Sometimes it can be difficult to understand someone who has an illness, particularly when it is one you can’t physically see and its hard to emphasis with something you have never experienced yourself. But what is social anxiety? Social anxiety is…
the fear of interaction with other people that brings on self-consciousness, feelings of being negatively judged and evaluated, and, as a result, leads to avoidance.
In this blog post I am going to try and explain, through the use of film scenes, to try and help you understand what it is like to have social anxiety and to live with it on a daily basis.
Matrix – Neo confronts Agent Smith
When you have social anxiety it is like confront your worst enemy. You don’t see people as individuals but as a collective threat to your wellbeing and to be able to live a normal daily life. A person with social anxiety must fight the feelings they get inside when they confront something they are fearful of daily all whilst keeping a calm composure.
From the outside, a person with social anxiety will look no different to anyone else, they may even look strong, frown a little more than average and even avoid eye contact with passers by but the mental battle a socially anxious person must fight inside is exhausting and a respite of being alone is actually like paradise. To live a normal life whilst a socially anxious person takes a lot of courage, bravery and a warrior spirit as they are facing their worst fears, so, if you are one of these people realise that you are actually a very strong person! Don’t be hard on yourself.
Inception – people looking at you, why?
When a socially anxious person feels like they are surrounded by people who are judging them for whatever reason they become conscious of why people are looking at them. They automatically think it’s for a negative reason rather than they find you attractive, are being friendly or simply in their line of vision when you walk past.
They become overly alert of their surroundings, those around them, noises and notice anyone who may be looking at them and how they are looking at them for warning signs that they might be being talked about in a negative way.
Strange as it may seem they feel like they ‘may be in danger’ and why Inception is a very good example of what it can feel like to have social anxiety.
In Inception dream agents go into people’s subconscious and start altering the world around them as this happens the subconscious ( represented as people ) start realizing you shouldn’t be in there and start to look at you and eventually try to kill you and remove you from the subconscious mind.
This idea that ‘danger from strangers’ exists in everyone you meet, even though they may not be a threat or aware of you, is what a person who suffers with social anxiety will be feeling and thinking about when in most social situation.
The Truman Show – thinking everyone is in on a conspiracy
The Truman show, a story about a man who is a happy go lucky guy but unaware that his life is being filmed for the entertainment of the world. When he starts to become aware of this he thinks he is going crazy but eventually he finds out the story he has been imagining is true and tries to find the reality that has been hidden from him for so long by ‘travelling’.
A socially anxious person thinks the whole world has a conspiracy against them, even though the person knows ‘it seems quite irrational’, the reality of what you feel is not.
The feeling is very real and makes them on high alert looking for signs that are linked with their thought pattern of being in danger or being mocked in some way, making you feel vulnerable and/or stupid.
You listen more to what strangers are talking about in close proximity for signs they are being negative, you look for signals in the way someone looks at you or acts around you and you become convinced that you must be on guard with everyone you meet.
Gladiator – Inside the Colosseum
As already mentioned having social anxiety you must face your fears in order to be able to live a normal life. The feelings you get are like any other when you are confronted with danger. Every day a person with anxiety walks down a street will be fighting his/her own internal battle, heart racing, lips going dry, mind going blank, sweating a little.
Then, they are on guard at all times, using their ‘weapons and armour’ of listening intently and looking for signs of danger in order to be ready to confront it or hide from it if need be.
Being on guard 24/7 is exhausting and why people who suffer with this condition can get tired easier than someone who is without this disease.
Why does social anxiety happen and is there a cure?
Social anxiety happens to people for varying reasons and no two cases are the same. Social anxiety happens (according to the UK NHS) due to
…is most probably the result of a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
I would argue the toss with this statement. I believe that it is the case that social anxiety happens mainly due to environmental factors, in another words, due to the people you meet, how you were treated in the past by people, experiences in life that were unpleasant and you would not like to repeat.
Social Anxiety tends to happen when the person affected is unable to deal or confront the perpetrator or change the environment that caused the bad feeling. Anxiety is ‘the fear of future’ events ,imagining things happening before you get into that predicament. You imagine the worst case scenario and your body starts preparing you for a ‘fight or flight’ response and releases adrenaline in your body and is absolutely exhausting to live with.
I hope this brief article has helped you understand what its like to have social anxiety for the person you care about. It is a terrible condition because to live, we must be social and it can destroy the happiness of not only the sufferer but the people around them but with help and techniques ( of which I will be discussing shortly, one of which is to learn to breath properly) you can manage your problem and reduce its effect on your life.
As a carer, by gaining a small understanding of what your friend/lover/family feels like you can begin help supporting them to make progress and realise that sometime the best thing you can do is say ‘its ok, you can try the same fight another day’ and improve on their initial thoughts & feelings.
Eventually, after much work, a socially anxious person will begin to see that the worst things that could possibly happen didn’t and the anxiety will reduce.