Feeling a little anxious when meeting people for the first time? Becoming nervous when having to speak in a group situation? Quickened heartbeat? Faster-paced breathing? Self-conscious? This is something we can all relate to at some points of our life. However, for people suffering with social anxiety, these symptoms are far more prominent, heightened and are present in most social interactions that we face.
Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is the third largest mental health care problem in the world today. SAD is the fear of social situations that involve interaction with other people and sufferers are often seen by others as shy, quiet, withdrawn and disinterested. This is very much not the case and people with social anxiety actually WANT to be included, involved and engaged within the group, it is simply the fear of their anxiety that holds them back.
For someone in their twenties like myself, social anxiety is an incredibly difficult thing to live with, especially being an expat in a very social place like Hong Kong. So… where did this social anxiety stem from?
The answer is… I am still trying to work this out! Although, when I try and think back to where this began, the times when “scientifically” we are considered to be our most fearless… as a child this anxiety was a constant barrier for me. Joining in with group activities and making friends was hard and I very much preferred to sit and watch everyone else or simply just read my book (yes I was a geeky bookworm and I am so okay with it!). My furthest and clearest memories of being socially anxious are on my family holidays. I would go to the hotel kids clubs, forced into group situations with the rest of kid holidaymakers, be taught the classic and cringeworthy dances and… I would never want to join in and become so anxious and upset if I was forced. In short, I was a very shy child and shyness derives from fear – the fear of being misunderstood, disliked or humiliated!
Reading medical reports, the triggering symptoms of social anxiety include; being introduced to other people, being observed whilst doing something, feeling insecure in a social environment, having to say something in a public situation.. and the list goes on! One thing that sufferers should try to understand is that these paralysing feelings are created by our own unkind thoughts. When we feel insecure or anxious, our imagination tends to run wild and we can often devise the most horrendous thoughts by ourselves with no actual real evidence that these thoughts are true. These thoughts can very quickly tear down any self-esteem and confidence we have.
As I have said before in my previous blogs, the first time I realised that I suffered with SAD was moving to Hong Kong three years ago. I had known for years that I suffered with Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), yet so many reports show that one disorder often goes hand-in-hand with another (like depression and anxiety/BDD, social anxiety and depression, etc..). I had never been exposed to any of these feelings, let alone meeting new people in a group/social situations that would create such an anxiety. As most people know back home… everyone knows everyone and there was never anyone I had to meet that I would be worried or nervous about!
However, moving to Hong Kong was a whole new ball game. Being exposed to groups of people that I knew nothing about (often having very little in common!), feeling alone and trying to come across well in order to make friends was something I had never had to deal with before. I focused so much on how I was coming across, how people were looking at me and perceiving me, I was not able to actually focus on communicating and I could not concentrate on what mattered most… being me!
This was when I realised that I was suffering with more than just “moving away nerves” (whatever they are?), and that these feelings were becoming debilitating. It was preventing me finding real friends who I had an actual connection with, making me feel more lonelier than ever before.
It became a vicious cycle of having the intense desire to avoid social situations, isolating myself and becoming homesick yet wanting friends to talk to. Luckily, I have great medical care in Hong Kong and am able to get the help that I need whenever I want it, along with having a great partner and best friend who is simply the best at knowing what I need to do or what I need to hear and is there for me whenever I need – something that I will always be grateful for.
This is very much an ongoing battle and there are still times that I suffer with social anxiety, even with people I have known for years! One thing that I have learned in the past few years is that everyone has opinions (even you!!), some may be more critical than others but you simply cannot control them. You only have control on how you deal with them and you cannot let imaginary opinions that you think are true control you. A quote so relevant to this is:
“You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there’s still going to be somebody who hates peaches.” – Dita Von Teese.
Something that I should definitely remember more is that, you simply cannot be liked by everyone. Be comfortable with who you are as a person as adjusting to “fit in” with a group is not your natural self and this in turn creates an anxiety, as you end up worrying about how you are coming across. So long as you are always being the best version of yourself – the right people with surround you and that is all that matters!
As we all know, unfortunately, sufferers with any form of mental health are sometimes not able to get the right healthcare that they need and do not have a support system around them to help them through their struggles, which is why I feel that this awareness is so important.
One thing that I have tried to put in place for my own anxieties is something I learnt in my Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) sessions. This is, challenging negative thoughts when they arise:
- How positive am I that this ideation I have is true?
- Am I certain that will happen?
- What is the worst that could happen?
- Have they given me a reason to think this?
- Do I think about others this way.? If not… what makes me think they do about me?
Try to think about the type of energy you want to be putting out to the world. As humans we feed off each other’s energy and often reflect this back outwardly. Instead of continuing to act from a place of fear… act from a place of confidence, truth and love, especially towards YOURSELF. So many people who suffer with anxiety neglect their own feelings and focus on how “they think” everyone else feels about them but the one thing to remember is your relationship with yourself is the most important and it sets the tone for every other relationship you have.
No success came from fear or holding yourself back and there is no benefit to you and your life when you try and hide who you really are to the world. The last six months’ I have learnt that when you act from a place of self-confidence rather than judgment and fear, you learn so much about yourself and you can achieve true happiness and success. Sunflower Daydreams blog-writing has given me so much confidence in being “okay with not being okay” and I am so aware of who I am and what I go through, and that is the awareness movement that so many people are trying to put in place, including myself.
Focus on being happy and confident with who you are and the rest will follow. Surround yourself with understanding people and do not settle for anything less than putting yourself and your happiness first.
Some of my favourite quotes about being yourself, for you all to always remember…
“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” – Bernard M. Baruch
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson“
Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.” ― Marilyn Monroe
“Follow your inner moonlight; don’t hide the madness.” ― Allen Ginsberg
“Always be a first rate version of yourself and not a second rate version of someone else.” ― Judy Garland
“About all you can do in life is be who you are. Some people will love you for you. Most will love you for what you can do for them, and some won’t like you at all.” ― Rita Mae Brown
“Don’t you ever let a soul in the world tell you that you can’t be exactly who you are.” ― Lady Gaga
“There is nothing more rare, nor more beautiful, than a woman being unapologetically herself; comfortable in her perfect imperfection. To me, that is the true essence of beauty.” ― Steve Maraboli