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10 Ways My Social Anxiety Affects Me

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Social anxiety isn’t an easy condition to live with. It’s haunted me my entire life, and I’m only just now starting to gain control over it. It’s also widely misunderstood as simple shyness, when the reality is, it’s so much more. It can come with self-destructive thought patterns that leave me feeling stuck.

To help those who may be unfamiliar with this disorder, I’ve compiled a list of my physical and mental characteristics caused by my social anxiety. Please bear in mind that everyone experiences this disorder differently, and I can only speak from my personal experience.

1. At times when my anxiety is at its worst, my body feels numb. When I get into an unfamiliar social situation, my mind is rushing me with thoughts of “what if you say something stupid and completely humiliate yourself?” During the worst of times, I will find myself unable to move my body out of the situation because the fear of humiliation has gripped me. It holds my muscles and bones hostage, and it takes a great amount of panic and adrenaline-induced strength to break out.

2. My anxiety causes a cold, panicky feeling across my entire body. I’ll start getting hot and cold flashes, my heart will start to pound inside my chest, and my stomach will be tied in nauseous knots. My breathing will come in faster, and I may start to lose feeling in my hands because of it.

3. My anxiety wreaks havoc on my digestive system. When I prepare to enter a social situation that heightens my anxiety, I’m having constant bowel movements and diarrhea.

4. I don’t know how to act. My mind is busy convincing me I’m just too stupid to be able to handle this. All I can focus on is what can possibly go wrong. If I don’t talk to you, it’s not because I don’t like you. It’s because I don’t like me. I’m just too afraid of saying the wrong thing to you and either humiliating myself or offending you.

5. I do more than second guess myself. I’m constantly overthinking. Chances are, before I say something, I’ve gone over it at least 10 times in my head to make sure it will sound OK. I can’t risk being impulsive, even over something as simple as that, because that could lead to me feeling humiliated.

6. My anxiety exhausts me. Constantly battling my mind leaves me feeling mentally and physically drained. My body is in a constant state of fight-or-flight, and the excess adrenaline takes its toll. If I still feel tired after a full night of sleep, please understand I have plenty of reason to feel as tired as I do.

7. I may stutter or say the wrong thing. When I’m scared to talk, the words seem to get caught in my throat, and I struggle to push them out. My mind is also racing, and so the wrong words may slip out. Be patient if I need to pause to collect my thoughts before I continue speaking. This isn’t easy for me.

8. My muscles are always tense. The constant state of fight-or-flight is really hard on my body. I always have sore, tense muscles.

9. I avoid people if I think they don’t like me. Even if they’ve been nothing but kind to me, certain people will give me higher anxiety than others. If my mind can find any small micro expression or piece of dialogue it can use to convince me you don’t like me, think I’m stupid, or that I have somehow offended you, I will avoid you. It’s not you. It’s my anxiety.

10. I can’t just “relax” or “be myself.” I’ve heard so many times, “be yourself, and people will like you.” The truth is, once you pull away the many layers of my anxiety, I don’t know who I am, and I’m afraid every anxious, self-hating thought about me is right. And that fear of being right has made it hard for me to find help.

So if you know someone with social anxiety, please be patient. What they’re going through isn’t easy. They need your love, compassion, support, and understanding. If you’re willing to stick by them through this and help them, it will mean the world to them.

If you are someone with social anxiety, then likewise, be patient. You are fighting a difficult battle, one which can be won through self-love and kindness. I believe in you.

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Thinkstock photo by Banana Stock

Originally published: November 23, 2016
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