Tag Archive | social anxiety disorder

My socially awkward moments – Part 3

Another part of my series of articles about my socially embarrassing situations. Read part 1 and part 2.


I have to confess that I have another very bad habit. I sing a lot. I know, theres nothing wrong with singing. Unless you do it too much. My family got already used to it. Its considered perfectly normal in our house when I randomly start singing and shouting. I perform every day in the shower:

image

Me and my sister love to sing together, it’s our favorite thing to do on weekends.


The problem is that I love singing too much. Sometimes I get an uncontrollable urge to sing. And the worst thing is when that happens in a public place. In such case I have no choice but to repress this urge as much as I can.

But sometimes Im walking on a street when I feel a strong desire to sing. The street looks empty, no one is around. So I take a risk and start singing. Usually I dont get caught, but it happened to me a few times that out of nowhere, a person appeared a few meters from me. Its like they literally manifested out of nowhere, and of course, theyve heard me singing. In this situations I feel extremely uncomfortable. As much as Im okay when my family hears me singing, when a stranger hears me singing, I feel like I want to disappear out of this world.

I just walk away and act like nothing happened.

image

One time an awkward moment happened when I was casually having my concert while home alone. I sang my favorite songs REALLY LOUDLY. Suddenly the door bell rang and I went to open the door. It was a postwoman. She had this weird grin on her face while she was giving me my letters. As she was leaving, she told me that I have a nice voice and I should audition for X-Factor. Till this day I have no idea if she really meant it or it was supposed to be sarcasm… But I felt really awkward afterwards. I should have realized that the whole street could hear me when I was singing.

image


One thing I hate is doing presentations in front of people. Sadly you cant avoid them while you’re in school. Im always extremely awkward when I speak in public. I tend to have nervous tics, I stutter, I mumble words which make no sense or forget everything that Ive learned.

I could tell you many awkward stories about how I failed my presentations, but one of them really stands out. Once I actually ran away in the middle of my presentation and went to the bathroom. Yes, you read well. My presentation was so poor and so very bad. I stuttered at every word, I forgot almost everything I wanted to say and I was so red in my face like a tomato. I choked hard and stood there, completely quiet, with my face searching for something I couldn’t find really hard, while my eyes were just staring at people with this blank face. You guys should’ve heard the ABSOLUTE SILENCE while I was struggling horribly to find something to say…

image

People were just gawking at me with their eyes and mouths open……

Aladdin Genie agape jaw drop

The longer I was standing here trying to remember something and save this awkward situation, the worse I was feeling. And the more I needed to go to the bathroom… Ive literally felt like I was going to vomit in front of everyone. So what did I do? I did what I know best: I ran away.

Nope Octopus

Without saying a word I stormed out of the class, shut the door and ran to the toilet. I bet everyone was just sitting there with their mouths open asking themselves what did just happen. Everyone already knew that I was awkward, but no one expected me to run away so suddenly. The teacher sent another girl to the toilet to check if Im alright. I wasnt alright of course. I felt like vomiting, crying and ending my life at the same time. After I calmed down a little bit I wasnt sure what to do next. Should I return to the classroom and finish my presentation? Or should I return, sit on my place and act like nothing happened? When I came back to class, no one forced me to finish my presentation anymore. Thankfully, no one was laughing at me, they all looked at me like they were regretting me probably thinking: “Poor girl, she has a serious problem. I wouldnt want to be on her place”. Well, this story is maybe more sad than funny…


Ill admit it. My thoughts are really weird. If someone could see what is happening in my head, they would think I‘m psycho.

I do remember once, a long time ago, I was in class and I was staring really hard at this pencil.

And the guy next to me is like: “Hey… what are you doing…?”
Me: “Well, I was trying to imagine what it would be like if the only two entities in the universe were me and this pencil.”

The way he looked at me…

Woah!


