What I am or have hasn’t been clinically defined. Some say that I’m simply shy or an introvert. I sometimes feel like what I have is a disease, like there is something in my brain that prevents me from thoroughly enjoying another’s presence.
Is this Social Anxiety?
As defined by Dr. Thomas A. Richards in his article, “Social Anxiety Fact Sheet: What is Social Anxiety Disorder? Symptoms, Treatment, Prevalence, Medications, Insight, Prognosis”, social anxiety or social phobia is the fear of social situations or interactions.
“People with social anxiety disorder experience anxiety when faced with social situations. They do not believe their anxiety is related to an illness or disease, yet have little control over their fear of social interactions.” Charmaine J. Simmons, LPC adds. Those unaffected by social anxiety talk with others as if it was as simple as breathing. However, those who have social anxiety have an entirely different experience with these situations. For instance:
- I intentionally arrange my schedule in a way in which I avoid the most people. For example, when shopping, I go out early on a weekday and park my car where it is empty and far away from the store.
- Regardless of my feelings towards them, when speaking with someone, I tend to burn out on energy and cut our conversation prematurely.
- Facebook, Twitter, and every other social network are the enemy as I neglect to comment on other’s posts or post anything about or for myself due to insecurities.
These instances are just a portion of the problem. Social anxiety has been an issue of mine since I was a child and it has affected me in a seriously negative way.
Results of Untreated Social Anxiety
As a college student, I suffered dreadful bouts of insomnia, anxiety attacks, and panic attacks after camping myself in my dorm room on nights and weekends when I should have spent some time mingling, going to parties, and participating in clubs and activities.
I was so overwhelmed with social situations that I decided that it would always be better if I was alone, but being alone isn’t always the best. Because “Anxiety sees too many things as threats, it sees threats too easily. As a result, the fight or flight response is triggered too often and too easily.” Robert Allison, MA, LPC said.
A lot of people don’t realize this because they’ve never been in a position where they are alone for an extended period, but being social is a basic need. Humans need to speak with or be around other humans in order to remain sane.
Yet, untreated social anxiety goes even further than that.
Finding the right companion is a challenge even in the most socially-healthy person, but it can be infinitely more challenging for someone who can hardly maintain a relationship with an acquaintance. David Klow, a licensed therapist once said, “By building a list of people that you trust, with whom you can talk to in times of need, you allow yourself a strong sense of not being alone.”
We all lie and say we don’t want it, but at some point in each of our lives, we realize we don’t want to be alone. We want to find that person that we can connect with, that we can speak freely with, that we can confide in, and that we can help in return.
We want that image that we see in strangers at a bar or movie theater where they have the sudden need to hold each other, to place their foreheads together and close their eyes, and to lay their head on the other’s shoulder.
It’s a simple, yet powerful image that requires a lot of work and energy in regards to building and maintaining a relationship with someone else. So, how can someone who is troubled with social anxiety put aside their fears and form this relationship?
Locating the Source of your Fears
The first thing that a person with social anxiety should do is determine why they are afraid of social situations in the first place. As with all fears, it is ignited by some experience or a series of experiences. Perhaps, one has social anxiety because he or she was rejected by others too many times and they are afraid to be rejected again.
It was mentioned in Kyle MacDonald’s blog post, “Relationship Problems: How Social Anxiety Affects Intimacy” that in some cases, searching for the source of one’s fears requires performing tasks such as writing a journal or developing mindfulness skills, which are exercises that put the mind at ease.
Facing your Fears
Like all anxieties, it is always recommended to have a support group or have someone to talk to about these issues. By speaking with others about these problems, you will have a healthy way to express yourself and you may be able to get helpful advice, encouragement, and even answers to the questions you seek.
Your local church offers a prime support group. While in the recovery of my panic attacks in college, one of my roommates took me with her every Sunday morning to her favorite church. Though no one there except her knew of my episodes, I was immersed in a lively and positive procession that required little social interaction on my end.
Going to church with her gave me a sense of routine and the feeling that someone cared enough about me to work with me on my issues. Partaking in mass allowed me to put my mind at ease, which is also a suggestion for coping with anxiety. I was able to relax and hear the positive yet realistic messages that they delivered.
Mainly, it was a comfortable and safe setting for me to get accustomed to people. It was a small step, but a significant one in my transformation.
Seeking Professional Help
I’m still seeking companionship, but now I feel more confident that I can find it. With the interactions I’ve had and a reignited faith, I know that people aren’t always judging me and if they are, it doesn’t matter because I like who I am and one day someone will like me for who I am, too—social anxiety and all.
Interacting with others has been a constant struggle of mine, but each day, I learn more and more about my anxiety and while I may not be rid of it altogether, I find that I am constantly improving my social skills.
On this side of the “social” spectrum, I see relationships a little differently. They are highly complex as are the people who are involved with them. It isn’t something that can be changed in an instant, but with proper attention and a safe outlet, help can be provided.
For those who seek such assistance, online therapy from a provider like BetterHelp or others can be beneficial for you as they provide you with the right psychiatrist for your anxiety disorder and speak with you at any time you feel you need them the most. This can also help you learn to build a healthy relationship.
For more articles regarding relationships and faith, see To Love, Honor, and Vacuum.