Social Anxiety - Why We Need More Than Just Conversation

The sun is finally shining here in the UK, Spring seems to have finally arrived and yesterday was my youngest's seventh birthday. Blimey time flies! It doesn't seem that long ago that she was coming home from hospital after being born! 

To celebrate her birthday we had family with us and a garden picnic and lots of running around, messing around, laughing and playing. Having moved on from fidget spinners, the next thing currently seems to be creating slime. I've got no idea what it's made from but it feels wet and slimy and cold when you hold it. So there was lots of slime making and colouring going on and, in one of my favourite moments, our rabbit seemed to learn how to play football!

And there was one moment yesterday when, as we were all sitting around in the living room, I know in the past (when I struggled with social anxiety) would have crushed me inside. When my social anxiety was a thing for me, I would have felt sick, hot, tense and then afterwards have replayed it a thousand times, each time twisting the knife inside because of how I would have perceived I'd made an idiot of myself in front of others.

You see, at some point, someone suggested playing that game where the others write a celebrity name on a post it note and then give it to you to put on your forehead before you ask them yes/no questions to try and work out who the person is. Now, if you suffer with social anxiety you may well appreciate how such a situation could seem like an ordeal. There you are in a confined space with half a dozen people watching you, while you try to ask sensible questions and not make an idiot of yourself along the way. I know when I had social anxiety I would have wanted the earth to open up and swallow me right there and then. But of course without that old anxiety, it was actually quite fun (mine was Elvis Presley in case you are wondering!). 

Recently a You Tube star (or at least that's how she was described in the press!), attracted a lot of publicity after starting a conversation about social anxiety on Twitter. And of course any raised awareness and openness about mental health issues is to be welcomed (if people want to talk about their mental health issues that is). Yet are we really going to just stop there - with conversation? Aren't we actually going to move on to real solutions about how to overcome social anxiety? 

 BTW here I am with the birthday girl...

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The Split Personality of Social Anxiety

I struggled with social anxiety for years, I mean as far back as I can remember at primary school and in, through and beyond secondary school, university and getting a job. There were times I thought I had some sort of split personality. At home or with one or two good friends I could be relaxed, feel comfortable and enjoy being around others. Yet add in more people, particularly people I didn't know or situations where I felt trapped (like in the classroom or a meeting) and I pretty much withdrew from being part of it and tried to avoid any attention coming my way (although not always, there were times when it wasn't so painful and things would be kind of ok, but that only served to add to the thoughts that there must actually be something wrong with me in some way). 

Particularly in group situations, I would constantly be worrying about what I was doing and saying (or more likely the fact that I wasn't saying anything) and how others might be judging and perceiving me. I could worry for days about a meeting that was coming up at work and whereas others would look forward to going out socially, I could be filled with dread and may even find a last minute excuse not to go. 

And of course, with social anxiety, it isn't just the build up to being around others and it isn't just the finding a way to get through it (although I often had a moment of huge relief when I got home after a day at school or work). It's the endless replaying of what I said and did that used to really crush me. I would replay even the smallest moment in vivid detail over and over and I couldn't stop myself making it worse and worse each time. Even if the situation itself had gone ok at the time, afterwards I was beating myself up for what I had or hadn't said or done and I would convince myself that I'd made an idiot of myself and that thought would make me even more anxious about the prospect of seeing those people again. It was exhausting. 

Looking back the funny thing was I would often create those social situations as if I thought that if I forced myself through them enough times I would come out ok. For someone who was totally anxious about meetings and public speaking I went and got myself elected for my local parish council and district council. It wasn't the answer (interestingly enough, after my hypnotherapy sorted my social anxiety I mentioned my previous experiences to a fellow councillor who had, over several years and dozens of meetings, never actually noticed I had been filled with anxiety...which probably says a lot about how much thoughts and perceptions can distort things when you have anxiety and about how much people actually are watching and judging others).

As I said above, I welcome any steps that make taking about, and creating awareness of, mental issues a more natural thing for us all. If someone wants to talk about it they should be able to get help and support without stigma.  

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Yet we also need beyond just awareness. In my professional work, I come across dozens of articles each week where someone will talk or write about living with anxiety, including social anxiety. And it's brilliant that more and more or us can be open about our experiences and hopefully give others courage.

We also need to start offering solutions to people to help them, not just talk about their ongoing anxiety problems, but actually to reduce and mange that anxiety so it is no longer a problem. I've written many articles about overcoming anxiety, including this one with 5 tips to overcome anxiety. I know from personal experience myself and from helping hundreds of others that it is perfectly possible to overcome that social anxiety. It doesn't mean having to change your entire personality or becoming a completely different person, it just means that you can feel more comfortable and at ease around others in a way that is right for you. Let's move the conversation on and start talking about helping people to improve their mental health and overcome social anxiety.

To your success,

Dan Regan

Hypnotherapy Ely, Newmarket, Skype

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