Editors Note:  Its easy to forget anxiety comes in the social form too…. here’s a great set of ideas on how to address with ourselves or friends.

“There is absolutely nothing to be anxious about. There’s no reason to be concerned when meeting a room full of new people. Most people are friendly, compassionate, and enjoy talking to others. How can that possibly be bad?

There is absolutely nothing to be anxious about. There’s no reason to be concerned when meeting a room full of new people. Most people are friendly, compassionate, and enjoy talking to others. How can that possibly be bad?

Also, it’s good business practice to actively network, build future contacts, and learn about other areas of your job, no matter what industry you’re in.

But I enter a room full of new people, and my palms immediately begin to sweat. My heart starts beating twice as fast. I feel light-headed, sometimes to the point where I feel like I may pass out.

And actually, it starts way before all of that.

The Preparation

Days prior, I begin to worry about how the whole encounter will play out.

Plan how early to leave, in case there’s traffic.

Figure out where the building is, in case I get lost.

Find the conference room early, to get a seat that’s out of the way, preferably against the wall and close to the door.

All this planning, just to make sure I’m not blindsided by the unexpected. And it’s still not enough.

I make it through the day, with shallow breaths and slightly teary-eyed. Thankful for the moment the facilitator dismisses us, trembling as I gather my belongings. Grateful to be walking out the main exit into the crisp outdoors.

I can breathe again, taking in big, shaky gulps of air.

While the above description might be considered dramatic, I did that with a purpose. I’m trying to help the average person understand what it feels like to have social anxiety.

Nothing to Fear

Most people just don’t get it. “What’s wrong with being social? It’s not like you’re standing up at a podium, giving a speech to thousands. How can you not like talking to people?

What exactly are you afraid of?”

Yep, those are all questions I’ve been asked, by friends and family who don’t quite understand what my deal is.

So in the spirit of providing content that is helpful or useful to others, I’m taking this opportunity to offer this as a teachable moment.

Of course, the downside is this post may not affect many people at all. I’m guessing the majority of my readers will not find it relevant.

But the upside is in the potential that this may help someone who is affected by social anxiety. Whether you know someone who has it, or you suffer from it yourself, the following guide can help bridge the gap to create a better understanding.

How You Can Help

If you know someone who has social anxiety, the more you understand it, the easier it will be to assist your friend or loved one who is suffering from it.

So here are a few quick suggestions on how you can help someone deal with their social anxiety.

Again, these are from my personal experiences — which may not apply to every situation. But I’ve been suffering from social anxiety since my early 20’s, so that’s pretty much two decades of solid experience.

Since that time, I’ve done a lot of reading, tried multiple coping mechanisms, and numerous medical options. I know what works for me. And here is what I’ve found.

1. Don’t tell them it’s all in their head.  

They already know that, and it doesn’t help the situation.

Those of us who suffer from anxiety realize it’s our brain playing tricks on us. While the root cause is mental, the effects are very physical. We know it’s all in our head, but the brain is so powerful, so convincing — that the symptoms manifest in an excruciatingly real way.

Instead:

Acknowledge our physical discomfort, and help us lessen the effects in whatever way possible.

Ask if we’d prefer a different seat or table in a restaurant. Or if we want to step outside for a breath of fresh air.

If another person is bombarding us with questions, help defuse the situation by taking on some of the attention. Or try to change the subject.

Small efforts like this will show that you understand what’s going on, and want to help make it better. And that understanding goes a long, long way.

2. Don’t tell them it’ll get easier the more they do it

(whether it’s addressing a room full of people, going to a party, or sitting in a packed concert.) While that could be true in some cases, it usually isn’t.

Instead:

Realize the whole “practice makes perfect” theory typically only works in situations where there is the desire to succeed.  It’s defined in this article from The Washington Post as “intrinsic motivation”.

“The pleasure one takes from an activity is a powerful predictor of success.”

A person with social anxiety doesn’t necessarily want to fail at these activities. In fact, they’d love to succeed, and go on their merry way.

But the mind is telling them they cannot move forward. It says “this is not fun, this is extremely scary, and you need to get out of here as soon as possible.”

So there is no pleasure — therefore, a lower possibility of success through repeated exposure.

Social anxiety is a real condition that affects your thought process and causes discomfort in social situations

– It makes you fear having interactions with others, and worry about things in an irrational manner

– It affects your self-confidence and can make you less likely to attend gatherings where there are a lot of people, or people you don’t know

– Continuous exposure isn’t the way to make things better — sometimes it can make it worse

– Showing understanding and support is the best way to help someone who suffers from social anxiety

If you want to learn more about social anxiety, there are several links below that can help define it further.

If you have social anxiety, please know that you are not alone…”

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