I never know how to handle eye contact… I tend to swing between two extremes. In social situations involving conversations, either my gaze is lost in space, fixed on some random point while nonetheless listening to whoever’s talking (at least for the first five seconds if it’s something I’m supposed to be listening to, less if I don’t care, and more if I do, but yeah, I inevitably drift off), or, I look directly into their eyes, which does take conscious effort. This means I don’t blink for a prolonged period of time, and the look I give, as it’s been described to me by others, suggests either that I’m planning to kill them or that I’m ripping their mind or soul open (or something to that effect)…I had a staring contest with a friend, she ended up freaking out a bit and continuously asking me to please blink. My reply: “Hold on, I’m pushing for a new personal record.” It appears hostile, in any case, and yet I don’t mean it. But I do tend to avoid eye contact with strangers, sometimes even acquaintances, or pretend I didn’t see them.

image


Another weird thing that I do a lot is that I make corresponding facial expression to my inner conversations. It happens to me all the time. Walking on a street, sitting in a bus, in a classroom… I‘m having an interesting conversation with myself in my own head and I don’t realize that the emotions I feel so deeply inside are evident on my face. This makes other people think I’m completely insane.


The thing I struggled probably the most with during my time in school was solving math problems in front of the entire class. Dont get me wrong, Im not stupid and math wasnt a big problem for me. The problem I have is that when I am called to perform in front of people, I suddenly forget everything I know, even my own name. If you asked me how much is 2+2, I would probably just look at you with a stupid gaze on my face and the answer wouldnt hit me. Thats how bad it is.

Ive had a panic attack every single time a teacher called me to solve a math problem in front of a blackboard.

It always resulted in public humiliation. The weird thing about it was that the teacher knew that I wasnt stupid and math really isnt the problem. I used to get best grades in tests. But in front of a whole class I acted like I was retarded.

After a few failed attempts, the teacher realized that I probably wont get better at it. So the funny thing was that each member of the class solved something on the blackboard and the only person who always got left out was me.


A situation that happens to me a lot:

Person: Oh my god, I love your dress! The color really suits you!
Me: Thanks! I like yours too. It’s, um…

(Internal dialogue: it suits her? No, she just said that to you, it’ll sound like you’re copying her. Nice color? Not only did she say that to you, but you’ve already said that to at least four different people today, you can’t just go around saying the same compliment to everyone. Good things about dresses, good things about dresses… damn, what are some good things about dresses? Cut? No, only people who are actually in the fashion business can talk about “cut” without sounding stupid. Size? No, always gets misconstrued as a fat joke. That decorative thing on the front? You don’t even know what it’s called! Damn, she obviously realizes by now that you’re struggling to come up with something…)
Me: I have no more compliments left!
Person: …Ooookay.

I honestly did like the dress.

Advertisements

How to overcome Social Anxiety

I have suffered from social anxiety for many years and I know how limiting and horrible it feels. So I have spent a lot of time thinking about how I overcame my social anxiety and how I can help other people that are suffering from it.

I have developed a few strategies that you can use to reduce your social anxiety. These are:

  1. Learning how to challenge your unhelpful thoughts and see things in a more realistic light.
  2. Reducing your tendency of focusing on yourself during social interactions.
  3. Removing the use o safety behaviors and gradually confronting your fears.

 Challenging unhelpful thoughts

The way that we think about things has an impact on our entire life. The root of a social anxiety are unhealthy beliefs which are just thoughts we have been thinking for too long. Many of these beliefs occur outside of our control, and can be negative and unhelpful. It is therefore important to remember that they are just thoughts, without any real basis, and are not necessarily facts. Even though we may believe a lot of our unhelpful thoughts when we are nervous, it is good to remember that they should be questioned as they are often based on wrong assumptions.

