The thought of beginning a new school year, the start at a new college or job may be exciting for many. There’s the thought of new experiences and opportunity and forging new friendships. For those who suffer from social anxiety, these milestones can evoke stress and angst that can feel as though their walls are closing in. Much like generalized anxiety, social anxiety can kick your butt, but knowing HOW to deal and treat it can make all the difference.

The break down….

     When it comes to mental health issues there is a stark reality; you can’t visibly see anyone’s disorder. There’s no sling, crutch or disabled hanging tag to declare that a struggle exists. It’s foolish to make assumptions when we don’t have any clue what’s internally going on with someone, but it happens every day. There are various forms of anxiety, but social anxiety is a beast.

What is social anxiety?

  • Feeling overwhelmed, self conscious, judged and severely insecure in social settings.
  • Fear of disapproval, criticism, judgment by others

Most people have some form of social anxiety. Whether that be being in large groups of people or concern of not being accepted by those around us. Those with moderate to severe forms of this anxiety typically have the ability to act like everything is fine. Internally, when a trigger goes off it’s like a bull in a china shop; everything gets toppled over.

Why is being aware of this so important? Whether it’s the start of junior year of high school, second year of grad school or transitioning into a new job or role, being aware of triggers is key. I have chatted with kids who suffer, big time, from social anxiety. Some you would be able to pick up and others you would have no idea. Regardless of age, social anxiety is present in heaps of individuals. Knowing how to identify it and what steps to take are equally important.

social anxiety disorder

Suck it up, buttercup…

Feeling like everybody is watching you walk down the hallway or knowing you will trip down the steps or people will talk about you when you get up to use the restroom are just a few examples of what may trigger this angst. When I’ve heard a parent or friend say, “just suck it up,’ or “get over it,” I cringe. There are certain things we do need to suck up and get a grip with. When it boils down to mental health issues, compassion has to override a desire to put things in check. Seriously.

When you suffer and no one can visibly see what you are going through it’s no fun. Your heart rate increases, palms can sweat and the feeling of all eyes being on you can make you want to crawl into a ball and hide. You could describe it like an emotional tornado is going on within them and no one can see. Their head is spinning in a thousand directions. Their stomach is tight, unhinged. On the outside, everything appears normal. Never judge a book by it’s cover; there are pages and chapters you will never know about. 

Social anxiety can kick your butt: how to deal

It is super important for moderate to severe social anxiety to be identified and treated. When untreated I’ve witnessed a spiral downward emotionally, academically, in careers or veering towards substances. No one wants to feel like all eyes are on them or disapproving of them constantly. When we feel targeted or unacceptable we find ways to blend or retreat. This is where poor decisions are made and the increase risk of veering to a negative peer group or self medicating comes into play.

Whether it be finding solace in drinking, pills, weed or poor relationships the risk of these things occurring increase when left undiagnosed and untreated.

Get on with the goodness….

If you or someone you know struggle with social anxiety, it doesn’t have to kick your butt. Seriously. Here are a few first steps in addressing and beginning to live life without constant fear and angst in the pit of your stomach:

  • Counselor – Seek out a counselor to see on a weekly basis, request that they give you ‘homework’ for tips and strategies to work on during your week
  • Wing man – If you have someone you trust it’s ok to let them in on what triggers your anxiety and supporting you when you may need to find ways out of a highly anxiety provoking situation
  • Exercises – Deep breathing exercises, repeating an encouraging phrase (I can do this, You got this, etc.) can lessen angst
  • Meds – I believe medication can do great things, but it has to be something that one resorts to after a few counseling sessions (where you’ve been diagnosed) and other strategies have been utilized.

Social anxiety does not have to kick you or a loved one’s butt. Being able to function and live a full life is absolutely possible. What increases this is combining forms of support through family encouragement, counseling, having a wing man (but not letting them be a pseudo counselor, they’re a friend) and tools in taking one step at a time.

The more we know and equip ourselves the better off we are. A great article on strategies to beat social anxiety is definitely worth a look: https://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2017/04/5-ways-to-beat-social-anxiety.html

As new school year’s for high school and college kids along with new job prospects in the mix social anxiety awareness can only do good things. Have a great one! Peace, love and goodness!