The moment when you walk into a room, you see a lot of people, maybe one or two you know, but the rest you have no clue who they are. You want to go and meet people, but something inside of you paralyzes you. What used to be so easy, like going up and introducing yourself to people, is now suddenly the most difficult task anyone could ask of you.
This is what my anxiety feels like. I have not always felt this way, and this is only one scenario of what my anxiety can look like. This is often what my anxious moments look like, but I also have felt it when there are lots of people in smaller spaces, walking into a busy store, talking with an upset person, or running on a deadline.
For almost two years I lived in another state, only knowing a few friends when I moved from one city to another, and I would have to meet new people every day. At first it was tough, putting myself out there, meeting complete strangers, but by doing this, I have met some of my dearest friends and some who even feel like family to me.
Now with this experience, as well as my time at college, I would consider myself to be a pretty social and outgoing person, generally speaking. I can be seen as very quiet in new settings or in large groups of people, mostly because I don’t like to be the center of attention.
With this being said, to go from feeling confident in meeting and befriending strangers, to then being almost paralyzed in any social setting was very difficult for me. Some days it became almost impossible to do anything but wake up and make it through a day of work. There have also been days where I wanted to be social with my friends, but it took all of my energy to make an appearance. After showing up, I would be overwhelmed by the group of people. I would quickly retreat to my room, curl up into a ball, and just try to calm myself down, sometimes crying myself to sleep.
Experiences such as this started becoming a more frequent occurrence, and so I wasn’t able to make plans with friends because I could never anticipate how I would be feeling. For someone as social as I am, experiencing social anxiety has been a huge challenge in my life. I had no idea why I was experiencing this, and for a time, it began to overtake my life.
Not only was I having days debilitated by this anxiety, but there also became days where I would start to feel very low. I would just have not interest in doing things, even things I enjoyed, I didn’t want to be around people, I felt worthless, and a few times where I no longer wanted to be part of the world. It was scary to have some low times and feel so depressed like this.
I would work hard to try and bounce back from these low times, and it was getting harder to bounce back to a state of normalcy. I knew that I needed to make a change when my bad and low days were becoming more frequent than my good days. I did some research, and began seeing a therapist, who said that I was suffering with depression and anxiety.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), “Anxiety disorders are real, serious medical conditions - just as real and serious as physical disorders such as heart disease or diabetes. Anxiety disorders are the most common and pervasive mental disorders in the United States. The term "anxiety disorder" refers to specific psychiatric disorders that involve extreme fear or worry.””[i]
Reading this is super comforting to me because there is such a social stigma with “mental illness” or disorders. It can be difficult to understand where people with anxiety or another mental
illness are coming from because you can’t see their struggles like you can see a broken bone, but as mentioned, the pain and struggle is just as real with anxiety as is a physical limitation.
The ADAA continues to state that these anxiety disorders can include: generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder and panic attacks, agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder, selective mutism, separation anxiety, and specific phobias.[ii]
Just as the types of anxiety can vary, how anxiety affects someone will look different for everyone.The great news about our modern time is that there is help! There are so many resources available to help us.
For me, seeing a therapist helped me for a short time. If you choose to seek counseling or therapy, it’s super important to find a therapist that works for you. Not every therapist is meant to work with each person because we all have such different struggles as well as different personalities.
There are many ways to go about coping and managing your anxiety. I will discuss some ways that I have managed my anxiety on a day to day basis, not including any therapy or medication. For some people, medication is not the answer, and for some, it will be. You have to determine what the best route for you is. It may take a few tries before you find what is best, but it’s important to not give up on yourself.
Something I also want to mention is that just because you struggle with anxiety, this does not define you as a person. You are not anxiety. You have anxious moments or days. I know that it was hard to me to be labeled with depression and anxiety. This is for medical professionals to be able to talk about the “disorders”.