You might have unhelpful thoughts about all kinds of things. Here are some examples:

Before Social Situations

  • I’ll make a fool of myself
  • I’ll have nothing to say
  • I’ll go bright red / I’ll stammer

During Social Situations:

  • Everyone’s staring at me
  • I’m useless

After Social Situations

  • Everyone thought I was an idiot
  • I’d be better off not even bothering
  • I sounded like an idiot

About Yourself:

  • I’m weird
  • No-one likes me
  • I’m not very funny

First you need to be able to recognise an unhelpful thought. Then you can challenge it. Being aware of the common patterns that unhelpful thoughts follow can help you to recognise when you have them. Here are some of the common patterns that our unhelpful thoughts follow:

Predicting the Future:
When we are shy or socially anxious it is common for us to spend a lot of time thinking about the future and predicting what could go wrong, rather than just letting things be. In the end most of our predictions don’t happen and we have wasted time and energy being worried and upset about them. For example:

  • You worry that you will go red, stammer, and that everyone will dislike you.
  • You assume that you will be the centre of attention and everyone will stare at you.

These thoughts naturally make you anxious before you even arrive in a social situation.

Mind Reading:
This means that you make assumptions about others’ beliefs without having any real evidence to support them. For example:

  • He thinks I’m an idiot.
  • They think I look ugly.

Such ways of thinking can soon lower our mood and self-esteem.

Taking Things Personally:
When people are socially anxious or shy, they often take things to heart. For example:

  • You walk past a group who are laughing and assume the joke is at your expense.
Over Generalising:
Based on one isolated incident you assume that all others will follow a similar pattern in the future. For example:

  • Because you believe that one presentation went badly, you assume all others will follow the same pattern.
What If Statements:
Have you ever wondered “what if” something bad happens? For example:

  • What if nobody likes me?
  • What if I run out of things to say?

These thoughts also make you dread situations beforehand.

Focusing on the Negatives:
After a social gathering, you tend to focus on the parts of the evening that you believe didn’t go well. At the same time, you gloss over positive parts of the evening. For example:

  • You dwell on the one conversation which ran out of steam quickly, whilst forgetting the fact that you mingled well throughout the rest of the evening.
Labelling:
Do you label yourself with negative words? For example:

  • I’m boring.
  • I’m uninteresting.
  • I’m weird.
  • I’m unlovable.

These, often long held beliefs about yourself, ensure your confidence and self-esteem remains low.

Challenges to an unhelpful thought
Now you can challenge your unhelpful thoughts by asking these questions.
Is there any evidence that contradicts this thought?
I never run out of things to say to my friends, so why should this be different.
What would your friend say to you if they knew what you were thinking?
They would probably say – don’t be silly, you’re always good company.
How will you feel about this in 6 months time?
I probably won’t care. Even if it goes wrong I’ll have forgotten about it by then.
What are the costs and benefits of thinking in this way?
Costs: It’s making me nervous before I even go into the situation. It’s made me feel inadequate.
Benefits: I can’t really think of any.
Is there a another way of looking at this this situation?
Even if I don’t have anything to say, it’s not just up to me to keep conversations going. It’s everyone’s responsibility.

Reducing internal focus during social interactions

When we are socially anxious, we tend to spend a lot of time concentrating on our own bodily sensations during social interactions. This is because we fear that our anxiety is visible to others. For example, we may spend time trying to judge whether we are sweating, shaking, or blushing.

Although we do this in the hope being reassured that we are not visibly anxious, this strategy actually just makes things much worse. This is because we tend to overestimate how visible our anxiety is and this of course makes us feel even more self conscious. Also, by focusing on ourselves, we are prevented from fully concentrating on the conversations around us. This naturally makes it more difficult to join properly and we usually end up interacting less well than we could. This strengthens our beliefs that we are no good in such situations. The reality is that our anxiety is a lot less visible than we think. Often we have no idea if someone is anxious or not and it can help to remember this.

