How You Can Help Someone Dealing with Social Anxiety
How some people experience it and ways to help them
Do you have an anxious feeling when you’re out in public? Do you feel like everyone’s staring at you when you’re at the grocery store? These are things people with social anxiety deal with every day.
After dealing with the pandemic, some of us may find it hard to deal with things going back to normal. Those of us with social anxiety may have been enjoying the time at home, away from people.
As defined by the National Institute of Mental Health, “Social anxiety disorder (also called social phobia) is a mental health condition. It is an intense, persistent fear of being watched and judged by others.”
Some of the common symptoms of social anxiety include:
- feeling sick to your stomach
- feeling dizzy
- a triggered fight or flight response
- not making eye contact
- spacing out
- For some, it even triggers depression, making them sad
I’ve had anxiety for as long as I can remember. Constantly feeling like someone was watching me or judging me. I’ve always been the “worry wart” in the family, worrying about trivial things that others don’t understand.
I plan ahead a lot, and when I say plan ahead, I’m planning my birthday party that’s on the 30th of April in late March. To me, that’s just cautious planning. To others that fly by the seat of their pants, it’s way too early to be planning anything.
When I was younger, I remember always being afraid of eating around other people. I didn’t want people to judge me because I ate fast and ate what I thought was a lot.
The thought of someone watching me eat would make me so nervous after age 12; I avoided eating lunch at school.
When I turned 15, I started standing up to people. I didn’t care what people thought of me. I was in the “I don’t care about anyone or anything” mindset.
Deep down, I did care what other people thought of me, and I was still afraid people were talking about me and judging me. I just hid it a little better from people. During that time, I wasn’t afraid to physically assault someone without being provoked.
I thought I was a badass and this tough girl when really it was just a cry for help.
When I became an adult and had to get a job and deal with the real world, I developed severe social anxiety. I would get paranoid people were talking about me, whether or not they were.
Coming from a time where I used to fight everyone inside and outside school, I knew I couldn’t do that in the workplace for fear of getting fired or put in jail. So I let my anxiety control me and get out of hand.
Tonight I went to a restaurant with my parents and sister. I hadn’t been to this specific restaurant in years because this guy I used to mess around with works there.
It was also the first time I’ve been outside of the house in a public setting without wearing a mask. The whole night, I was quiet.
I kept thinking to myself, “What if he sees me?”, “What if he sees how much weight I’ve gained?” “What if he thinks I’m ugly now?” All of these stupid thoughts that don’t even matter. Why do I care what he thinks of me?
So what if he saw me. I am who I am, and I’ve been married for going on 10 years. Why does his opinion matter? It’s hard to stop yourself in the middle of these thoughts and rationalize with your anxious mind.
The whole time we were there, I just wanted to go home. I kept wondering how I let my sister convince me to go when I knew I would be miserable the entire time.
Before we left, the three of them wanted to stand outside and talk and enjoy the night. I was absolutely frantic. I was out in the middle of a crowd of people without a mask to hide part of my face.
I’ve always liked wearing face masks because they cover part of your face and make you a bit unrecognizable to others.
I kept spacing out and thinking negative thoughts. I would stare at the ground and try to forget that I was standing in an open public setting. I was irritable when my mom would ask me what’s wrong. I just shook my head to act like I was fine.
Without warning, I practically yelled, “I just wanna go home!” I felt like I was going to cry and throw up at the same time.
When we finally got in the car and we were on our way home, I started crying.
How could I embarrass myself like that? Why am I like this? Why can’t I be like everyone else and have a good time? So many questions. So many negative thoughts.
I started to convince myself I was stupid for letting this kind of thing bother me and not being a better person. The only good thing that came out of the situation was this article.
So what can you do for someone who suffers from social anxiety?
- First, take them out of the situation. Take them somewhere they can be in private with you or alone to calm down.
- Do not pressure someone into going into a social situation!
- Do not tell someone they “worry too much” if they explain what’s going on; try to be as empathetic and understanding as possible.
- Offer the person some water, remind them to pay attention to their breathing, tell them to close their eyes, and take slow, deep breaths.
- Don’t tell them to “calm down” — this never helps any situation.
- If it’s bad enough that the person states they want to go home, take them home.
- Talk to them as much as you can to understand what they’re feeling. Sometimes it helps us to talk about how we are feeling and process the situation.
Social anxiety is not something we’ve just made up in our minds. It’s an actual mental health condition. The above are just a few things I wish some people would do for me when I have social anxiety. Be a good friend or family member and absorb these tips. Do you deal with any form of social anxiety?