social anxiety

My social anxiety presents itself all the time, some days when it’s at it’s worst it becomes extremely restrictive to my everyday life.

social anxiety
from a young age I always felt to be on the outside of the group

My major roadblock- social anxiety

 I’ve stopped pegging the washing out on a weekend, for fear of encountering the neighbours. This is ridiculous as we have good neighbours, they’re all perfectly pleasant and really shouldn’t cause me any trepidation what so ever. However the prospect of having a two-minute chat with them (probably about the weather) just to pass the time of day is so horrifying, that I simply can’t risk it.

Sadly my avoidance tactics don’t stop there, as my social anxiety starts to get the better of me. Getting the wheelie bin from the side of the house, once a week on bin collection day has quite frankly become a military operation. I tend to do it the night before when it’s dark and I’m less likely to be seen. I have to look out of the front, back and side windows before I even contemplate stepping outside. I open the back door ever so slightly and listen for a minute or two, then I tentatively stick my head out and check both ways. Only when I’m completely satisfied that no ones around, will I make my move. If this was an Olympic event I would win gold every time, I literally have it done in a flash, like my life depends on it and then I’m back in the safety of my house, taking a few deep breaths and thanking God I don’t have to do it for another week.

I began to lose my hair at a young age, in fact by my early twenties it had receded badly and there wasn’t much left. Since then I have always cut it myself and like to keep it shaved very short.

That was until six months a go when my clippers broke. As you’ve probably gathered by now, I don’t do social interaction too well. Hairdressers are notorious for being the chattiest of all people and sometimes sitting in that chair for ten minutes can feel like hours and be torturous to say the least, as they delve into your life history! Therefore I saw this as an ideal opportunity to challenge myself by taking myself out of my comfort zone. This is roughly how it went:

social anxiety

Barbers number 1– Cheerful enough but far too talkative. Constant questions tripping off his tongue, including asking what I did for a living which makes me feel uncomfortable at the best of times.

 

Barbers number 2– This one was disturbing. She was fascinated by the heat coming from my head, so much so she got the other hairdressers to come across and have a feel! This left me feeling a little self-conscious to say the least and I couldn’t wait to escape.

 

Barbers number 3– This one couldn’t understand why I didn’t cut my own hair. I told him that it was only temporary until I got some new clippers. As soon as I said that I realised I wouldn’t be able to return. Not that I would have anyway, he was far too chatty for my liking.

social anxiety

 

Barbers number 4– This one was interesting, nowhere near as friendly as the others. All the customers and staff seemed to know each other and this created a bit of a funny atmosphere. When I walked in everyone appeared to stop what they were doing and stare at me like I didn’t belong in their company. Like a scene from an old western as a newcomer enters the saloon. Hardly the most welcoming of places!

Barbers number 5– I finally found the perfect place for me, where the staff only understood a little English and couldn’t speak more than two words of it. When it was your turn they’d point to the chair and say, “sit”. When finished they’d say “five pounds” and that’s the only bit of chitchat I had to endure. Absolutely ideal! And this is the one I’ve chosen to return too.

Socially Inept?

I accept that people probably view me as a bit of a party pooper and some are probably sick of inviting me to places- only for me to come up with yet more excuses! I can even put up with being branded antisocial. But when did I get to the stage were I had this constant feeling of inadequacy? As my self-doubt reaches it’s peak, I start to view myself as a huge burden and believe that people deserve a medal for putting up with me. I need to remind myself that this is not true. How I deal with these difficult emotions is crucial. I choose to look at the funny side of my social anxiety, as I’ve tried to do in this post. Learning to laugh at yourself is such an important coping tool. You put less emphasis on your frailties, there not that important, there just something you can laugh about. Suddenly you find you have less anxiety moving forwards.

 

 

Challenge Yourself- Small Steps

Challenge Yourself

Shoot for the moon, even if you miss you’ll land among the stars!

Challenge yourself to get the most pleasure out of life.

 

 

Personally I think it’s important to face up to your demons and test yourself daily. Whilst doing this you need to continue looking after yourself and be accepting of the limitations caused by your mental health. It’s all about finding the right balance for you.

My daily challenges can include, walking to the corner shop on my own, going to the supermarket with family, picking up mail from my old house, forcing myself to have a social chat with a friend, answering the telephone or front door. These last two might seem a bit trivial to some, but they can be the most difficult, especially if I don’t know who’s on the other end of the line or behind the door. Its the fear of the unknown that often prevents me from being able to do this. My home is my sanctuary, but it’s so easy to become trapped. Don’t let isolation become your friend. I’m all for protecting yourself and keeping safe, but not if it means you’re sacrificing experiencing life.

