Ever since I was 17 I have struggled with social anxiety disorder. There have been times where it has rendered me absolutely paralysed, keeping me from the outside world. I know that this disorder is much more common than generally perceived, but sadly it is scarcely discussed.
Social anxiety disorder has developed within my psyche and has moulded me into the man I am today. It has taken me a while to grow comfortable enough to talk about my issues publicly, but I have come to the understanding that if I don’t, why should I expect anyone else to?
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, the typical onset of social anxiety is about 13 years old. This is understandable since, at that age, a person tends to be experiencing hormone changes from puberty, causing a multitude of physical and mental changes. But in my case my social anxiety didn’t come to being until I was about 17. Before the disorder manifested I was an incredibly talkative and sociable individual, but that all changed in my senior year of high school.
Though I can’t pinpoint the exact time that everything changed for me, I do attribute it to the excessive amount of weight that I had gained in that year from hormonal imbalance. I became incredibly self-conscious and never wanted anyone to see or look at me. All I wanted was to finish the year with as little attention as possible.
The best way to describe social anxiety is to imagine facing your worst fears on a daily basis, on an endless loop, with no end in sight. The most difficult aspect of social anxiety is fact that the individual is aware that they are acting out of the ordinary. They understand what the social norm is and they want, with all of their being, to comply. Yet, at times they physically and mentally cannot, no matter how hard they try.
Rather than not wanting to talk to anyone, those who suffer from social anxiety have a constant, overwhelming fear of misspeaking, falsely presenting their ideas, and being offensive to those in their general proximity. To say that they are just ‘shy’ is an over generalisation, increasing their social isolation.
This disorder is defined by the Social Anxiety Institute as “the fear of interaction with other people that brings on self-consciousness, feelings of being negatively judged and evaluated, and, as a result, leads to avoidance.”
It is because of these constant thoughts that those with this disorder choose to stay away from the anxiety people cause them.
“You can’t make a fool of yourself if you aren’t heard in the first place,” is a personal motto that sums up the feeling that many live by.
Even after losing the weight I found the social anxiety never left me. It followed me wherever I went. It was as though a looming cloud was constantly overhead, bashing down my self-esteem whenever anyone was near, causing me to avoid them at all costs.
After my freshman year of university I discovered that I had a problem. I was studying the health sciences, giving me ample access to research on the subject.
Once I understood this, I talked to my mum and sought help via my local psychiatrist. It was with his help that I have learned ways to cope with the everyday challenges that social anxiety brings. My psychiatrist taught me that I am not alone; I must trust those close to me and divulge my fears and worries to them. It is with this decompression, ample exercise, and the use of yoga that I, personally, have been battling my disorder.
Even with these learned coping mechanisms there are still times when I am overcome by my anxiety. Being the centre of attention is the most triggering for me. It has been a long process to get through, but with the right professional help and a strong support the effects of social anxiety can be lessened.
It is astonishing how little this topic is discussed when you grasp the fact that social anxiety is the third largest mental health problem in the world. According to the Social Anxiety Institute, “It is estimated that about 7% of the population suffers from some form of social anxiety at the present time,” calculating to about 490 million individuals.
If so many people battle with this issue you would think that there would be constant discussion to try and overcome it collectively. Yet, many still try to avoid the subject and mark it as taboo to avoid uncomfortable conversations.
It is time we, as a global population, come to understand the implications that poor mental health can have on our societies and bring an end to the debilitating afflictions through a wider education on the subject.
If you feel you are experiencing these thoughts and/or can relate to some of the stories presented seek help. Some links to support sites are down below. The only way to start your journey of healing is to take the first step.