Living with Social Anxiety

The following is an article that I wrote for class.
We all have moments when we are anxious; some of us get nervous during a test, or on the first day of school. We may also experience anxiety when we are meeting someone new. However, there are those of us that face anxiety everyday and every time we interact with people. This is referred to as social anxiety or social phobia.
Social anxiety is the third largest psychological issue in the world today and it is something that I personally struggle with. There are times when I do whatever I can to avoid any scenario that would trigger the knot in my stomach to tighten. However, in the last few years, I have learned various strategies to cope in these situations, thus limiting the number of occasions that I want to flee. These strategies are the tools that anyone can use to start reclaiming their life. (Note: the tips that I will suggest may not work for everyone.)
What is social anxiety?
Social anxiety, also known as social phobia, is a condition that causes intense nervousness and fear to manifest itself into specific situations that can disrupt daily life. The situations can be anything where there is a possibility that one might embarrass him/herself or be judged, criticized or evaluated by other people. The symptoms, triggers, and intensity levels related to this emotional condition may vary from person to person. However, this affliction does have its common traits like the fears of humiliation, feeling different and becoming a spectacle. Symptoms may include; shortness of breath, an upset stomach and/or excessive sweating. (For more information on social anxiety and its effects, please go to: http://helpguide.org/mental/social_anxiety_support_symptom_causes_treatment.htm).
My Story
My anxiety affects all areas of my life and the following are a few examples.   I secretly dread going to eat in restaurants as I dreaded my high school’s cafeteria because I constantly worry about making a mess and am fearful that people will judge me because I am unable to feed myself. Eventually just going to school triggered anxiety. I graduated from high school a year ago, but there were many obstacles that I had to overcome before I got my diploma. One of my biggest challenges was realizing my self-worth. I felt very unworthy and inferior –probably in part because students poked fun of my differences. I have a physical disability called Cerebral Palsy, which causes me to require the use of a wheelchair and have a speech impairment. My speech difficulties are quite apparent and it made getting involved in groups and extra-curricular activities rather awkward – I never really said very much for the fear of being laughed at. The stress that I felt around school produced a large degree of tension in my body as well as at home.
This resulted in often very severe muscle spasms that were not controlled by medication. The tension resulted in me having arguments with my family because of all the school I was missing when the spasms made it too difficult to get up in the morning let alone drive my chair. Needless to say, my social anxiety didn’t make life very easy for me, however, the strategies I acquired have done their part to lessen its effects.
Strategies
  • Self talk: One way that self talk can help you is if identify and challenge your negative thoughts, (i.e. feelings of unworthiness).
  • Regular breathing exercises can do a lot to keep you calm when your anxiety peaks.
  • When self-help isn’t enough you can try a more mainstream approach like an anxiety medication from a doctor or an alternative approach such as homeopathy, or aromatherapy.
The above strategies may not be helpful to everyone, though they continue to help me to live my life despite my anxiety. Social anxiety is intense and most of us who have it think that we are alone in our experiences. Therefore, if any of your loved ones has this condition, the best advice that I can give to you is to be patient, supportive and share some of these strategies but allow him to figure out what works for himself.

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