Hope for Relationships

The whole-person approach to healing

Social Anxiety: Hiding In Plain Sight

Does socializing feel unsafe?

Over and over again, Greg berated himself for his cowardice. After all, it was just a harmless party. Granted, it was a harmless party he never should have agreed to attend, but he'd been boxed into going by his roommate, who found himself having to work unexpectedly.

Realizing he was now going by himself caused Greg to break out in a fresh sweat. Perfect. He'd be drenched and stinky by the time he showed up.

Greg had been unable to come up with a good reason not to go, so he was stuck. Gritting his teeth, he promised himself he'd go, spend the shortest possible amount of time there, stand off in a corner hiding behind a drink, and take note of who else was there so he could report back to his roommate.

Then, as soon as humanly possible, he'd sneak off to freedom.

As Greg got out of his car and walked toward the front door, he wiped his hands nervously on his pant legs. This sweating was ridiculous. Good thing it was cold outside; hopefully it wouldn't be too hot inside. All he needed was to broil in the sauna of his own sweat and discomfort.

Looking left and right along the street, he felt relieved that he didn't recognize any other cars. The fewer people he knew, the sooner he could leave. He'd already spent over a week worrying about this party, desperate to get out of it but fearful of annoying his roommate.

The potential for disaster became more pressing the closer he got to the door. His total objective for the evening was to hide in plain sight and get out as soon as possible.

When It's You Against the World

For those with social anxiety disorder, other people represent an enemy. People are adversaries just waiting for that one situation to criticize, belittle, judge, or publicly humiliate them.

People are unsafe.

The range of social phobia runs the gamut—from those who feel safe only with trusted family members, to those who experience anxiety around people only in specific situations, such as eating in front of others or speaking in public.

Social anxiety seems to affect men and women equally. It appears to begin in childhood and continue into adult years. Social anxiety disorder, like panic attacks, can lead to agoraphobia, as the person creates a bunker mentality with home and family and is reluctant to venture out into a hostile world full of precarious situations ready to turn out badly and full of people ready to take advantage.

Symptoms of Social Anxiety

Though they vary by person, common symptoms of social anxiety include:

  • sweating
  • nausea
  • heart racing
  • trembling
  • blushing easily
  • difficulty carrying on conversations

Unfortunately, these very symptoms can prove to be a barrier to effective communication and interaction. Not understanding the reasons, others can react to these symptoms by becoming hesitant, distrustful, and even dismissive of the person with the anxiety. Of course, this reaction merely fuels the anxiety.

Do you have social anxiety? If so:

  1. How does your social anxiety affect you physically?
  2. How often do you experience it, and under what circumstances?
  3. What do you do to help yourself feel better? Does anything help?
  4. Does anything make it worse?
  5. Have you ever talked with someone about it? If so, who and why. If not, why not?
  6. How long have you been hoping it would just go away?
  7. Do you really believe you will ever be able to get over it?

You're Not Crazy

Within the throes of social anxiety, you can feel like you've lost your mind. You can feel that you've lost mastery over your body, that it's become hijacked by a mind careening out of control. Your body and mind are on a wild, spinning ride with terror firmly at the wheel. You want to get off, but you can't seem to find a way out. You're trapped within yourself, screaming to get out, to make it all stop. You just want to find some place of normalcy again.

No, it's not just you, and, no, you're not crazy. What you feel and experience is real, immediate, and impactful. And this isn't an unknown terror. While you will experience anxiety in shades and degrees, in circumstances and situations unique to you, you are not alone.

2011 Gregory L. Jantz, Overcoming Anxiety, Worry, and Fear: Practical Ways To Find Peace, Revell.

Gregory L. Jantz, Ph.D., founded The Center for Counseling and Health Resources in Edmonds, Washington.

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