Social anxiety is something that has been a common factor in my life. People who know me may be surprised to know that I still feel socially anxious a lot of the time. To most people, I may appear to be calm and confident, but I’ve been feeling nervous and anxious quite a lot recently.
When lockdown eased initially, I was nervous about meeting new people myself and being able to do certain things again. With the rollout of the vaccination plan, restrictions will begin to ease again so I wanted to share my experience of social anxiety. I’ve found some ways to cope with my social anxiety, so hopefully, these can help other people too.
How social anxiety affects me
I never considered myself someone confident until very recently. I think this is due to a number of factors. Firstly I have ADHD, so I usually overthink social situations. This has been a big barrier for me over the years. It was not until late in secondary school, but mostly in college, that I started to become confident enough to put myself forward and create new opportunities for myself.
However, a major aspect of my social anxiety is events. I find I can get uncomfortable, or I can get easily frustrated at events. This especially applies to social events, where I may feel isolated for a time. Instead of wanting to stay at an event with my friends, I plan to leave as soon as possible. I get annoyed at myself and feel like being there is a waste.
I also notice when I have to speak at events, I can get incredibly nervous and feel my heart pounding in my chest. When speaking, I tend to speak much quicker than I usually would and sometimes stumble on my own words too. This makes me frustrated and I start arguing with myself that I could have done better had I done it differently.
How I manage this feeling
To deal with this, I used to plan for all eventualities and hope if there was a change, I would be okay because I had already thought about it. Over time I’ve learned that this is not the best way to deal with my social anxiety.
Instead, although it took time, I decided to try to be at ease when things changed. I did this in a few ways.
I practiced not getting overly into events or overthinking what I would say
I took time to journal when things were stressing me out and wrote about it
I made time to talk about my anxiety with trusted friends
I said no to things when I wanted to take time for myself
I practiced taking three deep breaths before speaking and grounding myself in the moment
My favourite thing though is to go for a walk, or in my case, a cycle. Getting exercise and fresh air helps to be able to get space from your own thoughts. It also helps if you feel annoyed. You can use the angry energy in exercise, making you feel better and calmer on your return back home, even if only in your 5 km.
While I definitely feel less socially anxious now, I still feel it in some ways and it can feel better or worse depending on the situation. By practising and focusing on the things that make me feel less anxious, I’ve noticed a big difference in how I feel with small things like meeting friends, or bigger things like putting myself forward to meet or speak in front of other people.
I make sure I’m supporting myself through this self-care. I also reach out to friends for support or space when needed. As we come out of lockdown, I feel more confident knowing that I have some positive ways to ease my social anxiety. If you find you’re getting anxious about lockdown, or life after lockdown, hopefully some of these self-care tips will help.