thoughts into your ears. Thoughts only you can hear. Here’s how I evolved – and am still evolving with social anxiety.
Let’s talk about social anxiety – don’t worry this isn’t face-to-face, it’s online where you feel safe and sheltered behind your screen. When I was a teen, I was told that I’m like a different person on social media. I wasn’t trying to act cooler or anything, I was simply more comfortable online. Years later, I’m evolving as a person – much like everyone else – and sometimes I still ignore phone calls (sorry, I just like my ringtone?), but I’m also trying to not let anxiety get the better of me.
What does social anxiety feel like?
Talking about social anxiety sometimes would give me social anxiety (a loop, yes). It’s a rabbit hole – you avoid going to places with too many people and then feel bad about not going and then worry that others perceive you as unsociable/anti-social.
Perhaps, it’s the attitude that being extroverted is seen as superior to being introverted. Introverts also like socialising, but we have a battery that runs out and needs recharging with some alone time. Growing up, I didn’t even want to admit I was an introvert, as I was scared that other would think I was weak. Social anxiety often stems from being too harsh on yourself and trying to protect your self-image, all the while forgetting that everyone is a flawed human being.
Then we have the physical symptoms of social anxiety – shaking, sweaty palms, headaches, stomach aches, palpitations, panic attacks…the list goes on. My worst trait is peeling my nails when my social anxiety acts up, one I’m slowly working on (hmm, time to get nails like Cardi B?). My nails are brittle and so am I.
And what’s the good side of social anxiety?
The upside of over-analysing every situation is that you are well-equipped and prepared for the worst outcome. From the second someone says, “Can I ask you something?” or “We need to talk,” our minds race to find thousands of “what ifs” that surprise us. It comes as a sigh of relief that things usually aren’t as bad as we thought – and even if it is, we had a feeling and saw it coming.
How I’m evolving with social anxiety
This one simple action, creates a tremendous shift in how I feel, and that is lifting my head and facing forward. I keep my phone inside my bag or pocket and whether someone’s talking to me or not, I try to keep my head high in public. This gives me a feeling of strength.
Also, hydration is key – right before entering events where I know no one, I drink a few sips of water. Not going to lie, the very first time I attended a media event, I was scared stiff and it went on for months until I eventually got a hang of it. It also felt liberating to share my fear with the fellow editors and journalists that sat with me! Starting a conversation about mental health creates a communal feeling like no other.
How to overcome social anxiety, with baby steps
Pardon me, I said baby steps – these are small changes that are much easier said than done. While I believe a tiny part of social anxiety will always stay with you, knowing how to handle it is key. After all, growth lies beyond the comfort zone.
Back in school, even if I knew the answer in class, I wouldn’t speak up. I struggled a lot with self-doubt, and still do. My French teacher once told me “You should ask more questions, or I may forget you’re even in the class.” This sounded harsh but it also made me realise I have a voice and I need to use it.
It takes effort, a lot of effort to mentally pull yourself out and say “You know what, I can do this.” It also takes practice to stop worrying about what others will think of you. But here are some tips I found useful in slowly overcoming social anxiety:
- If you feel anxious in public, grab your earphones/headphones – music makes a great companion.
- Learn to say no. Say no to situations that you don’t think will help you grow as a person.
- Notice what triggers you. It may be public speaking, talking to someone new, crowded areas, and so on. Work on each of them one by one.
- Start journaling, one day you’ll look back and see how far you’ve come.
- Share your feelings with a trusted friend or family member; let them know you need some extra help getting out of the house, or going to the party with new faces.
- Face your fears. Bingo! You saw this coming, didn’t you? No, you don’t have to throw yourself out there all at once. Start small and enjoy the sense of accomplishment from stepping out and doing what scares you.
How to help someone with social anxiety
It’s simple. Be there for them, both online and offline. If your friend, or a stranger looks uncomfortable in a situation, stand by them. Understand what social anxiety feels like to the person facing it, and don’t ever belittle mental struggles.
Practice active listening – I cannot say this enough! I build trust with someone when they actually listen to me and are patient enough to hear my whole story. Being heard is the best way to stop feeling small and futile.
Remind yourself and others that social anxiety is natural; it’s difficult to live with, practice patience and remember, you have a voice. So use it.