It’s the holiday season and among the hectic preparation is the anticipation of party invites and the who’s who of partygoers and hosts. Every year it’s a stressful conundrum for me as I weigh the thrill of an invitation against the anxiety of walking into a home and mingling through a crowd of casual acquaintances.
More often than not, I find an excuse to decline.
And this is how it is when you struggle with social anxiety. Where even a trip to the local grocery store can feel overwhelming for fear of running into neighbors and school moms and making small talk. While many people may admit that their mind wanders to conversation starters, thoughtful questions and witty responses, in my mind I’m wondering how long is socially appropriate for idle chit-chat and how can I gracefully excuse myself without appearing rude.
It’s not that I’m not social or that I don’t like people. I do. But social situations often paralyze me. Whether it’s the fear of saying something wrong, being judged or embarrassing myself, there’s a nervous panic in my mind and in my mannerisms.
One false move and I’ll spend hours examining my “performance” and lamenting over my flaws. Just ask my husband…
I’ve been called shy, accused of being unfriendly or aloof. Adults either aren’t aware that this is a real condition or don’t believe it can affect an otherwise highly functioning, outwardly happy person. Even my closest friends dismiss my fears as being excessive or blown out of disproportion.
Someone recently scolded me to “put on my big girl pants and just go to the party.” Although it stung and I know she meant encouragement, it’s a prime example of being misunderstood by even those close to me.
In my research, I found that Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD, how appropriate) is believed to affect as many at 15 million Americans with the onset appearing around adolescence. There doesn’t appear to be risk factors or linkage to genetics. For me I was incredibly shy as a child and it morphed into this sort of phobia that I never outgrew.
There is comfort in validating it. In discovering that I’m not alone. It’s real, it can be challenging and there’s not a cure per se. But I can decide how to respond ~ and there’s power in that. I’ve learned that the quiet, alone time I crave is important for my personal wellbeing. I can choose to be alone, which isn’t the same as lonely and it’s not time wasted. I have to repeat that sometimes to believe it. During that time, I read, I write and I try to stay off social media. (which I guess sounds a bit hypocritical when you’re a blogger!)
Recently I stumbled upon a book through the ADAA (Anxiety and Depression Association of America). Targeted to parents, it’s written with warmth, humor and genuine sensitivity. There are some guidelines and tips to identify and help children who exhibit symptoms. The key is to discover it early. You can find an excerpt here:
This isn’t an easy admission but there’s a feeling of liberation in admitting this is real, this is who I am and I am not alone. We gain a certain sense of freedom when we let go of those things we can’t control and stop trying to conform to what others define as “normal” or acceptable behavior. And so I’ve come believe:
- It’s okay to be alone
- It’s okay to turn down that invitation
- It’s okay to not answer the phone
- It’s okay to change your plans and stay home
- It’s not only okay to accept what you need that day but it’s mandatory to be at peace in it
Oh and if you see me racing through the grocery aisles, feel free to say a quick “hello.”