By Lisa Fourman
There are roughly 15 million American adults who have a social anxiety disorder, according to the ADAA. That’s a lot of people in today’s society, don’t you think?
I hate to think of myself as a statistic but I am one of those roughly 15 million people. I have a social anxiety disorder and it’s in the back of my mind in every decision I make each day.
I have thoughts that scare me and decide things for me that most people wouldn’t blink their eyes at. I have doubts in my mind that wouldn’t cross the minds of others.
I’ve had some questions cross my mind that I’m sure have crossed your mind at some point as well. Why can’t I be normal? What do normal people think about during a day? Why can’t I be like that?
As a young woman, I didn’t know what social anxiety was. In fact, I didn’t even realize I wasn’t normal until I was in my late teenage years.
I decided recently that I didn’t want people to go through what I have over the last decade. Here are five things I wish I knew earlier about social anxiety.
1. It controls your every action
I know you don’t think about this aspect of it very often but it does have a “hand” in every action you take. It makes life difficult if you want to have a social life.
There are people who are embarrassed of their symptoms because they are so bad. They don’t have romantic relationships and they might not have a “life” outside of their home!
Think about that for a moment: your anxiety might be bad enough that you’re petrified of leaving the house. What would you do in that situation?
For me, the anxiety has never gotten to that level. What it HAS done is ruin jobs for me. It makes me nervous to speak to people who need my help at work.
When your anxiety gets to this level for you, I want you to do something for me. I want you to sit back and I want you to breathe, okay?
There’s this article I go to whenever I need to do my own breathing exercises. It talks about how to breathe in for seven seconds, hold it in for four seconds, and breathe out for eight seconds.
You can do this for a few times until you feel your heart-rate decrease. The heart-rate can get high with social anxiety; my resting heart rate is about 105 beats per minute.
2. It keeps you awake for hours every night.
Can you imagine lying awake for hours at a time when you’re supposed to be sleeping? I want you to imagine the strain this places on your body. It needs to rest every few hours, after all.
Your mind is racing about the thought of being in front of people, even if it’s not for very long. You hate the thought of small talk so the thought of taking part in it keeps you awake.
You go over every aspect of every conversation you might be a part of. You do this to make sure you don’t screw up in some form while you’re talking.
You wouldn’t do this on a regular basis if it wasn’t for your coworkers talking you into going to the party. You hate parties as well so this aspect of it keeps you awake at night as well.
This is one aspect of social anxiety that I wish I had known earlier. I could lie awake for hours after my “bedtime” with everything that could go wrong in my head. It’d make circles in my brain, in fact.
I’d force myself to take a sleeping pill after about three to four hours of tossing and turning. I got treatment for this part of it in the end, which has done wonders for my own case of social anxiety.
3. Although you overcome it in time, you are at war with your mind at every waking moment.
Being at war with your own mind is a difficult problem to face but it’s one faced every day. People with social anxiety feel like they have to go over everything in their day.
They have this fear, that they are being judged. What if other people aren’t judging them? That’s a thought that goes through their mind but the fear overpowers it quite often.
It’s almost like being in a war of sorts with your own mind. We know people aren’t judging us but our minds are under that impression anyway.
People with social anxiety disorders have one question: how do you get out of that mindset? How do you get yourself to stop thinking that preconceived notion so you can live a normal life?
This war in their mind leads them almost to a panic of sorts. This is when I encourage the deep breathing exercises so you can calm yourself down.
I go through this on a normal basis and it’s not fun to think someone is judging you when they really aren’t. This is why people with social anxiety are at war with their own minds.
4. It’s a constant battle with anxiety but you have to win.
Like being at war with your mind, someone with social anxiety is also at war with the anxiety itself. They know they need to win but some days are much more difficult than others.
Overcoming the anxiety is a mighty task for one person alone. It is why some of us get help for our cases. Some of us wait up to ten years before doing so.
The battle with the anxiety is a constant one and a battle I wish I had known about so much earlier. I battle it every day and have for the past 10 years at least.
The decision to get the help I need was a long one coming. I had waited over ten years because I didn’t know what I was suffering from to begin with.
I didn’t know there is a such thing as social anxiety or that it’s something other people deal with. The only way I even found out was because my father told me he deals with it as well.
Knowing that other people battle with anxiety is a relief for me. It helps me realize that I can battle it a little harder. It helps me win against it a little more each day.
The battle is never an easy one but it’s one we have to win as people with anxiety. It’s one that is more difficult on some days but it’s one you can’t let win against you.
5. As much as you’d like to hang out with friends, you’re too anxious to do it.
I’ve never had many friends growing up in school. I was the shy little girl in the corner of the room, begging to do projects alone. I couldn’t stand the thought of working with other people.
The thought of doing that terrified me to no end. I couldn’t do it on some days and had to get a “zero” on group projects because of it. I couldn’t explain to teachers because they didn’t understand it.
It’s embarrassing to admit that you can’t go to parties because of your social anxiety. Ask the people surveyed for the article on ADAA’s study!
This realization, for me, comes as a relief because it explains why I can’t hang out with friends on some days. It explains why I can’t stand the thought of being around people.
It explains why I prefer the company of books rather than people. I am getting treated for my social anxiety disorder so I can go out to be more of a “normal” person.
Normalcy Can Finally Mean Something
This doesn’t mean I know what normalcy means but it’s a start for someone like me. It’s a start for someone who’s suffered from social anxiety since early childhood.
I want you to see that an end is in sight for you as well. I want you to see that it doesn’t have to end in despair. I hope reading my story can help you with working on making yours a better one.
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Lisa Fourman is a mental health writer and the owner of Mystique MGMT. Follow Lisa on Twitter