Have you ever avoided walking down a street because it was busy and you fear someone would say hello? Or do you drink glass after glass of alcohol in a social setting to stay “occupied?” Or have you ever left a party or event because interacting with people was so difficult? So difficult that you broke out in a cold sweat complete with nausea and heart palpitations? No?
Well, each scenario has happened to me and still happens from time to time. A trip outside my apartment often makes me feel like I’m on the reality show American Ninja Warrior. In those moments, I’m trying to make it through the social obstacle course without falling on my face. I know all this sounds extreme but this is my reality because I have social anxiety disorder.
What is Social Anxiety Disorder?
Social anxiety disorder is the persistent fear of social situations where a person is exposed to unfamiliar people. The person may also have an irrational fear of possible scrutiny by others. He or she fears that he or she will act in a way that will be embarrassing or humiliating.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) states that Social Anxiety disorder affects about 15 million American adults. It is the second most diagnosed anxiety disorder. Those with social anxiety disorder may exhibit unusual behavior when faced with social situations.
Affected individuals may avoid social situations. I know I have turned down many invites because I was afraid of social interaction. This behavior tends to lead to the isolation of the affected individual.
Individuals affected by the disorder may use a safety mechanism when in social situations. When I get out of the house you will notice I always have my phone in hand checking messages or scrolling through Instagram. Also, if I know someone at that event I “cling” to that person. Sometimes, I use alcohol as my safety mechanism. I will always have a drink in my hand to seem occupied or normal.
Affected individuals may try to escape uncomfortable social situations that cause anxiety. Many times I have left events early due to social anxiety disorder. Most times I agree to attend but only for a few minutes.
I hate feeling out-of-place and unfortunately, I feel like this most times I am around others in social settings. This feeling only becomes worse when someone asks “what’s wrong?” “Why are you so quiet?” I mean who would believe a 6’3 football built guy would have social anxiety? Although I wish I could hide away from the world, I know I can’t do that, I know this is something I must overcome. Recently, I have used a few strategies to help me tolerate social interaction and overcome this disorder.
Three Strategies I Use to Overcome Social Anxiety.
While these strategies have been successful for me to varying degrees, they may not work for everyone. Finding what works best for you may involve some trial and error. My strategies include changing my way of thinking, support systems, and medication.
- Changing my way of thinking has helped me to take the focus off of myself. Most times I am deathly afraid of being judged by others or embarrassing myself. I have come to the realization that people are not thinking about me. They are busy with their own thoughts, fears, and insecurities. I often remind myself of this when I encounter uncomfortable social settings.
- About a year ago I found out about a support group for those with social anxiety. Of course, I was reluctant at first to attend this group because of my anxiety and I felt ashamed. After the first meeting, I felt a great sense of relief because I was able to speak with others who dealt with the same disorder. I was able to ask questions without fear or judgment. What was even more important is that I was able to support others by sharing my experience. I still attend these support meetings every so often as a sort of check and also to help others.
- After a difficult summer of 2017, I considered medication option for anxiety. I began taking a Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitor (SSRI). SSRI’s are the first line of medications considered when treating social anxiety. Serotonin (a chemical that has a variety of functions in the human body) plays an integral part in regulating mood, sleep, appetite, and pain. Reduced serotonin transmission can contribute to anxiety (and depression). I am taking sertraline which increases the availability of serotonin.
While I have never been big on taking medication, I can say I have noticed some change since starting the medication. If you are struggling with social anxiety disorder, then I urge you to seek help. While there is no one thing that will fix the disorder it can get better.