Social Anxiety/Phobia Support – Stuart's Story
It was at the age of 18 that I first started to experience social anxiety and it took me until I was 24 to end it. Before the age of 18, I was as confident as anyone could be, so my first steps to recovery were remembering how my thought patterns were back then. The confidence I had in my mid teens came down to the fact I was able to drift through life without ever observing my own behaviour in social situations. I was able to not care about other peoples opinions of me.
I remember the first sign of social phobia was the thought that I didn’t know what to say (when I was in a social situation). Now prior to being alerted to this realisation, I must have had two different ways of thinking of myself: either I was content to not contribute to the conversation, or the thought of not being able
to do so never came into my head and I was able to converse freely. I believe that worrying about not knowing what to say then snowballed into me worrying that I was making other people uncomfortable with my silence, which later on led to more powerful symptoms like paranoia. Later on I also developed a strong feeling of self consciousness where walking through a crowded room I would feel as though I was being watched and this would make me more conscious of my walk, which would lead to an unnatural walking style. The same thing would apply to my facial expression: when I thought I was being looked at, my jaw would become tense and I would be confused about what to look at Both these symptoms have been mentioned countless times by posters on numerous social anxiety-related internet message boards. I believe this relates to an extreme level of self consciousness.
What I am trying to do here is show you how the pattern of social anxiety works. I was aware that these thoughts, such as being stared at or being judged, were untrue or over-exaggerated, but was unable to stop them as they appeared to operate on an automatic unconscious level which would override the conscious thoughts by affecting me physically and emotionally. I made two more observations: one is that in the company of people I felt comfortable with I was not able to experience these negative thoughts unconsciously. When I experimented by forcing these negative thoughts in good company, I observed that they had no physical or emotional effect. I define feeling comfortable by the fact that I had established a rapport with them in the past and I was aware that the person liked me or knew that I was capable of easy interaction. This shows that another root of my social phobia was that I needed to be liked.
An understanding of these concepts helped me to come up with a solution to my social anxiety. I have not looked back since. I must stress that I have no medical training but am simply a person who overcame anxiety using a combination of factors that I would like to share with you.
My “golden rules” for recovery are:
· Always focus on the positive aspects of life (or certainly the realistic aspects, Ed.).
· Live a healthy lifestyle.
· Devote every free minute of the day to overcoming the problem.
· Do everything you can to create a good self image
An important factor when working to overcome social anxiety is physical health, this is due to a number of factors but it basically comes down to the old chestnut of healthy body equals healthy mind. Being in shape will result in a good physical appearance which in turn will bring high self esteem. And exercise also affects the way the brain functions to help you feel better in yourself.
The first and most important step is to cut out all lifestyle drugs that you may use, including caffeine and nicotine as well as the more obvious ones such as cannabis and alcohol. Cutting drugs no matter how serious or common they are will have a massive effect on reducing your anxiety. It will not be long before you begin to notice a big change in your behaviour due to this.
It is also advisable to adopt a healthy diet as this will also have a big impact on your mood and will result in a feeling of well being. Just remember that you are what you eat.
The final thing to be done is to try exercise regularly; this will tie in with what is mentioned above and result in you functioning much better as a person. Bear in mind that this not something that needs to be done on a permanent basis but will be very important to do while working on overcoming social anxiety. Whether you wish to continue with this lifestyle choice after you have overcome it is up to you.