The bane of my existence has been having social anxiety with panic attacks. It made high school and college extremely difficult. You wouldn’t know it from my grades or my diplomas, but I had serious trouble speaking aloud in class, and feared being called on by the teacher.
Socializing in small groups was very hard for me. I took a lot of tranquilizers and drank a lot of alcohol to cope in my youth.
The social anxiety carried through into my adult life, where I would have horrible anxiety in new mom play groups, at work, book clubs, neighborhood gatherings, going to church and picnics, birthday parties at my home, weddings, bar mitzvahs, you name it.
Middle age has been kind to me in that I am learning not to take this whole anxiety thing too seriously anymore. One thing I have found is that I can stand up for myself if I feel anxious, and no one will think less of me. Learning how to live with social anxiety has been a one day at a time process.
The core of social anxiety is a fear of being judged or scrutinized by others, so it comes as somewhat of a paradox what I have learned over the years: that it’s ok to just admit to others when I’m feeling anxious.
For example, the other day I was in the grocery store and that old feeling of an impending panic attack was coming over me. I was having all these crazy thoughts and feeling like everyone was looking at me. They weren’t of course, but the anxiety makes me feel that way. The store was jam frigging packed to boot, which only served to amplify my weird feelings
I was only a half an aisle into my shopping when I ran into a friend of mine. I was genuinely happy to see her, but my anxious thoughts had my thinking all distorted and my equilibrium was off and I was seriously afraid i was going to fall over right there in the middle of Shop Rite. I had the old panicky thought that I better leave that store at once before something serious happened.
And this is when I stood up for myself to my anxiety. I told my friend, “I’m sorry, I’m really feeling like sh#t, and I can’t understand what you’re saying. I’m about to have a panic attack.”
The mere act of saying it out loud diffused the whole situation. As soon as the words came out, I started to feel the horrible feelings subside. My friend was really non pulsed about the whole thing. Without missing a beat she said, “Yeah but you get that and you know you’re ok.”
We talked about it for maybe 2 minutes and then went on to a different subject.
The point is, I have come to believe what all the experts say. Social anxiety is a big fat liar, it’s just an exaggerated response to fear. And once you expose it for what it really is, it starts to go away.
I went on and finished my grocery shopping and even stood in a long line for about 20 minutes before checkout. I felt shaky and a little spent from the effects of the adrenaline surge, but I was no worse for the wear overall.
One thing for sure, had I left the store in terror, I would have beat myself up mercilessly.
So go ahead and stand up for yourself when it comes to your anxious feelings. Tell someone when you’re feeling anxious, freaking out, about to have a panic attack, or however you need to word it. Keeping it all a big secret is what makes it so bad. Once the cat is out of the bag, the anxiety monster goes away.
Learning how to live with social anxiety does take some effort, but if you stop trying to hide it from everyone, it gets better.
I wish you peace,
ps. Feel like your brain stops working when you have to respond to simple small talk? I recommend and use Social Anxiety Secrets- it is wonderful.