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Social Anxiety

Feeling anxious can be an absolute nightmare and, much like depression, it’s a lot more common than we believe it to be. There are many forms of anxiety including panic disorder, OCD and post-traumatic stress, but I wanted to touch upon the most common one: social anxiety disorder.

Social Anxiety – as explained by the NHS – is a persistent fear of social situations and being around people. Much more than just “shyness”, social anxiety disorder causes intense, overwhelming fear over what may just be an everyday activity, like shopping or speaking on the phone.

The thought of being in a new – almost alien – environment can bring a horrible discomfort to the point where you question whether you should even go. By cancelling a potential meet up, you’re saving yourself from the mental anguish that builds inside. It stops you from worrying, feeling socially awkward and self-conscious. Being at home is better because your surroundings are comfortable, safe, and there’s no need to feel on-edge for an entire evening. But, how long are you going to stay cooped up indoors?

A very close friend of mine suffers from severe social anxiety, so I spoke to her about her personal experience, and how she’s gradually beating her fears.

“I’m the type of person whose mind is constantly on overdrive and anxiety can take sudden control when it is triggered. I go quiet and absorb all of my surroundings, people around you become suffocating within the space and it’s like your panicking but it’s just all in your mind, although sometimes it can make you feel nauseous; it makes your stomach turn.”

I went on to ask how her anxiety was sparked, and how it has affected personal relationships: “It’s different for everyone. I know mine is mainly sparked by eating, and being around people in new environments. I have to find my sanctuary and comfort zones before my anxiety is gone i.e. go to a restaurant a few times and know that nothing bad has happened there. And in regards to relationships, in the past when I was  experiencing panic attacks on a daily basis, I used to make up excuses to not go out with friends to certain places. I would freak at the thought of meeting up with guys. Anxiety has made me a very lonely person, because I know I am safe when I am alone. However, as I have grown to get used to it and be open about it, the less I experience anxiety and have realised how much support those around me provide.”

A problem is created in order to be solved, right? Well, every personal issue can be tackled too. It’s just about finding out the best method for you. The past couple of years, I had serious anxiety issues when it came to travelling – especially long-distance journeys. A recent visit to India in particular – note: this was my fourth time there – was dampened by panic attacks caused due to travelling in different environments. Since then, the paranoia of it all made even simple journeys on the London Underground difficult. I only managed to deal with it after prepping myself before each trip – I’d remind myself that I had done this journey several times in the past, and that it’s really nothing to feel anxious about. Breathing slowly and relaxing my mind prior to travelling was key. During the journeys, I would distract myself by reading papers and listening to music. I did this every time, gradually increasing the journey distance. I still get anxious, but it’s definitely a lot better than it used to be.

So on that note, I’ll leave you with this: don’t be afraid to talk about it, it is more common than we realise and when you open up about it, it’s crazy how other people then feel comfortable to discuss their own issues and sometimes they are even the same things. Don’t be afraid to break out of your comfort zone once in a while – you’ll be surprised. Our minds are powerful but not as powerful as our hearts and desires to be strong and succeed to live happy, healthy and enjoyable lives.

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