Social anxiety is the third most common anxiety disorder in America. It is a painful anxiety disorder where a person is constantly in paranoia that other people are watching them and critiquing them. While people with social anxiety know this is not true, it does little to ease their fears.
Imagine that every time you left the comfort of your own home you felt IMMEDIATELY that everyone could see you- even worse, they are hearing your thoughts, anticipating and judging your every move. They can see your embarrassment, they are laughing at you behind your back. It doesn’t matter if all you are doing is standing in line at the grocery store, all eyes are on YOU and they are placing a huge spotlight on all the flaws you haven’t even committed yet (but you know you will) and they are ready and waiting to place judgment on you.
People with Social Anxiety Disorder logically know that this type of paranoia is unrealistic. They KNOW that complete strangers don’t care what they are doing, but it doesn’t stop the FEELING of having eyes on their back. This disorder makes people uncomfortable in public, particularly in situations where interacting with others (such as social gatherings, family reunions, being on an elevator with a stranger, waiting in a long line at the DMV) is inevitable. The instant panic sets in, and this exacerbates their anxiety because people with social anxiety are ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN that everyone can see their red face, their sweaty palms and armpits, their shaky hands, their trembling voice. They know everyone can hear their frantically beating heart, and are making fun of them or deeming them insignificant.
People with Social Anxiety Disorder often hate making phone calls because they are certain they are “putting people out” even when they are calling about their bill or even calling their own family members and friends. They will review and analyze every moment of a conversation they have with someone (in person or otherwise) to check for flaws on their own part- did they stutter? Did they sound ridiculous? Did they get their point across? Since every person they come in contact with (or every person who “sees” them) is judging them, then they ABSOLUTELY DID SOMETHING WRONG.
People with Social Anxiety Disorder typically will take personal responsibility for faults of everything around them they are aware of. If someone trips in front of them on the sidewalk, THEY will be yelled at for it, if the neighbor’s dog is barking, it is because THEY are doing something to irritate it, even if a bird craps on their car it is THEIR fault.
It is extremely difficult for people with Social Anxiety Disorder to get through an entire day without a panic moment or attack of some sort since they are always in the “spotlight” and being judged. They tend to be very self-conscious and personally aware of their appearance down to their socks. They often obsess about their appearance since it is the most visible of their prescience to others and they will either present themselves in a “dress to impress” manner and be perfectly coiffed, or try to be as unnoticeable as possible while in public.
Thankfully, this disorder can be dealt with. An effective way to deal with the social anxiety is distractive methods that divert the sufferer from their constant paranoia to something constant and soothing. Many sufferers chew gum or snap their fingers or do something rhythmic that they force themselves to pay attention to. A distraction from the anxiety helps soothe a sufferer while they are in public. Often wearing sunglasses in public helps to “cloak” the individual so they become “invisible” to others and therefore off the hook from public judgment.
A way to face the anxiety and paranoia is to give it a name. This works because when a person names their fear they can disassociate themselves from their anxiety and tell IT what to do instead of the other way around. It is important that they acknowledge the anxiety, then tell it that “Hey, Chuck, I know you’re here and you’re not going to go away, but I AM going shopping today so you’ll just have to deal with it.” Telling their anxiety by name that they will allow it but they aren’t going to RESPOND to it or let it affect what they are going to be doing allows a person to train their brain that while they may experience anxiety, it won’t CONTROL them. This method takes persistence and certain bravery as it throws the individual straight into their social anxiety awareness, but it is highly effective.
Also, recognizing that they themselves are not judging others allows a social anxiety sufferer to further put their anxiety into perspective. Something as simple as a “I’m not judging THEM, so they are not judging ME” mantra can help a social anxiety sufferer tremendously.
It is important for anyone with Social Anxiety Disorder to realize they are not “weird” “paranoid” or “crazy”. They are also not alone and they do not need to become victims of their anxiety and fears. When they realize how to control their anxiety and keep at it, they can lead much happier lives.