Today’s post is a PSA. It affected me for a while, and I think it may be genetic. It’s about not liking people. You go out when you have to, have a fantastic friend group, but if given a choice, you’d prefer your own company 90% of the time. Being somewhat of an introvert (I know, you find this difficult to believe, but read my former post on extroverted introverts,) I understand where these peeps are coming from most of the time. It was a long, hard road to find true friends, ones who understand when I need down time, and when it’s time to get out there and party. I thought I might touch upon this topic, because I am seeing a lot of people claiming symptoms of social dysfunction on social media, which I think has it’s own issues in the social hierarchy as well. Like any good introvert, I know when and how to step back and observe.
Social anxiety can be seen in people who are extremely self-conscious and downplay their appearance, avoid large social gatherings and sometimes manifest physical symptoms in uncomfortable social situations. We all feel uncomfortable from time to time, but social anxiety is a whole different level. The hardest thing about having the condition is that it’s difficult to explain to people what it feels like. It’s much more than a simple case of being nervous. It can’t just be cured, so telling them to “get over it,” is pretty useless. You won’t see these people at big blowout parties, unless they’re hanging in a dark corner with one or two close peeps. I’m pretty good at this camouflage, and so is my daughter; it’s called “covert avoidance,”
Anxiety attacks can strike at any times. They range from a mildly uncomfortable feeling to the full on can’t breathe, heart palpitating, sweaty panic attack. It has to be addressed, but it is vital to understand that recovery is a fluid process. Yelling at a person, dragging them to social gatherings and other so-called interventions cause setbacks. This is not the butterfly in your stomach nerves, but a real fear of being judged others. The symptoms change over time, depending on life’s situations and whether or not you have learned coping mechanisms. Severe stress from work, negative experiences (think teasing, exclusion or bullying – and it’s not only in childhood) and shy temperaments are big clues.
Nobody should be surprised that social anxiety usually rears it’s ugly head somewhere around puberty. It is a time of awkwardness and tension with peers and parental units. I know from my own experience, as an awkward teen, that you need to let it ride. Often, the person is clueless that they are afflicted until something big sets them off. If you are hyper-aware of how others are perceiving you, of how you appear (not only in a fashion sense) and are trying to figure out where you fit into the world, then you may retreat. Alone becomes your fortress and keeps the anxiety at bay. These are your smart kids – the readers and dreamers. They are quiet unless they are very comfortable with their companions, and then, only then, will you see their personalities shine through. They have no issues with remaining indoors, in their rooms and their own happy, calm places.
Know that patience and understanding go a very long way in the life of the introvert. It is not nervousness, and cannot be compared to anyone else’s experiences. It’s crucial to be empathetic; if your friend (even an adult) is uncomfortable and cannot tell you why – accept it. Accept them and their needs. Try to understand what they are feeling. That is the true measure of friendship.
There are some ways to prevent occurrences, and I recommend them all. First, keep a journal to keep track of what is going on in your life. Sometimes being able to predict or to go back and see a cause will help prevent the next anxiety attack from being out of control. The other thing that is uber important, is to prioritize issues in your life. Of course these issues change depending on your age and place in the game of life, but managing your time and energy is key. Make sure there is time to do things you enjoy, even if it is staying home and reading or binge watching Netflix. Another way to work through the anxiety is to become a practitioner of deep breathing and meditation. You CAN take this with you and use it in situations where you feel uncomfortable.
Forcing someone to do something or go someplace when they are socially anxious is not helpful. You may mean well, or believe that by throwing them into a situation it will open them up, but believe me, you are wrong. The opposing effect will occur, and the introvert will retreat. The good news is that social anxiety is treatable and you can both heal and grow in the process. It is best to be encouraging when the introvert opens up to you and to know when to let them be. Sometimes, being a vampire in a sunlit room is OK.
Stay motivated and caffeinated!