Growing up, I used to think that I was just an average shy kid who would get a bit more nervous than most when I was being introduced to new people or I had to speak up in front of a class. It wasn’t until I was in middle school that my nervousness began turning into fear, and I spent most of my teenage years trying to understand why it was so difficult for me to talk to others without my body shaking, sweating profusely, or feeling like a complete idiot when I spoke. It wasn’t until I got older that I learned what was the cause of these symptoms.
The AADA (Anxiety and Depression Association of America) states that social anxiety disorder (also known as social phobia) affects 15 million adults, or 6.8% of the U.S. population. Social anxiety disorder typically begins at the age of 13, the age that I’m almost sure I began to experience the symptoms: excessive sweating, heart palpitations, irritability, fear of being judged by others, stomach troubles, headaches. The list goes on and on. Days, even weeks before any school function or gathering, I’d be a complete nervous wreck, feeling irritable, sad, angry, and sick to my stomach, with no explanation as to why it was only me that felt this way. I finally sought professional help at the age of 19 and was diagnosed with having social anxiety disorder, and learned that I wasn’t the only one who experienced these symptoms. Although monthly therapy sessions and breathing techniques helped to minimize my social fears, the feelings, unfortunately, have not yet completely gone away.
Now, in my mid-thirties, having worked at various office and retail jobs over the past 15 years, I haven’t had a choice but to face my social fears on a daily. I get them mostly on Sunday evenings, when I feel Monday morning approaching and I know I’ll have to start my act all over again the next day–the act of pretending I’m okay with human interaction and that I’ve got things all under control. So how do I manage to conquer social anxiety? I follow these 5 steps:
Taking Control: 5 Ways I Conquer Social Anxiety Every Day
1. I remind myself why I have to get out of bed and out the door every morning
As a wife, mother, and friend, I have daily expectations that must be met or I put myself at risk of creating unhealthy relationships. This forces me to occasionally volunteer at my son’s school for a day, make new mommy friends so as to have more play dates, and attend at least a couple of family functions and social gatherings year round.
2. I maintain a healthy lifestyle.
I grew up on fast-food, 7-Eleven nachos and Little Caesar’s pizza, so living healthy was something I couldn’t imagine myself ever doing, even though most of the time I felt sick, tired, sluggish, and extremely insecure in my own skin. Although at that time I was completely oblivious to the fact that I was lactose and gluten intolerant, (hence, the sick feelings), I knew that if I wanted to feel better about myself, I would need to make better food choices and eat foods that would help nourish my body in and out.
Getting accustomed to a healthy lifestyle, though, has been very challenging for me, even now through adulthood. Although I get the occasional craving for sweets, meats, cheeses, and bread, I have to constantly remind myself that the better I eat, the better I will feel. Naturally, feeling good internally helps me feel more confident externally, with fewer insecurities.
3. I confide in my loved ones.
Although they may not fully understand what I feel when I’m put in a social situation, my family and closest friends have always tried their very best to be as patient and supportive as they can be. So whenever I feel too scared to go someplace alone, I ask a friend or relative to tag along, so that I can feel like the attention won’t be fully directed towards me once I’m out in public. Having a close confidant by my side also helps to distract my insecure thoughts, relieving some of the pressures of being in the public eye.
4. I don’t accept every social invitation I receive.
Throughout my teen years, I would cringe whenever I’d receive an invitation to any social event, big or small. It’s not that I didn’t want to attend; my heart really wanted to be there to celebrate good times with loved ones. However, my fears would kick in weeks before, and the day of, I’d be homesick and nauseous while experiencing stomach pains and headaches.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem any easier for me now as an adult. I still shudder when an invite pops into my e-mail or phone, and the pre-event symptoms never fail to show up, slowly progressing as the day of the event approaches. So although I feel bad telling a friend I won’t be able attend their special event, I’ve accepted that my emotions have a limit, and that it’s okay to reject an invite every now and then because I’m feeling too overwhelmed to handle it. It’s something I’ve learned to no longer feel guilty about.
5. I recharge when I need to.
When summer began this year, all of the invites we’d received for BBQ picnics, family reunions and graduation celebrations all happened to fall around the same time, back-to-back, and we couldn’t seem to catch a break in between to relax at home. I remember getting home one evening, after what felt like a really long day, walking straight to the couch in the living room, resting my head on a pillow without saying a word, and just lying there, quiet, with no energy to speak or move. My husband, ironically did a very similar thing, strolling past the living room, into our bedroom, flopping himself on the bed, also quietly and without saying a word. We each kept the lighting dim in the rooms and the sound of the TV lower than usual.
We must’ve kept this mood going on at least a couple of hours until we both finally met in the same room and began to talk about what had just happened. It was obvious that we’d each reached the point of being socially zapped, and all of the many previous activities had completely drained our energy. Once we realized what we needed, we made sure to take things easy the following day, staying in, minimizing our phone and social media usage, and blocking out the world as much possible until Monday came around. Reading, writing, and running are also ways I’ve learned to disconnect and recharge.
Do you experience social anxiety? How do you cope?
Also by Cristina: Vegan Ceviche With Avocado & Fresh Veggies
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