Overcoming social anxiety has been no easy task.
It took me years to unlearn the bad habits that my life long social anxiety disorder caused me to have.
During that time, I learnt a plethora of coping skills and techniques that I could use in every day life but most of all, I learnt about myself.
I also realised a few things about other people along the way and smashed a lot of misconceptions about the way I thought I was being perceived by them.
Here’s a few things that overcoming social anxiety has taught me…
Social anxiety doesn’t make you weak
In the midst of an anxiety attack, you may feel weak. When you’re thinking of all the excuses you could use to avoid a social event, you may feel weak. When you’re exhausted from socialising because of you social anxiety, you may feel weak.
But I can tell you right now that you are far from weak.
Having a social anxiety disorder is a daily battle. You are going to war with your mind every single day and and trying your absolute best.
Going through anxiety attacks, the physical symptoms that come with social anxiety and the constant overthinking is exhausting!
After overcoming social anxiety, I honestly look back and wonder how I even managed to do things with a social anxiety disorder.
I realise how strong I must have been to go through that every day.
Trust me, you’re not weak. You’re a warrior!
It’s okay if someone doesn’t like you
Social anxiety makes you feel as if you need to please everybody but nobody can ever please everybody. It’s okay if someone doesn’t like you, that’s their problem, it shouldn’t be yours.
I’m sure there are people you don’t necessarily want to spend much time with, not because you hate them but because they’re just not your kind of people. That’s totally fine. We are all drawn to different people for different reasons.
People aren’t paying as much attention to you as you think
I remember getting so worked up before leaving the house, thinking that if someone is leaving their house at the same time or walking past, that they would stare at me or judge me.
I remember being in the garden and thinking that everyone must be looking at me from their windows and making fun of me.
I genuinely believed these things to be true.
It sounds self absorbed but social anxiety has a really convincing way of making us think that everybody out there is judging us.
But it’s a lie. They’re not.
Sure, you may get someone staring at you once in a while because they’re nosy but they’re the exception to the rule and nowadays I like to stare at them back, make them feel uncomfortable for staring at me.
I can tell you though, for a fact, that every person in your street isn’t looking out of their windows watching everything you do. Every group of friends laughing together, aren’t laughing at you.
People are too busy and focused on their own selves to watch your every move and judge you. I swear.
Practise really does make perfect
Overcoming social anxiety isn’t a super final thing where you graduate from having a mental illness. It’s a slow process that takes lots of mental graft and it requires upkeep.
The more you expose yourself to the things you fear, the less afraid of it you become.
I mean, it’s not really that simple or as black and white but the gist of it is true.
There’s a lot more to it than that, it’s not just a case of exposing yourself to a social situation over and over until it feels comfortable, there’s other things that go along with it too…
BUT, I’ve realised that as soon as I spend a significant portion of time stuck at home (since overcoming social anxiety, I’ve had surgeries, a chronic illness and twins) I start feeling anxious again whenever I leave the house.
It takes a while for me to get back into the habit of being around other people and going out again.
So even when you overcome social anxiety, you still need to practise all those good habits that you’ve picked up.
Mental health needs exercise too!
Social anxiety often gets confused as introversion
How many articles do you read where it describes someone who has social anxiety as the kind of person who would prefer a night in with a good book?
I had a social anxiety disorder and hated nights in, I longed to be out on the town, getting drunk and dancing the night away.
The more of my social anxiety that I overcame, the more of my extroversion I unmasked.
Social anxiety has a very good way of hiding your true personality because it takes away more of your choices and enjoyment.
You can easily be an extrovert and have social anxiety, just as you can be an introvert with social anxiety.
Introversion and social anxiety are not the same thing.
People in social anxiety groups tend to dismiss you when you start getting better
I’ve been a member of a LOT of social anxiety support groups and forums over the years and they all differ.
Unfortunately I started to recognise a saddening theme across quite a few of them, where there seemed to be some kind of unwritten competition of who had it worse.
It’s almost like a race to the bottom, which makes for a pretty shitty environment if you’re actually there to get better.
I have been told that I don’t have social anxiety and have no idea how social anxiety feels because I had a job/boyfriend/could leave the house.
Despite the fact that this totally dismissed the fact that I couldn’t leave the house or work for years, it also undermines the fact that people struggle with social anxiety in different ways and at different levels of severity.
It sucks when someone basically tells you that you’re not entitled to be in a support group for your mental health unless your mental illness is the worst it could possibly be.
I created my anxiety support group to help build each other up and to actually support each other to get better. I personally think this works and I’d hate anyone to feel alienated because their anxiety is not as bad as someone else’s.
More people struggle with social anxiety than you realise
This was the biggest thing that overcoming social anxiety taught me.
I actually realised this when I’d been writing Anxious Lass for nearly 3 years. BBC Radio 5 Live asked me to be a guest on a segment they were doing about social anxiety and I jumped at the chance.
The only trouble was, I hadn’t shared my blog with any of my “real life” friends or hardly any of family. I figured I’d need to tell them before they heard me on the radio!
The second I shared my blog with the entirety of my Facebook friends list, a BUNCH of people messaged me to say they also had social anxiety and could really relate to the blog.
First of all, woah, I wasn’t expecting such nice responses because I’d assumed for years that social anxiety was something I should be embarrassed about. Clearly not!
Secondly, the friends and family that were telling me they could relate, I’d have had NO IDEA that they also had social anxiety. No idea at all.
It made me realise that all these years I’d hid my mental illness from everyone and spent years feeling alone, when I didn’t even have to.
I could have talked about it freely and had support all along.
Social anxiety is much more common than you might think. Anyone you know could be dealing with it. You never really know what people are dealing with behind a brave face.
What has overcoming social anxiety taught you?
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