I was invited out to a work party not too long back, and I had to decline the invitation. Not for any other reason, apart from the fact that I have social anxiety and the fear of being in a room with lots of people filled me with dread. Social phobia is a condition that causes over-whelming fear in social situations that are a part of everyday life. Things like going to school, work and mixing with people in general, can affect your self- esteem, confidence and your relationships.
I first realized I had social anxiety about 5 years ago, and I was quite relieved to consider it for the first time as an issue that is real, and I shouldn’t feel guilty for it. I started a new job, and within a few weeks I was asked to go out with my work colleagues on their annual Christmas party to a local establishment, where they charge you a small fortune for a mediocre Christmas dinner, give you a cracker to pull, if you’re lucky, and put on an ‘old as the hills’ DJ who plays cheesy 80s records all night. (This is my idea of torture anyway!)
Anyway, returning to the story. I made up an excuse and I decided not to go. The reason for this is quite difficult to explain, but I was frightened about the number of people that would be there and I also knew that I would spend the next 6 weeks until the day, just worrying about it. So that’s why I declined.
I did make the effort one year to actually go on a work ‘do’, and I could remember how uncomfortable it made me feel throughout. I don’t like crowds, or too much noise or people trying to make forced conversation with work colleagues that they cuss behind their back for the other 354 days of the year. It seemed hypocritical, but that’s not really the point as I’m diverting again.
During the main episode I’m talking about, I came home that evening and decided to look up my symptoms of why I feel this way, and I was shocked and relieved to realize that I have in fact got social anxiety, and It has affected me since I was a child. It made me think about all the situations that happened when I was very young and how it impacted my young little life.
My mum told me that the one and only time she gave me a birthday party was when I was 5 years old which I can’t remember, and then after that, when she offered to give me another party, I flatly refused and I can remember why! Even then, at 7 years of age, I felt so uncomfortable being in a room with lots of children. If I was invited to a friend’s party, I can always remember making an excuse not to go. Quite sad, isn’t it? I was also a shy child at school and trips as a class or doing anything that wasn’t familiar to me used to make me tearful and afraid. And then this jogged my memory and I can relate the way, at 13 years old, I had to go swimming once a week with my class to a local pool and I used to worry all week because of it, and I never told my parents. I really regret this now, because I was obviously suffering as a child and they could have helped me or made the school aware so that I could have been given some support.
The way social anxiety makes you feel:
You will be afraid of social situations that are familiar or unfamiliar or involve contact with groups of people. Meeting strangers, talking on the telephone ( I still have issues with this), school life in general, work life, Interaction and a fear of slipping up and saying the wrong thing. You can be conscious of being looked at when entering a room and being judged by the way you dress or behave. There are strong tendencies to avoid anything that may put you in situations that require eye contact. Therefore, normal daily activities such as job interviews, or dating or meals out with friends can be stressful and can hamper your life. It can also make you have panic attacks, shortness of breath, sweating, and nervousness.
I personally feel that if you suffer from social anxiety it will be beneficial to get some form of help by visiting your GP and talking about it. Speaking about the options available to you and expressing yourself will ultimately alleviate the anxiety, and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy has been proven to work.
Once I realized that I had social anxiety I tried different ways of addressing my stress levels in the situations that I constantly avoided. I still have it, yet I’m ok with it! And why shouldn’t I be? It doesn’t impact my life too negatively. I work at different schools every week and this I’ve had to get used to, but it has taken effort and patience to adapt with the help from others. I will always try to avoid crowds, mainly because I just feel uncomfortable in this environment. If I have to be in this situation for any reason, I do tend to sit near a door, which makes me feel more in control.
I do still have a long way to go with this, but I’m taking slow steps to build up my confidence and I’ll only do things that make me feel comfortable. I do enjoy going out for meals and drinks with friends, so it doesn’t stop me doing stuff, it’s just that I go to a place that’s not too busy and 3 or 4 of us together is an adequate group size for me, and it makes it more of an enjoyable evening. Lastly, I do think it’s very important to let your loved ones and friends know exactly how you feel. If you do this, it will stop you having to make unnecessary excuses and they will understand how you feel and accommodate your wishes and feelings.
The most important thing I think in all of this is to never feel ashamed. I did, for a long long time, and it made me feel embarrassed, silly, inadequate and worthless. It’s really Ok to have this condition! It’s uncomfortable admittedly, but it doesn’t mean you are failing as a person. You just need the correct support from the ones around you that matter, and the proper professionals to help you if you want to go down that route; which is great!!! x
Here are some helpful websites: