a seat at the table for social anxiety

The shadowed subject of social anxiety is something I’ve pondered, witnessed, and sometimes felt. I’m not sure why, but it’s rarely discussed and I don’t hear about it often. Maybe because its traits are innocently perceived as shyness or nervousness, soft-spoken or reserved— and simple enough, that is the case for some, it’s just their personality.

Let’s stir the pot, spill the flower, drop the eggs, and turn it up a notch by throwing social anxiety in the mix. Turn the fear up, let it ripen, and muddle it into severe shyness, severe nervousness, and severely anxious thoughts.

The sole pursuit and purpose of this post is to challenge social anxiety. To challenge negative thoughts. To challenge thoughts, actions, and reactions.

Here I am; eager, appetent, and recharged. Lacing up my shoes, chalking up my hands, and showing my teeth. To challenge and subdue, to discuss and extend possible thoughts and tactics for managing social anxiety.

There’s this casual dismissal that latches itself onto the stigma of social anxiety but it’s a real, chronic mental health issue for millions of people. It’s more complex than just pure discomfort in social situations.

As stated from socialanxietyinstitute.org “In the United States, epidemiological studies have recently pegged social anxiety disorder as the third largest psychological disorder in the country, after depression and alcoholism.  It is estimated that about 7% of the population suffers from some form of social anxiety at the present time.”

Social anxiety is far from picky, that s.o.b will digest anything and anyone. Take it to a Golden Corral buffet and it’ll even eat the sketchy mystery meat, you know, the one that’s dowsed in a grimy yet saucey concoction. Don’t get lost in the sauce. Especially when the sauce is a questionable grayish/brown.

Anxiety is natural and adaptive; the goal is to manage it, not entirely eliminate it.

Almost everyone feels social discomfort ever so often, some more than others, and some more severe than others. It’s situational social anxiety.

Assuming we’ve all been there, and by there I mean the feeling of your nerves slowly tightening, the overwhelming fear that you’re being judged or that you’re unwelcome, feeling insignificant, or that you don’t relate to the crowd you’re surrounded by and that they don’t relate to you, worrying about what to say, and over thinking the various ways someone may interpret what you’ve said. Time and place, baby. We’ve all been there.

 I’m a self-proclaimed extrovert. I can talk to anyone, anywhere, anytime. And I truly enjoy it, I enjoy talking to people no matter where I am or what I’m doing— and I too feel situational social anxiety from time to time. Even when someone seems to be killing the game, slaying conversation, wooing people with words and winks, they too could’ve been warding off nervousness and anxiousness before they walked through that door.

Gaging a situation is something I learned at a young age I assume— from examining my mother, my father, my older siblings, and the various prominent figures in my life. Taking a step back and gaging a social situation grants you self control and direction, comfort and ease.

Shaping your thought process is like landscaping; it requires maintenance and upkeep.

Dabble in ways that’ll challenge social anxiety; allowing you to be involved and engaged, comfortable and approachable. Think of it as an experiment.

