‘Loneliness probably kills more people than cancer,’ weeps Stephanie Smother, (a character in the film ‘A Simple Favour’). Watching the film on a rainy Sunday afternoon, I’m momentarily stunned by this analogy, & by the sentiment of her words.
Loneliness in many ways is indeed like cancer, eating away at a person over a period of time.
Then Stephanie starts snogging Emily (Blake Lively’s character) & the spell is broken.. because YES PLEASE, MORE OF THAT!
I’ve been thinking more about loneliness recently, (it’s the theme of this year’s ‘Mental Health Awareness Week’ after all. Although I’m not sure how I feel about mental health having themes. Who does it benefit, people or social media?)
According to the Oxford dictionary, loneliness is; sadness because one has no friends or company.
It makes sense that humans have such an emotional reaction to isolation, we’re social creatures by nature. Lockdown isolated people in a way that most of us had never experienced before.
Loneliness for me has never been about not having enough company, I’m lucky in that sense. For me loneliness is being around other people but unable to stay present, relax or connect with them… AKA SOCIAL ANXIETY. (Read more here).
My SA came back with a bang when lockdown finally eased & the world went back to normal. I wasn’t concerned initially, reasoning that my communication skills must be rusty, after being cut off for so long. Walking into a café for example, & shouting ‘one drink please!’ Forgetting that the barista couldn’t read my mind & perhaps I should narrow it down.
Fast forward to early April this year when I consciously caught myself chugging white wine, in a desperate attempt to drown the noise in my head. I realised that ‘my old friend’ had returned.
Like many anxiety-related conditions, social anxiety can be isolating, because it’s hard to explain ‘what is happening,’ to a person who’s never experienced it. Then there’s the fear that you might ‘cause a scene,’ embarrass someone, or generally make a fool of yourself.
If I was going to try, I might say something like;
Here’s the thing Jo….. The reason I can’t keep still is because there’s a storm in my brain & it’s violent.
I’m terrified that you think I’m an idiot, or boring, or weird. I’m not even listening to what you’re saying, because I’m not only rehearsing my next question, but I’m analysing your body language, looking for signs that you hate me. I’m sweating, my limbs are shaking, I’m holding my breath & my mouth is dry.
The irony is, that of course, I know deep down, the person I’m conversing with isn’t judging me, they’re not thinking about me at all. People have they’re their own sh** to deal with. Alas, social anxiety doesn’t work like that. It’s an irrational disorder, therefore flippant & rational responses don’t help.
I’ve lost count of the number of things I’ve canceled over the years because the thought of experiencing SA symptoms is too much. FYI – It’s not that a person with social anxiety doesn’t want to be around people, it’s often the opposite. They just desperately don’t want to deal with the storm of anxiety
Tips for dealing with social anxiety
The day I caught myself chugging wine I was sat across from people I’d known since childhood. People who knew about my condition & love me. I’d fallen into the trap of denial & secrecy & it was time to start making some healthy changes.
- BE HONEST. Being honest about a mental health condition is like shining a torch in the darkness, it makes everything look & feel better. This can really help take the initial sting out of social situations. Sometimes I even message before meeting people; Sorry if I’m a bit weird when I first arrive. It can take me a while to settle. People tend to be understanding. It won’t be a big deal & ten minutes after you arrive it’ll all be forgotten about.
- Talk to your GP. Doctors are better educated with regard to mental illness than they were ten years ago. If you’re worried about time, book a double appointment. To keep yourself on track make a list of physical & mental symptoms. It could be that you require some form of medication, or would benefit from some therapy. If you’re not comfortable telling a doctor, maybe start by contacting Anxiety UK, they offer both a helpline & text support, completely anonymous. Social anxiety is a manageable condition & you don’t have to deal with it alone.
- Start small. If you’ve got a party or BBQ at the end of the month, maybe try a few smaller things & work your way up. Similar to training for a 10k, practising will help your brain to adjust.
- Preparation. If you’re going to a social event, don’t be late. Lateness = adrenaline & we already have enough of that in our system! Instead arrive slightly early so that you can climatise & settle into your surroundings. I usually go to the toilets straight away, to freshen up & further ‘level out.’
Also, plan what you’re going to wear in advance & make sure it fits. We don’t want any stress beforehand.
- Distraction. If you find yourself stuck in a negative ‘thought cycle’ before or after socialising, deploy a distraction technique. Distraction is a great way to ‘change the tracks’ in your brain & give yourself some respite from worrying. Examples include games, puzzles, funny videos, or crafting… anything that forces you to focus on the task at hand.
- Breathe & pose. Certain breathing techniques can really help to alleviate physical symptoms, & ‘power poses’ are a great way to give you a last-minute boost.
- Be kind. Social anxiety is hard enough, so don’t be cruel on top of that. Thoughts trigger emotions, so when you can, be patient with yourself & be kind.
- Obviously buy my first book 😉 – We’re All Mad Here: The No-nonsense Guide to Living with Social Anxiety – & my second one; How I Learned to Live with Panic is also available!
Click here for further information.
Happy Mental Health Awareness Week! Take care of your head please.