So I want to talk a little about social anxiety, social introversion and the importance of those little acts of self-preservation.
For as long as I know I have had a certain battery life when it comes to being social. I can very easily stay at home, close my curtains and watch endless episodes of Netflix for my whole life but I recognise that it is not okay for me to do that. It damages my friendships and it damages my self-esteem and mood even more than making myself go out and be social and face the big social anxiety monster.
But, it exhausts me. The mental and emotional effort it takes for me to attend social events can sometimes knock me out for the following days.
Knowing and recognising this about myself has been a bit of a journey but, now that I do know, I have started to learn how to look after myself and monitor my social battery and the resulting anxiety that accompanies a large amount of socialising or the aftermath of a busy time.
Without a doubt we live in an anxious world. We are bombarded with countless disasters in the news, constant ads, crazy expectations – it comes as no surprise that worldwide diagnosis of anxiety is at an all-time high. As someone who has come through PTSD, social anxiety and the resultant depressive episodes are something I have learned strategies to deal with and strategies to cope with.
Feelings of fear have a purpose, they are designed to help us survive scary situations we might encounter. Historically, they made us quicker to respond to the threat of being eaten alive; forcing us to run, hide or for those who are a bit more courageous, throw a stone… the ‘fight-or-flight’ response which causes the heart to speed up, hyperventilation, and an increased blood flow to the muscles.
Social anxiety takes that fear and attaches it to social situations. This often results in finding yourself worrying about other people’s reactions, extreme nervousness and anxiousness, insecurity when taking part in social situations, sometimes paranoia and avoiding social situations altogether.
Since recognising that what is going on with me is actually social anxiety, I have found ways of looking after myself. The first thing being – tell people about it! My friends are familiar with my ‘closed curtain days’. Hiding or suppressing anxiety actually produces more anxiety and I have found that telling people that I am struggling has often helped me to be able to process my feelings a lot more. The media often leads people to believe that mental illness is a weakness, which makes people less likely to admit to themselves and others what they are going through. We all have mental health and it is reported that up to 1 in 3 of us, will at some point experience a mental health issue. It’s okay and important to talk about it.
Self-care isn’t always about manicures, bubble baths and healthy food. Sometimes it is forcing yourself to get out of bed, take a shower and participate in life again. – Meredith Marple
As much as avoiding social situations will make me feel better for a moment – it’s only a short term solution. Sometimes facing my fear and forcing myself to participate again is part of the process. You see, anxiety has a way of grabbing your attention and turning it inward upon yourself, making you not only self-critical but forgetting that there is a whole world out there. It’s easy to forget that no one is perfect when we live in a world that aspires to achieve perfection. It’s also easy to forget that not everyone will like us nor does everyone need to. It’s also often forgotten that it’s okay to make mistakes as it makes us human.
Yes, my closed curtain days are important – it’s like resetting the battery. But being there with people and in the moment is so important too. Even with the mammoth effort it takes for me to do so.
So if I cancel plans, please do not take it to heart. There is always the possibility that I have used up my quota of social battery for this week and needed to recharge. Let me recharge, check in on me, and I’ll be back as soon as I can. I’m trying. I promise.