health · introvert · kids · Uncategorized

5 Things I Did (and Do) to Overcome Social Anxiety

I was watching a series on Netflix with my kids called “The Healing Powers of Dude.” It’s about a middle school kid named Noah who has an emotional support dog named Dude…and social anxiety.

I was explaining to my almost eleven-year-old daughter that I could relate to Noah in so many ways. That I was very much like him at that age. As a young adult I wasn’t surprised when I was diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder. My daughter couldn’t believe it. She said, “But Mommy you seem extroverted.” I thanked her for the compliment and started sharing some ways that I overcame it.

I wondered if other young people might benefit from the wisdom I’ve gained and maybe wouldn’t have to struggle like Noah did. Like I did.

So here they are, five things I did (and still do) to cope with and eventually overcome social anxiety:

1. Stop nightmaring. Nightmaring is where you go “worst case scenario.” You come up with all kinds of imaginary possible outcomes in your mind, and many of them are utterly absurd and irrational. I totally had a habit of this, and still catch myself doing it from time to time. In “The Healing Powers of Dude” Noah imagines losing Dude or his schoolmates turning into Zombies. Some more common examples of nightmaring would be imagining that everyone is looking at you, or talking about you. Somehow I felt like imagining all of the possible negative outcomes would help me be prepared, but what I realized in time was that those negative things rarely ever happened – I was just imagining for nothing. The key word though is “imagining” and it’s good news because that means it isn’t real. It’s fiction. And you cut it out by staying present which is number 2.

2. Stay present. The term anxiety means that you are focusing on imaginary negative future outcomes. They are illusions only in your mind. You can eliminate them entirely by staying present. But how do you do that, you ask? When you can’t shut your thoughts off? There are several strategies I use: conscious breathing. Meditating. Yoga. Go outside and be in nature. Tap into any one of the five senses. Finding joy in what you are doing in this moment, which is also number 3.

3. Find joy. Look for things that are satisfying. Make lists of things that bring you joy. Lists of your hobbies. Create vision boards. Find a couple of safe people, like Noah did.

4. Recharge your battery daily by taking some quiet time for yourself. Chances are, if you have social anxiety, you also are an introvert. Your energy gets depleted around others and especially new social situations. You need to know when you need to withdraw and recover. In one episode of “Healing Powers” Noah realized he needed to step away from the party and be alone in a quiet room. I still to this day will withdraw from a group when I feel low energy. It’s self-care when you have social anxiety.

5. Take comfort in routine, structure and schedules. Those of us with social anxiety are often triggered by the element of surprise. The unknown. The unexpected. On the flipside, routines and structure are calming and reassuring for us. This is how I am able to teach middle school. I need structure and routine for my own well-being and it makes it very easy to create it for my students. I generally feel safe with my groups of kids, we know each other and the sequence of events from day to day is predictable. I am writing this during the 2020 quarantine and even here at home, without realizing it, I have created a very predictable routine and schedule for our family. It becomes second nature with practice. Noah enjoys going to concerts and I do too. He says he feels like he can blend in with the crowd and I totally get that. After you’ve been to a concert you know what to expect and you feel at ease with the whole show routine.

I have come to accept that I will never be an extrovert, and I don’t know that I want to or need to.

Final words of wisdom?

🐾 Practice staying present and being in the moment! Remember that life is supposed to be fun. Plan fun and exciting things for yourself.

🐾 Try as much as you can to replace your nightmaring with daydreaming. It’s great to flash forward and think about what might happen in the future – but make sure they are good things.

🐾 Give yourself space when you need it.

🐾 Remember that structure and routine are your friends. They are comforting! The whole reason anxiety exists is because it is fear of the unknown. By creating predictable routines for yourself you lower the anxiety for yourself and those around you. This does not mean you have to live in a box. Our family goes on lots of adventures! But I make sure I do lots of planning beforehand and that I am with people I trust when I do them.

🐾 And one final thought. Give yourself permission to just stay quiet. So much of my social anxiety as an adolescent came from feeling like I had to know what to say. But now as an adult I realize it’s perfectly acceptable, if not preferable, to stay quiet.

introvert · wisdom

Stop sharing your story with people who haven’t earned the right to hear it.

Introverts, this one is for you. If you are like me and surrounded by a world of pushy extroverts who don’t understand your need for quiet and privacy, read on.

Have you ever over-shared? I catch myself doing it more often than I would like.

I commonly have people ask me about things going on in my life because I do lead a pretty interesting and different life, but I am private and shy. But I end up spilling the beans on the regular, and then as the person asks me more and more questions, I can become agitated, feeling more and more uncomfortable sharing things I never intended to.

I can begin to feel cornered or trapped, like I can’t get away or like the conversation will never end.

Or, worse, my opinion often differs greatly from the majority, so when I do share, I feel uncomfortable as the interrogator lets me know quickly they don’t agree with me.

Even worse, when someone you know to be a gossip or who doesn’t have your best interest at heart, comes along and grills you. Um no. My heart starts racing and I get the feeling that I need to beat it out of there.

Recently, someone asked me about something going on in my life, and I didn’t want to share. But I felt obligated to, because I couldn’t think of how to say that I didn’t want to without coming across as rude.

If this has ever been your experience, since then I’ve come up with ten polite replies for those moments when you are asked to share but don’t want to.

1. “I wish I could chat, but I have to be (insert where you need to be) right now. Maybe we can talk later.”

2. “I’d rather not say if that’s ok.”

3. “You’re so sweet to ask, but that’s not something I can share right now.”

4. “That is still under way. I appreciate you asking.”

5. Repeat back their question to them: “I understand you want to know (insert question here). I get why you might be curious. I would be too.”  I like this response because it forces them to hear their own words and sometimes they will even retract, realizing that it is prying.

6. Just say, “isn’t that interesting?”

7. Do you have one of those “friends” who seems to enjoy your difficulties because it makes them feel better about themselves? Once you catch onto this,  just tell them “all is well now” about whatever drama they hope for you to elaborate on.

8. Do you have one of those “friends” who will take what you share and spread it to anyone who will listen in a heartbeat? Just distance yourself when you see them coming your way. Your mom was right when she gave you the advice, just walk away.

9. Do you have one of those “friends” who will use what you share to tear you down in order to build themselves up? You need Distance. You have no obligation to share anything with anyone. When someone has proven disloyalty time and again, this is toxic to you and ties need to be severed. You have to set boundaries to protect yourself.

10. Tell them you can’t. If you want to keep your peace, and do what feels best, you’re telling them the truth when you say you can’t share. You can’t afford to share something that feels off to you. Never let someone push you into something you don’t feel comfortable doing, including conversation.