When I was a teenager, I was like a lot of teenagers. I used to go out every night. I had a lot of friends. I whenever I was not out with my friends, I could be found talking on the phone until my ear was hot and sweaty.
This continued well into my twenties as I discovered the bar scene, eventually becoming a bartender who would work all night at some of the busiest bars in town and then go out until 6 or 7 in the morning with all of my other bartender friends.
So when did social anxiety start for me? I would have to say that it must have started around the same time that I stopped drinking. It was around this time that I also realized that I could no longer work as a bartender if I wanted to stay sober, so I stopped get invited to the all night free for alls.
Hanging out at bars completely lost its appeal as well. I would typically enjoy myself for about the first hour until the people I was with eventually became drunk and smelly with booze and then the night would become a whole lot less fun.
I gradually started going out less and less. The invites started dwindling because people were tired of my making excuses for not joining them at the pub and plus I am sure they felt awkward knowing that I was no longer drinking and would just be a bummer the whole night.
Soon, whenever I did venture out with friends, I would feel an amazing amount of pressure to “be fun” and “have a super good time“. All of this pressure eventually made me feel exceptionally anxious until it was intolerable and I stopped trying to be social altogether.
I have always lived with the diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder, but GAD is very different from social anxiety. With GAD you are faced with excessive anxiety and worry about life events, without any obvious reason why.
In my case, I was obsessed with my heartbeat and was absolutely convinced that I was having a heart attack or stroke anytime my heart rate would elevate and palpitate, which ironically, is a symptom of anxiety, so it was really a catch 22.
I would get nervous, which would elevate my heart rate. Then I would notice my elevated heart rate, which would send me into a fit of anxiety.
I suffered so completely from this disorder that I have actually had to wear a halter heart monitor on three separate occasions to try and catch my palpations, in real time. Not to mention the countless trips to the ER, where I would have my top ripped off and be hooked up to machines.. never resulting in a thing.
Over the years, I have managed to get my GAD under control. The social anxiety? Not so much. If I am being honest, I would say that my social anxiety is actually getting worse.
Social anxiety is defined as the fear of social situations that involve interactions with other people. When amplified, social anxiety can turn into agoraphobia, which is a fear of the outside or wide open spaces, which can lead to avoidance and is often very isolating.
I am not personally afflicted with agoraphobia and I truly can’t imagine the pain of being anymore isolated than I am right now. I am certain that is very awful.
As I have mentioned in some recent posts, I am currently working on some workshops with my other project, She Zine Mag. I am hopeful that they will open a door to fun activities, not involving alcohol, where I can mingle with other creative people with similar interests to my own. I will blog about the success (or failure) of these events as they occur.
So what is the solution if you suffer from anxiety? For me, mindfulness was a very effective treatment method for my GAD. These days, I am able to reason with myself that there is nothing truly happening to me when I feel like I am having a heart attack/stroke and breathe my way through it.
CBT has also been proven to be very successful in the treatment of anxiety, as it maps your ‘thought traps’ and encourages you to rethink your reactions to certain triggers. I have blogged before about the MoodNotes app before. It is a CBT app that I use on an almost daily basis to keep my moods in check.
There are anti-anxiety medications available, but it has been studied that medication, without concurrent therapy, has no long-term results on a persons anxiety disorder.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the prognosis of people suffering with social anxiety is markedly good when treated by regular CBT therapy.
I suppose there is hope for me yet!
How many of you suffer from social anxieties? What are some of your triggers? I would love to hear your about your experiences in the comments.