You are not broken. You have many talents and abilities. You are an incredible person. Never go another day defining yourself as anxious. You are so much more than your anxiety, even on the days where your anxiety is all you can see.
Now, I want to give you a list of things that I have done to help me cope and manage my anxiety, as well as some suggestions from some credible sources.
1. Diet & Nutrition
• Something that has been huge for me in managing my anxiety is eating good foods. I began paying attention to the foods I was eating, as well as taking multi-vitamins. The results in how it impacted my anxiety was not immediate. It took a few months for me to recognize how watching my diet affected my mental health.
• The biggest indicator of this for me was one day when I went into a grocery store and it was super busy. There was a lot of people going all over the store. When my brain started analyzing the situation I was in and my body would have started going into a “fight or flight” mode, I was completely calm. I didn’t realize it until I left that I had managed myself during a time that I normally would have retreated mentally. Win of the day!
• “According to the Mayo Clinic, your diet cannot cure anxiety. But there are foods that help with anxiety and have a calming effect in the body, while other foods cause anxiety after eating.”[iii]
• This has become a topic for many these days, at least that I’ve noticed, but that is because it is so crucial! If we are not taking care of ourselves, who will take care of us? Self care will look slightly different for you than it does for me. Here are a few things that I like to do to practice self-care:
1. Listen to music. I choose calm music when I’m feeling anxious or to upbeat music if I’m feeling down.
2. Go for a walk. A change of scenery and fresh air helps remove me from a situation I’m feeling anxious about, and gives me a moment to recharge.
3. Enjoy a hobby. I like to write, color, play the piano, and spend time with loved ones, just to name a few. Keeping yourself doing something you enjoy helps you forget about your elevated emotions.
4. Don’t push the limits too much. Recognizing my limits has been huge. There are some days where it’s important to try and reach outside of yourself, but there are other days where pushing yourself to do something you don’t want to will make it worse. Come to recognize your limits.
• Literally, you need to breathe, and do so consciously. There are several different breathing exercises that you can try. Getting oxygen to your entire body will help you not only calm down, but it is physically good for you too!
• According to Elizabeth Walling on “The Nourished Life” blog, “When you breath deeply and you are relaxed, fresh oxygen pours into every cell in the body. This increases the functionality of every system in the body. You will also notice improved mental concentration and physical stamina.”[iv]
4. Practice Mindfulness & Positive Self-Talk.
• “Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”[v]
• One of the definitions in the Merriam Webster Dictionary says mindfulness is “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one's thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis”[vi]
• The reason I mention this is because our minds are powerful. I believe that they can be taught, or they can teach us. We get to choose how we think and how we react to events, circumstances, and emotions. Becoming more aware of our thoughts is crucial to managing negative emotions. Many of our anxious or depressed emotions start with negative thoughts.
• There are lots of ways to practice methods of mindfulness, which I encourage you to research, but for me, what has helped me the most is taking moments to recognize what I am feeling, acknowledging my feelings, determine if my feelings are rational or irrational, and then move forward accordingly.
• I am still working incorporating more positive self-talk because I often recognize negative thoughts have creeped into my mind after I have been thinking that way for a time. If you can change your negative thought as soon as you have it and turn it into a positive, this will help shift the way you think about yourself, the people around you, the events around you, and just life in general.
In no way am I an expert about social anxiety, but through my journey, I have learned ways that I can manage my emotions so they are not managing my life for me. I am in charge of my life! You are in charge of your life! Our anxiety, no matter how it looks, does not get to tell us how we live our lives.
What are you going to do today to take back your life?
Janessa McNeill is passionate about writing and people. Helping people find success and joy is what drives her everyday life. She graduated from Utah Valley University in Communication, Public Relations emphasis. Over the past few years, she has gone through quite a health journey of her own, which has created a passion to share her experiences with others. She hopes one day something she has learned can help someone else. When not blogging or writing some other piece, Janessa loves to play the piano, listen to music, play board or card games, and spend time with family and friends.