“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 Association.
This week I made the difficult decision to leave hockey once again, having only recently joined a new club. Without knowing me or the situation in full, it sounds really lame but I think -even without going into detail- this also helps you to understand how social anxiety messes with your mind and makes sufferers overly sensitive to certain situations and in different environments. I have come to recognise that even though the sport helps, putting myself in situations where I not only have to navigate new people, but prove my ability at something before real conversations can be had to get to know each other, is just too stressful.
As mental health can be hidden behind an external mask, this leads me to identifying five misconceptions about social anxiety sufferers that I hope will create some better understanding about how people like me might be perceived until you get to know us.
- We’re Unfriendly –this is far from the case. New groups of people and social situations can be very overwhelming for sufferers and for me particularly, until I get the feeling we’ve achieved a nice level of comfort in each other’s spaces, I can appear reserved and shy. I can also work opposite and suffer with word vomit and say things to try and engage and create conversation if the opportunity for chat is a snatched one, often with a level of humour. This is because I am nervous.
- We’re Sensitive Little Souls –I touched on this above and I think when you feel unsure about something (and that can be anything), your senses are heightened to pick up any hint of negativity or feeling towards how you/your work etc. has been perceived by others. Naturally, social anxiety sufferers almost expect negativity and when our feelings or pride takes a bit of a bash, particularly by people we don’t fully know yet, we can come across as a bit unnecessarily sensitive; but a bit of encouragement and support is all it takes to help.
- We Prefer to be on Our Own – I wrote about being your own best friend a little while ago (here) and I think it’s important, regardless of whether you suffer with social anxiety or not, to learn to find comfort and security in yourself, before seeking others. For sufferers, and I know I’m a classic case, in a crowd I’m comfortable in I can be the most social and confident and I would rather have company than not. That being said, I certainly prefer more intimate friendships than large groups. Social anxiety can be hugely frustrating because when you are alone, the obvious answer is to put yourself out there but the fear mentioned above often feels like a demon you can’t defeat.
- We Cry a lot – The more reading I do about social anxiety, the more I learn and recognise past symptoms I experienced that I never would’ve associated with anxiety. In my post about dealing with social anxiety (here), I referenced speaking on the phone as something I could trace way back into my childhood. But most recently I noticed that children with anxiety cry more than usual and this was definitely me, particularly when I joined new schools and groups. But once I had cried, been comforted by a teacher or adult, I was fine as the fear had been soothed. I don’t cry that much as an adult (or certainly not publicly) but in my above point about seeming overly sensitive, sometimes a reaction is to cry or feel tearful because my mind is overwhelmed with how to adequately respond to something.
- We must be Depressed – Er, no. Many sufferers of social anxiety will either have suffered or do suffer with other mental health issues (I openly admit I had quite a nasty period of depression which started in my teens until my early twenties, and I have no doubt it’ll probably affect me again in the future). The two conditions have some similarities and I think it would be fair to say that some of the symptoms of social anxiety can contribute to depression, but that doesn’t mean all sufferers are depressed. While mental health is still a bit taboo in this country, I do feel that more people are speaking out which is showing how common mental health issues are. At the end of the day, humans are very complicated beings and I think the occasional chemical imbalance can only but be expected.
In case you weren’t aware, I have now grouped my posts on social anxiety and mental health in its own category that can be accessed via the drop down underneath ‘girl talk’ on my navigation bar at the top of this page.
How do you guys cope with stressful situations?
Until next time xFollow