‘ Action may not always bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action’ (Benjamin Disraeli)

I’ve began visiting the town centre twice a week with my mother, even though I’m always extremely anxious on the day and in the build up to it, I still force myself to do it. To be honest with you, at present I don’t enjoy any part of the experience, but I view it as a necessary infliction. If you’re like me and you fear busy places, I don’t think there’s any harm in avoiding them as much as you can. However in life you can’t guarantee avoiding places such as town centres, indefinitely. There will be times in the future when you have no choice. I attempt to make such times less stressful by remaining well practiced, so there is method in my madness!

‘ Live all you can; it’s a mistake not to. It doesn’t matter what you do in particular, so long as you have had your life. If you haven’t had that, what have you had?’ (Henry James)

Challenge Yourself Small Steps

Just keep putting one foot in front of the other!

 

 

In previous posts I have mentioned attempting to walk further distances on my own, this of course is dependent on how I’m feeling on the day. As well as distance, I also challenge myself in other areas such as:

  • Slowing down- It might sound a simple thing to do but for me it’s not. Due to my anxiety I tend to race from A to B in record speed, all so I can get back to the safety of my home. The walk itself should be a pleasant experience, I just need to remind myself to take my time and appreciate the journey.
  • Keeping pace- If someone’s in front of me walking at a slower pace, I will slow down to avoid catching them up. Equally if someone’s behind me walking faster I will quicken up. Allowing someone to walk past me is a huge challenge. Sitting on a bench and having several people walk past me is extremely daunting but something I try hard to achieve.
  • Being sociable- When I’m out walking with my friends I’m a completely different person. I always smile and say hello to people passing by, on occasions I might even enter into a conversation. When on my own walking past the same people in exactly the same kind of location, I don’t say a word! Shoulders slumped and head down I don’t even risk eye contact with them. This is providing I haven’t found an alternative path or crossed the street. And so I challenge myself to keep my shoulders up and my head high and acknowledge fellow pedestrians. This of course is easier said than done and completely depends on the day.

Just like anything, if you do something regularly enough, the task will become easier and less intimidating. Often the anticipation is far worse than the actual event. Repetition is the key, pretty soon you’ll look back and wonder what all the fuss was about in the first place!

 

 

 

 

Perspective, Appreciate your life

I’m fascinated by the wonders of nature. Like the waves crashing against the rocks, spellbinding and magnificent in all their beauty and raw power.

Perspective

Nature reminds me that we’re all just a tiny part of something much greater. Much greater in fact than we can ever fully comprehend. This really helps me to put my issues into perspective.

I don’t mean to sound morbid, but the one thing we can all guarantee is that some day we’re not going to be here anymore. I’m not afraid of this prospect but due to recent events and having come close to the edge, I’ve become more appreciative of life and I take less for granted. I now understand that life is less about success and more about personal experiences. After all when we do die, we can’t take anything with us.

When you’re battling your mental health it’s hard to see the positive side to anything. Even though your friends might see big improvements, it’s hard for you to notice any progress what so ever. Its easier to believe that everyone’s superior to you. But try to remember, other people have their issues too. Others also struggle with the everyday pressures of life. Nobody’s perfect!

Perspective Allow yourself to become lost in the vastness of nature. You are very significant but for once just enjoy being small and pressure free.

Look on the positive side

Last week I took a trip in to the town centre for the first time in about 18 months, the last time resulted in a panic attack. I did this with the intention of challenging myself. I was accompanied by my mother. Although I was uncomfortable to say the least, all was going surprisingly well. We’d parked in a multi-storey car park which was very busy, and I’d managed to get out of the car! Once at the piazza among the shops I was surrounded by people, some walking towards me, some coming at me from behind. A terrifying prospect for me, but one that I was coping with, although admittedly I did considerably tighten my grip on my mums arm! The next challenge was to go into a shop and buy something (some deodorant I think but that’s not important). This was to prove more problematic. I was doing Ok until the queuing stage but sadly this was all too much for me with far too many people in such a small space. I ended up hurrying out of the shop without purchasing anything.

Perspective

At the time it was all about looking after myself, as I went into survival mode. But then came the feelings of foolishness and failure. I was so disappointed with myself. I’d soon gone from feeling elated, ‘look at me, look how well I’m doing’ to feeling overwhelmed and out of my depth. Later that day once I’d had time to calm down and reflect, I actually felt extremely proud of what I’d achieved. Its all about perspective. Yes I’d had to leave the shop, but I’d managed to get into town in the first place, which was a major feat in its self. I’d also managed my anxiety well and avoided having a panic attack. All positive steps in the right direction.

I recently played in my local league championships at table tennis. I got to the semi final stage before losing to the player who went on to win the event. Frustratingly, as good a player as he is, I had beaten him both times we’d played in the league and I really fancied my chances. There were people watching, not many but enough to make me feel uncomfortable and self-conscious. On the day I didn’t perform and let nerves get the better of me. But wait a minute!, twelve months prier to this I’d had to pull out of playing in the league all together and I wasn’t even well enough to come and watch the tournament, let alone play in it. Just being able to stay in this kind of environment and actually feel ok for most of the day, was and is a huge testament to how far I’ve come. Again it’s just about putting things in perspective. I actually managed to get all the way to the semi final stage which is a huge thing to be proud of!

