Before I begin, I’d like to emphasize that I am in no way talking about dealing with high levels of anxiety or social anxiety disorder as I personally do not suffer from it. However, I do experience a certain, lesser significant level in particular situations. There are many articles on coping with full on anxiety, so I thought I would put something out there for people like me to help them handle such conditions before they go out of hand and become full blown uncontrollable.
Anxiety is a feeling of unease, nervousness, worry or fear about a certain situation, normally where the consequences are unsure. I believe everyone experiences anxiety at some point in their life, and that is completely normal. Healthy even (I think). You may have anxiety before sitting for an exam or before performing in front of crowds. That is not an indication of an anxiety disorder, rather an indication that you are only human. However, certain people endure anxiety in situations where most people usually do not, which means they have mild levels of anxiety. Once their feelings go beyond their control, they have a disorder and would need treatment.
Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD)
Someone suffering from SAD will usually face excessive and unreasonable fearful feelings of social situations. The feelings stem from self-consciousness and, therefore, fear of being closely observed, judged and a general fear of embarrassing oneself in front of others is the outcome. People with SAD may be unable to think straight, and may have a habit of building up false beliefs and negative opinions of others. Their fears cause them to tolerate certain social situations with distress or avoid them altogether. They may even fear the situation or event days or weeks before it happens.
I personally experience mild SAD but not in all situations and have now coped with it to the point of almost curing myself of it in the ones that do trigger it for me.
Below are some situations when I undergo a little more unease and worry than usual and how I have learnt to deal with them:
Going somewhere I have never been before
It doesn’t necessarily have to be a new city or country. I face anxiety (sometimes lower levels, sometimes higher) even if I’m going to some café or restaurant that I’ve never been to. The level of unease increases a lot more if I am to arrive alone.
How to cope with it: Take someone with you. Even if they, too, are unfamiliar with the place, at least you’re not on your own. If that is not an option, try and learn as much as you can about the place beforehand. Being prepared helps more than you realise. Look up the place online, see what it looks like, where it is located. See if you know some nearby spots or streets, something you can relate to. Then, when you’re making your way to it, not everything will be unknown and you can have a sense of familiarity with what’s to come.
Meeting someone for the first time
This is one situation that would trigger SAD for me a lot more in my preteens as I have now learnt to deal a lot better with it. You may be able to completely avoid such situations by being a loner but this can be a bummer for your study and work life.
How to cope with it: As with the previous scenario, having someone with you or seeing a picture of who you’re about to meet will help and reduce your nervousness. But even then, I feel like the most important thing to do is feel confident about yourself. If you’re not confident in your own skin, you can never be at ease with anyone you meet, let alone someone completely new. How would you do that? Wear something you love and feel comfortable in. You need to feel pretty to feel good in the head. Know that you are important and in control. When you are confident with how you look, you will feel and look decidedly confident about everything else.
Eating in public
It makes me laugh now, but when I was younger, I would have this irrational fear of eating in public. It was another case that would instantly set off my SAD. It came to the point where I would completely ditch meals at parties. I would worry of spilling something down my shirt or making a noise with cutlery.
How to cope with it: Absolutely do NOT do what I used to. Never entirely avoid meals as that would only make the fear go away in that particular moment. You would not be able to overcome your fears until you slowly and gradually start facing them. Baby steps is the key. Start by having a drink. Once you feel comfortable, pick something easy to eat. If you feel like that’s enough fear facing for the day, then give yourself a break and start again next time. Slowly build up your confidence and hopefully you’ll be able to indulge in full course meals in public.
Not being in control of a situation
Oh how anxious I get when I can’t control something. Being a bit of a control freak, I obsessively plan. I plan by the minute and make it my mission to follow. So when things happen unexpectedly to hinder my planning, I sort of lose it. I don’t panic or get nervous, I get annoyed and am at great unease. This doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy spontaneous plans, I thoroughly do, but only when what’s happening is of interest to me.
How to cope with it: Find the person who calms you down and can help you reason. A person who is patient enough to handle you and help you break through this control freaky mode when anxiety hits. It’s best to forget about your to-do list and focus on the NOW. Make new plans. Don’t cry over the control you lost and instead, take fresh control over the new situation.
Being in school, I remember dreading reading out loud in class. It would fan the flames of my SAD. I wouldn’t be calm when it came to public speaking either, but I would still manage to do it well after practice. However, I would silently pray that the teacher wouldn’t call my name for reading aloud.
How to cope with it: Take a deep breath and start slowly. If you read quickly in hope of finishing sooner, you are bound to make mistakes and embarrass yourself, the thing you dread the most. After a paragraph or two, you’ll automatically start feeling a lot calmer.
Practicing at home when you are alone helps. Read aloud to yourself and work on your confidence.
Other situations that trigger SAD for people (not me) include:
- Talking to authority figures
- Small talk
- Writing in front of others
- Stating opinions
- Using public toilets
Exposure therapy, I find, is an effective way to tackle any anxiety or disorder that is mild enough to be treated without medical assistance. People suffering from anxiety tend to avoid the situations they dread altogether. This does mitigate distress temporarily but in the long term, you are basically telling yourself that you will always fear that situation because it is to be feared. This can come in the way of your daily life, especially if you are studying or working.
You need to gradually start exposing yourself to the circumstances in order to face your fears until they don’t bother you as much anymore. You can start off by playing it in your head and when you’re ready, in real life.
Sorry for this post being super long but I hope I helped you in some way or the other in dealing with your anxiety.