Similarly, when we feel socially anxious, we tend to spend time monitoring how well we are performing during social interactions. This too prevents us from paying proper attention to the conversations we are engaged in. For example, we may spend time trying to figure out if our voice sounds shaky, or go over and over the things we have said in our minds. Again, by doing so, we end up finding it hard to follow conversations which likely makes us perform worse. Given all of this, it is helpful to try to remove this tendency to focus on ourselves. Below you will find tips designed to help you during social interactions:

  • Try to spend less time focusing on your own physical symptoms in social situations.
  • Remember anxiety is much less visible than you imagine.
  • Even if you are visibly anxious, it does not necessarily mean that you will be thought badly of. Anxiety is something we all experience and it does not make you unusual.
  • Just because you feel anxious, it does not mean that you are performing poorly.
  • Remember – you are not the central focus of everyone’s attention. There are plenty of other things for people to think and talk about.
  • Really try to concentrate on the conversation you are involved in. Don’t think about how you appear or how well you are performing.
  • Don’t replay parts of the conversation in your mind, instead just focus on what is being said in the present moment.
  • We do not need to perform perfectly or brilliantly in every social interaction we have, no-one can achieve such high standards.
  • Don’t worry too much if there are silences. Everyone has a responsibility to keep conversations going. Besides, silences are ok and do not always need filled.
  • Just be yourself.’ Why bother when it is impossible for everyone to like us anyway.

Removing the use of avoidance and safety behaviors

When we are socially anxious, we tend to avoid social situations (parties, speaking in front of groups, going out). However if we keep avoiding the situations we fear, we never get the chance to prove to ourselves that we can cope in them and our confidence remains low. Similarly, whenever socially anxious people do enter the situations they fear, they tend to use safety behaviors (sticking besides a good friend at a party, staying silent when in a small group to avoid looking foolish…). Although these behaviors seem to help in the short term, they are actually unhelpful. This is because they stop people from learning that they could have coped fine without relying on such things. Therefore, like avoidance, safety behaviors stop us from learning that we can cope in such situations and our anxiety towards them continues.

Because of this, the best way to reduce our anxiety towards social situations is to gradually confront them, without relying on safety behaviors. Of course, confronting social situations can be horrifying, especially given that our anxiety levels often rise when we do it. If you repeatedly allow yourself to become involved in a short conversation, rather than avoid it, you can begin to prove that you can handle these scenarios much more effectively than you think and your confidence will soon rise.

What is social anxiety

Social anxiety is the term used to describe a high level of shyness. Of course everyone feels shy or anxious in certain social situations, but for some people it can be a little more extreme. When this is the case it has a huge affect on their lives and stops them doing the things they would like to. For example it may affect their confidence to go to school or work and impact on their confidence to make friends and enjoy their hobbies.

Situations that people often experience social anxiety in include:

  • Public speaking
  • Talking to authority figures
  • Talking to a group of people or an individual
  • Eating in public
  • Any performance based situations

When in such situations, people can often experience many uncomfortable physical symptoms of anxiety.
These include:

  • A rapid heart beat
  • Blushing
  • Sweating
  • Butterflies in their stomach
They often worry that others will notice these symptoms and judge them negatively as a result.
Social Anxiety quotes

Socially anxious people often feel under the spotlight and believe that everyone is thinking badly of them.

Social Anxiety quotes

They often hold beliefs that they are no good socially, are boring, and that they have nothing interesting to contribute. After social events, they tend to pick out parts that they believe went poorly and beat themselves up over them.

Social Anxiety quotes

To cope with social anxiety, people tend to avoid social situations if possible (parties, pubs, canteens…). If they can’t avoid them, they tend to try and stay in the background and attract as little attention to themselves as possible (say very little).

How do you know if you suffer from social anxiety? Answer these following questions:

  • Do you feel anxious or self conscious during social situations (parties; eating in public; or one to one conversations)?
  • Do you find it hard to participate in the things you want to because of your shyness?
  • Do you tend to avoid speaking to people when you can?
  • Do you worry that people think badly of you in social settings?
  • Do you worry that you have nothing interesting to contribute to conversations?
  • Do you worry that you are the center of attention and everyone can see how anxious you are?

If the answer to any of these questions is ‘yes,’ you may be experiencing symptoms of social anxiety and you may find my future article on how to overcome social anxiety helpful.