For other people suffering with their mental health its really important that you try to put situations into perspective. Try to focus on what you’re doing well as apposed to what you’re not. You might struggle to see it at the moment but there’ll be more positives than you think.

 

 

living with anxiety

In my last post I talked about panic attacks. Todays post is all about preventing things from getting to that stage by managing your anxiety.

There’s something soothing about walking through the trees in my local park. I find it a useful stress release

 

If you’re like me and you suffer from social anxiety, it’s easy to fall into the trap of becoming totally isolated and disconnected from everything and everyone around you. Your home becomes your sanctuary and the only place you feel completely safe. You refuse to answer the front door or the telephone and pretty soon you’ve succeeded in cutting yourself off from the rest of the world.

Suddenly even the simplest of tasks becomes an ordeal and can result in mental exhaustion. As your avoidance behaviour gets worse you become reliant on family to do your shopping for you, even if you live on your own there’s always online supermarkets, so you really have no reason to leave the house.

Even though staying in like this may help you to feel more secure in the short term, in the long term it can only be detrimental to your health, both physically and mentally. Lack of interaction with people is likely to add to your depression. The longer you avoid going out, the harder it will be when you have to, and you’ll find your confidence will diminish rapidly. I’m no expert but I have experienced how this feels and know that the problem can quickly escalate and get out of control. In my opinion this is the time when you need to motivate yourself to keep going and challenge yourself daily. There are lots of ways you can do this but at the same time keep yourself safe.

Cancelling plans with friends might seem like the best thing to do, but then you find yourself sat at home feeling sorry for yourself and wishing you’d gone! Believe me I’ve been there several times, and the annoying thing is things are never as bad as you imagine them to be, so you’d  probably end up having a good time.

Gradually as I’ve become more accepting of my illness I now choose to involve as many people as I can. This means I have to face fewer awkward questions about my health. Believe It or not in the past, such harmless questions as ‘How are you?’ ‘what you doing with yourself at the moment?’ ‘are you still working at such a place?’ ‘ married yet?’ ‘kids?’, such questions have led to me having more panic attacks than anything else and are still the main reason I avoid going into the town centre or anywhere busy I might risk running into someone from my past. I’m not ashamed to admit that in the past I’ve hidden myself behind shop signs and park benches, just to avoid having a conversation with an old work colleague.

An easier and less drastic solution is to have a well rehearsed script of answers at hand.  For instance when I’m asked what am I doing with myself at the moment? I say that I’m a full time carer for my disabled mother and that I work part time for a hypnotherapy company. None of this is a lie; it’s just an exaggeration. My mother is disabled and requires plenty of support from me and I have a friend who’s a hypnotherapist and on occasions I have helped him out by distributing promotional leaflets.

Another question I’m often asked by friends is Are you getting any better? to which I reply that I’m trying my best and that I’m getting plenty of help at present. This appears to be a satisfactory response as I rarely get any follow up questions.

Much of my apprehensions come from fear of the unknown. Not knowing what’s around the next corner and not having a clue what’s expected of me. I find a good way to counteract this is to plan, plan, and then plan some more! Although you can’t plan for every eventuality, you can limit the number of surprises you get along the way. This can involve going somewhere at a certain time of day, when you know it’s going to be much quieter. Planning the route that you feel most comfortable with. For example when I’m in company I enjoy walking in picturesque surroundings but if I’m on my own this becomes extremely daunting and I much prefer to stick to the main roads. That way there’s plenty of cars passing by and I feel there’s less chance of me being attacked.

I often go out when the weather’s at it’s worse, if it’s raining I instantly feel more relaxed because there’s less people about on foot and less potential threats to me.

It’s human nature to worry about things, some of us just happen to do it more excessively than others! The fight or flight response is our bodies natural reaction to danger and goes right back to caveman times, when they had to respond quickly to life threatening situations. For those of us who find our anxiety getting out of control and ruling our lives, what’s the solution? Well there is no easy answer to this but I would suggest trying to slow down a little and put things into perspective. I’m now able to do this (some of the time!) and I put it down to discovering mindfulness. Using the breathing exercises and meditation techniques really helps calm me down. Allowing me to feel grounded and helping me focus on being in the present. When I have too much going on in my head, the overload of emotions can easily result in me having a panic attack. Being able to switch all this off and just concentrate solely on my breathing is of great benefit.

Remember also though that being anxious about certain things can be helpful. If the caveman hadn’t been anxious about the approaching dinosaur, he wouldn’t have lasted very long! Sometimes our fears keep us safe.