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1 year ago
4 Different Women Describe Their Ongoing Struggles with Social Anxiety

If you’ve never felt unsure of yourself at a party or networking event, you officially have envy-inducing nerves of steel. Pretty much everyone feels uncomfortable at one social event or another, but for those with social anxiety disorder, the prospect of interacting with other people can be more petrifying than even the scariest horror movie. Among other symptoms, the National Institute of Mental Health describes social anxiety, also called social phobia, as overwhelming nervousness when being around other people or talking to them, feeling embarrassed or afraid of judgment even when it’s not warranted, and avoiding places where other people are likely to be. Here, four women explain the reality of living with those feelings day in and day out.

Tiffany N.
“For most of my life, my social anxiety was subtle—just enough to make me awkward at parties or terrified of addressing large audiences. Since becoming a mother, though, my anxiety in social situations has grown exponentially. I'm not the type of parent who obsesses over whether or not my children are going to be safe or on developmental targets, but I am the one standing on the sidelines of the soccer game or in the corner at a birthday party chewing my fingernails and refusing to make eye contact. I am unwilling, though, to accept my reclusive tendencies as absolute. My children need to be involved in activities, and I enjoy being busy.

"Since becoming a mother, my anxiety in social situations has grown exponentially."

"I have learned to build friendships one by one, carefully choosing those who have strengths that I do not. If I go on a group outing and I only talk to one or two other parents, I consider it a success. I almost always regret something I say or do after a social situation because I replay it in my mind more times than anyone should, but I try to have grace for myself. I’ve learned that those regrets have to be learning opportunities. If there are actual offenses or misunderstandings, I address them right away so I can allow myself to move forward. Being a mother of teens now, especially a foster mother of teens, I have seen the damage of allowing social anxiety to have too much power. There are so many unknowns and shifting paradigms in teens’ lives, especially in the foster care system, and I want to model healthy coping with the ups and downs."

Leilani Y.
“I first began experiencing symptoms of social anxiety when I was in middle school. It came on so suddenly, as if one day I just didn't know how to deal with social situations any longer. I felt uncomfortable and afraid that if I interacted with people casually, they would laugh at me or judge me for what I said or how I looked. This quickly spiraled into depression, something I also still struggle with.

"As an adult, this condition greatly affects my career and ability to meet new people. I have to consciously push myself every day to come out of my shell and take on uncomfortable situations having to do with social interactions. I'm always afraid to share ideas or speak up when I have something to add to a work conversation. I overthink almost every word that comes out of my mouth, and I am terrified that I won't measure up as a professional in my field of work. The best description I can provide of my experience is that I have a tendency to overanalyze every single social interaction and second-guess my every movement.

"I’ve been on anxiety meds and anti-depressants since I was 13, but I fight the urge to take the medication and try to see uncomfortable situations as a challenge of sorts. I don't want to be medicated for the rest of my life, but at times I'm unsure whether I can overcome the severe anxiety that comes with taking on social situations.”

RELATED: Everything You Ever Wanted to know About Anxiety—and How to Conquer It

Courtney L.
“I was diagnosed with social phobia when I first entered college at 18. I’m 23 now. I never imagined I would be diagnosed with social anxiety, mainly because I saw myself as a pretty social person who enjoyed doing things with her friends, like going to parties. I first noticed it in college. There were times I wanted to go to professors’ office hours because I was having trouble with something, but I would be filled with so much anxiety when I entered their office. I always assumed I would make myself look stupid and thought avoiding an encounter with authority would result in a better outcome than communicating with authority. I felt scared and small, mostly afraid of what someone would think of me.

"I was also a reporter for a few years. As time went on, I found myself getting less comfortable with approaching people, which was different from when I was a reporter in high school and approached people often. It did not take long for me to become quieter, and even out at social events, I began to feel terrified of ever being the center of attention. There were times when I drove around a venue for, say, a concert or movie three, four, or five times by myself before finally giving up and going home.

"I'm always afraid to share ideas or speak up when I have something to add to a work conversation."

"This became unbearable as I moved away from friends after college and had a difficult time making new ones due to my fear of going out. Ultimately, loneliness can lead to some forms of depression. I was very unhappy for about two years.

"Throughout my diagnosis and during college, I tried anti-anxiety medications, mainly anti-depressants. I tried around four to five different drugs that ranged from disastrous to all right. The biggest issue was drinking while medicated and blacking out after just a few drinks. Alcohol relieved me of some aspects of social anxiety during that time, but mixing it with my drugs was so awful and embarrassing. Other drugs made me careless, and I would sleep through classes, turning my alarm clock off in the morning with no recollection of having done so when I finally woke up. My grades slipped, and I stopped taking anxiety medication altogether.

"What's helped me more than any medication has been therapy and—I hate to sound lame—self-help type books and articles. [Editor’s note: This is 100 percent admirable, a.k.a the opposite of lame!] I started doing yoga, reading more, being out in nature, and trying to realize what it is that triggers me. I've grown up a little more and realized this disease is something that is entirely manageable if you change your outlook on life and how you handle situations.

"I am not entirely ‘healed.’ I still struggle, but I haven't had an anxiety attack in two years. I’ve been able to work through the few I’ve come upon with breathing exercises or removing myself from a situation temporarily. I hate that people have to go through this.”

Monica A.
“I’m 37, and I was diagnosed with social anxiety about six years ago. Looking back, it’s something I’ve struggled with since I was about 12 or 13, around the time that I started junior high school. I think that social anxiety is an invisible problem with a huge stigma attached. People can tell I’m shy, but the only people I’ve ever discussed my social anxiety with are my partner and my doctor. My family, friends, and coworkers don't know.

"I've grown up a little more and realized this disease is something that is entirely manageable if you change your outlook on life."

"I can handle being out in the world just fine, but I always feel a nagging sense of dread when I have to interact with people, even when ordering coffee. I’ve had a successful career so far—I work in marketing—but I do think my social anxiety has held me back from higher-profile management positions, which can require lots of interaction with people and public speaking. I’m married, but I do not have many friends. I let my partner take the lead on managing our social lives entirely, which is fine by me.

"To cope, I’ve actually had to practice simple things like making eye contact. I’ve learned to be very good at small talk. If I get caught with a coworker in the elevator for example, I always have something ready to talk about. I’ve also learned to be far kinder to myself. When I was younger, I would beat myself up pretty badly for not being able to make friends. Today, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I don’t really want a lot of friends anyway, so I’m not going to make myself feel bad about it. Also, I've stopped looking for a ‘cure.’ Some people are just wired differently than others. This is who I am, and that’s okay.

"Finally, I do take beta blockers when I know I’ll be in a stressful situation, like when I have to give a presentation or go to a party. They have been a miracle drug for me, and I would strongly urge anyone with social anxiety to ask their doctor about them.”

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