  1. UNDERSTAND YOURSELF.  Having a better understanding of ourselves in general allows us to cope and push forward. Helping us find methods that effectively manage our personal afflictions, bringing us back to homeostasis. What works for me, may not work for you, and vice versa. Adopt a better understanding of what triggers your social anxiety. From person to person, the fear of explicit social situations varies. Ranging from having trouble speaking up in class, talking to co-workers, going to parties, talking to strangers, speaking in meetings, speaking to someone you haven’t seen in a while,  etc. Examine and determine your trigger(s). Find it, know it, understand it. 
  2. CALM, COOL, COLLECTED. Ah shit, here it comes. Your vocal cords tighten up, your heartbeat increases, your stomach feels like it’s in your ass, and you begin to feel anxious. Take a step back; find a moment to yourself and actively breath. Feel your chest puff up as you inhale deeply, feel your chest fall as you exhale smoothly. Spoiler alert: THIS. HELPS. Don’t underestimate the power of effective breathing. Get that freely flowing oxygen to your brain. It does wonders. It’s basically valium in the form of breathing. Don’t make me beg. Just do it.
  3. REDIRECT THE ATTENTION. If you’d like to avoid being the sole center of attention, try shifting the attention onto someone who seems like they’d like it. People low-key love to talk about themselves. And it’s not a bad thing. To let it be known that we’ve got stories to tell; that we’re charming and interesting, witty and smart, cultured and experienced. Gravitate the attention away from you and onto another to make you feel more comfortable. To naturally do so, you have to…
  4. LISTEN AND ASK QUESTIONS. Be present, be engaged. We sometimes have this implicit fear that we won’t know what to talk about in a conversation, and I assure you it isn’t as difficult as you may perceive it to be. If you are truly listening to someone, you will have questions to ask. If you have questions to ask, you will have a freely flowing conversation ahead of you. Not only that, it makes people feel important. You’re making them feel relevant and they will not forget that. Making someone feel good rarely goes unnoticed. A big fat plus to this: you may find yourself in a conversation that leaves you energized and inspired, making you feel more talkative, and ultimately allowing you to come out of your shell.
  5. RELATE. Social anxiety has the nasty ability to make you feel insignificant and isolated. As if people aren’t interested in you or what you have to say. Utilize your surroundings. Utilize the conversations you’re in. Conversations are pearly polished, golden gateways to relate-ability. On some level, we can all relate to one another. Being and feeling relatable is the easiest way to kick discomfort in the ass, allowing you to connect with those around you. If someone is speaking of something you’ve been through and understand, or about something you’re into and are knowledgable of, then don’t keep quiet and don’t hold back. Don’t be shy. Speak up, and let it be known that you know what it feels like, or that you know what you’re talking about. You are relatable and your voice is waiting to be heard.
  6. DON’T TAKE YOURSELF SO SERIOUSLY. Stop stressing social situations, what is the worst that could happen? That you’ll say something stupid? That you’ll have nothing to say? Or that you’ll embarrass yourself? Listen here my friend, we ALL say silly things and objectively people don’t even remember what was said. You will be okay. You will not be turned into a viral meme. 
  7. BE PRESENT. BE ENGAGED. Back to this vital mantra. Be present and be engaged. This is so important. Avoid thinking of the yesterdays and the tomorrows. The yesterdays and the tomorrows leave us anxious and distracted. Be consciously aware of your current surroundings and the people you’re with. Soak up the now, soak up the way you feel, and soak up your atmosphere. When I’m kicking it with a group of people, or out with friends and surrounded by strangers, I like to sit back for a minute and look around at everyone. To examine their body language, to examine their expressions, to watch smiles form and jaws drop, to witness raw human connection. To remind myself that every person here has their own life, a complex mind of their own, and that each life is a unique work in progress. When I take that moment to look around, tune out the sound, and be aware of the individuals around me, I feel human, I feel energized, and I feel connected. Mindfully submerge yourself in the now. Don’t dismiss it. Don’t dilute it. 
  8. ADAPT TO A SITUATION. Hear me out on this one. Evade the urge to avoid or escape a social situation. Our social skills are malleable and they are constantly evolving with practice. You really are making it harder for yourself if you attempt to dodge confrontation each time you’re faced with it. Practice your social skills. Ask questions. Step out of your boxed comfort zone.
  9. LET YOUR CAGED PERSONALITY SHINE. I used to have self-inflicted battles with this one. I felt as if I needed to hold back, tone it down, and suppress myself. To basically not be myself, and at all costs be as normal as I can. It truly did me no good; resulting in staged-robotic like responses, stoic facial expressions, suppressed emotion, refraining from outwardly expressing my opinion in hopes of not stepping on anybody’s toes, feeling unnatural and held back, and ultimately feeling disconnected from people and situations. I was pretending to be someone other than myself, which actually gave me social anxiety. I wasn’t able to connect with new people because I wasn’t allowing my true self to come out and play, to dabble in the words of others, to express what I was truly thinking and feeling. HOW BORING AND RESTRICTIVE IS THAT. With that being said, speak up homie, let me see you for you. Let’s not fabricate the relationships in our lives with staged personalities. Let your freak flag fly because I’m dying to let mine fly too. As the late and great Dr. Seuss once said: “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” 
  10. STATE OF MIND: WE ARE ALL HUMAN. Don’t forget it. At the end of the day, you’re a human, I’m a human, and we are living in the same world with different perspectives. Let’s share those perspectives and let’s expand each other’s minds. Let’s connect and exchange experiences, thoughts, ideas, hopes, fears, joys, and everything in between. Let’s coexist, let’s learn, let’s discuss, let’s empathize. Let’s expand the boundaries of our minds. Let’s befriend one another and allow ourselves to positively and altruistically impact each other’s worlds. As humans, we naturally long for other humans; to share true connection and compassion in order to form healthy relationships and friendships. Making us feel connected. Making us feel encouraged. Making us feel gratitude and inspiration. We want to be present and we want to feel alive, to feel anything but numb and detached. You are you and I am me, and in between you and me is everything we want and need.

Self affliction comes in various shapes and sizes; it’s distracting and inevitable, yet perplex and indifferent. And when those moments of self affliction arise, prevent them from ruling over you and your self proclaimed kingdom. Like all good things, this takes time and practice. It takes trial and error. Objectively, guide your mind or let it guide you. One will teach the other once you accept it and allow it— and the ability to disarm and manage the direction of your thoughts will make itself yours.

Listen to me, you’re a rockstar. The sooner you recognize it, is the sooner you’ll feel like it. Do your thing, and do it proudly. I truly don’t mind, and you shouldn’t either. As Matthew McConaughey’s character in Dazed and Confused once said: “You just gotta keep liven’ man, L-I-V-I-N.” And as Jeff Bridge’s charter in The Big Lebowski once said: “I can’t be worried about that shit. Life goes on, man.”

What I’m trying to say here is live and let live.

Dear, social anxiety: new phone, who dis?

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