One of the worst feelings in the world is wondering if you are 'weird'. "Do other people look at me and think I'm strange?" It is possible that you are experiencing social anxiety.
Did you know 8% of people will suffer from social anxiety at one point in their lives? For many, the feelings may pass BUT left untreated, social anxiety can last for a LONG time.
That 8% may not sound like a lot. But out of every ten other people you meet, one of them has experienced social anxiety. So the question is… are you weird? The simple answer is no. Many have gone down the same path as you. Yet social anxiety could affect your work life, relationships, and day to day existence.
Let’s be clear. Everyone can feel nervous in front of a stranger. Standing in front of a crowd may give anyone the butterflies. Talking to an attractive person can make even the most suave shake in their boots. But you may have social anxiety if:
- your feelings are intense, even leading to panic attacks
-you find yourself in the same spot for over 2-3 weeks
-your job performance is going down
-you avoid interactions which leads to lost opportunities
If any of those things sound like you, it’s best to talk with your family physician about it. She’ll be able to do an assessment to refer you to the right help.
How did I get here in the first place?
Everybody’s story is different and the answer can be complex. In the debate between nature vs. nurture, there is room for both.
Confessions of a counsellor, coach, and author.I for one used to live with social anxiety. How is that possible? I grew up in a loving family, I had no major traumas in my upbringing. Where did this incredible shyness come from? Perhaps I was born that way.
Or maybe because my sisters out-performed me in everything. Could it be that sibling rivalry pushed me to believe I am less than I am? Was it because I was the shortest kid in the class until grade 8? Or was it my race and how I perceived it?
The better question is, how is that I can now speak in front of lecture halls, and meet new people with ease? That is a story for another time. For the curious, send me a message and I’ll connect with you about it.
In the simplest terms, this is how anxieties develop.
Trauma.At one point of your life, you got hurt. It could be real hurt or perceived hurt. Maybe you experienced bullying about how strange you were.
Intense feelings.The trauma gave you intense feelings that you did not enjoy. Shortness of breath, feeling of darkness or suffocation, anger, etc.
Thoughts.Those feelings changed your thoughts about yourself and/or the world you perceive. For example:
“This is a dangerous world, people are judgmental.”
“I am strange, people do not like me.”
Reaction.Your thoughts led you to act a certain way. If I believe I am strange and nobody likes me, likely I will avoid people.
Continuation.Once you start avoiding people, you have few chances to make new connections. Over time you may think that people do not like you.
The cycle I described above is the reason why people can become stuck in social anxiety.
Here’s the bad news.Being stuck in a negative cycle of social anxiety is HARD to break out of! People who try to talk their own way out find it despairing when things don’t change.
Here’s the good news.With the right knowledge, tools, and help, this cycle can stop. The other good news is that your social anxiety has nothing to do with you being weird. It has a lot to do with a lifetime experience of being in a negative cycle without even knowing it.
That’s great Lindsay, so what do I do now?
Reach out. There is nothing wrong with saying you need help. You are not weak for reaching out for help.
Being vulnerable is a strength.
Who’s stronger? The person who pretends they are ok but feels messed up inside. Or the person who admits they are all messed up inside and decides to do something about it?
Treatments of Social Anxiety that do not need drugs:
Curetogether.com combined the responses from thousands of patients to answer this question. They charted their responses by effectiveness and popularity. These were the ones listed as most effective:
-Spending time with pets
-Getting enough sleep
-Talking with family and friends
-Sticking to a daily routine
Start with exercise, sleep, and regular routine. Anxiety creeps up on you most when you have no energy to deal with it. How do you increase energy? Take care of your physical wellbeing. This is always my first recommendation. Our bodies and our moods go hand-in-hand. Not caring for your body = bad moods… guaranteed.
What will YOU do different this week to fight social anxiety? If you don’t already exercise, it is time to add this one activity in your life.
Exercise scares some people, it seems like too much work. Let me give you some quick recommendations:
Read a bit about it to learn on your own. Download their complete program and print it out.
Do the same on:
During our honeymoon, my wife Kathleen and I had no gym. We were travelling everywhere. To stay fit, we needed something that we could quickly do anywhere. I told her if I were to choose only two exercises to do they would be the squat and the pushup. With these two, you work out your entire body’s biggest muscles. No equipment necessary.
With these programs, you only work out 3 times a week. You start easy and progress until it gets harder. They are super effective. Kathleen had chronic hip pain and now she no longer feels it.
Will this work for you?
Talk to somebody. Men especially do not like this. Talk seems weak. But how is that working for you? The benefits of having someone else to talk to is that they can give you fresh perspective. You can work out the cycle you were stuck in. You can get support to believe new thoughts and counter the old thoughts. Man up, reach out, talk to somebody… what do you really have to lose?
If you are not comfortable talking with someone you know, then reach out to a professional. You will have the benefit of a safe space and someone trained to help you with your problem. Talk to me, this is what I do.
Who knows? Social anxiety might be your strength.
This may sound crazy, but hear me out. Social anxiety means you may be too concerned about how people see you. But maybe it means you have empathy and an ability to understand people. There is the possibility of using feelings that hold you back as strengths instead. I told you that I suffered from social anxiety. Now my greatest strength when people reach out to me is that I understand where they come from. I felt it all myself, but now I have compassion for anyone else struggling. Could this become your story too?