Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal.
College unspools your personal cocoon and makes you face the world with both arms open, willingly or unwillingly. It’s something all of us have to accept as a part of our life. It is about pushing your boundaries and stepping out of your comfort zone. You are supposed to interact with people, make friends, face interviews, be a part of clubs, give seminars, and attend social gatherings.
Often we come across situations which make us self-conscious; the fear of being judged grows onto us. We begin to contemplate every word we say, every move we make, and this affects our everyday bustle and normal functioning in social situations. Most of us don’t dwell on it or for too long, as we feel comfortable and at ease with the situation as everything resolves itself. However, it’s not so simple for some as they go through life miserably calculating the exact amount of words required not to evoke any reaction, or the perfect, utopian behavior or viewpoint for every situation and argument. This is what social anxiety looks like, except it is much more severe.
Deep down inside, we all possess a fear of being judged or being called upon for our behavior and actions in a social situation. But some of us go great lengths to escape the consequences of it, as we learn to bury our inner voice, and tame it to make it more pleasing and publicly accepted. We become conscious of what we say, how we speak, what we do, and how we behave while being watched by a group of people. The fear of being negatively judged and evaluated gives rise to feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, embarrassment and in some cases: depression.
There’s a fine line between introversion and social anxiety, though. Introversion, at its simplest, is something you’re born with and involves a choice. It is wanting to be alone because one prefers it that way, whereas social anxiety arises out of a fear of being unacceptable; it is being alone because one might get awkward in a crowd.
Often, perfectionism sows the seeds for social anxiety.
For sufferers, social behavior is either perfectly acceptable, or unacceptable. In this battle between black and white where social behavior is dealt with in binary, their public presence often becomes a show: carefully prepared, rehearsed and any deviation from the expected causing the brain to go into overdrive.
A personal experience:
We ought to share a personal experience, sent by an anonymous contributor, in order to portray the severity of the issue, as well as how prevalent, and unnoticed it is.
“Social anxiety, at its peak, my social anxiety was so bad that going out of my room was a big deal to me. Even if I had to leave for dinner at the Food Court, I’d call up my friends to see who’s available to walk up there with me, because the whole journey would be as frightening as sitting alone at a table, surrounded by people in groups. I would imagine that they are all talking about how a first-year fellow has no friends and is sitting alone, quietly eating their food. I’d actively try to keep my head down to avoid eye contact with anyone, though at times I’d frantically look around for a familiar face. This way, I used to skip a lot of meals in the first year and eat a lot of instant noodles. That obviously, led to a massive increase in weight and poor health. You see, social anxiety may indirectly cause other issues such as bad health, or depression, as it was in my case.
“I would very closely observe how my friends behaved, what they said and what they did and imitate them in order to be socially acceptable. It was only after the first year, that I got over my social anxiety and ended up being a confident individual who can handle almost any social situation, even take lead in them. I hid it rather well, but my advice to anyone else feeling the same way as I did, don’t. It was something I challenged myself to get over, and did.”
The Way Ahead
If you are one to believe it’s not a big deal and can simply be solved through more interaction with people, then you are doing more harm than good. If you need to deal with a loved one diagnosed with social anxiety, start by not belittling them. Small praises and encouragements go a long way. Speak up for them, once in a while, but urge them to speak up for themselves too. Introduce them to people who won’t be too overwhelming to them. Ease them into it.
Certain changes in lifestyle, such as reduced intake of sugars, and nicotine is shown to help a person with the disorder. Taking up any physical activity, like running, or dancing or even a walk in the evening is suggested to help. Anything that gives you confidence outside your comfort zone, works. But most importantly, it’s imperative to understand that everyone gets awkward at times, and it is perfectly acceptable to disagree with others.
Like any other mental illness, social anxiety impairs the ability of an individual to normally interact with its surroundings. The mental cobwebs and coping mechanisms are a direct consequence of the disorder, they lead to impaired mental activity, and isolate the patient from the society. This forms a vicious cycle which can only be broken by proper treatment, and care.
There could be nothing more gruesome than to fight with your own mind every single day and sit with your head held between your arms as your thoughts devour your mental peace. Social anxiety, like a host of other mental illnesses, is a very real thing, and pretty common too. A little help and awareness go a long way in paving the road to a healthy mindset.
– written by Peeyush Chauhan and Agnihotra Bhattacharya for MTTN
PS. This article is a part of a series on mental health, as we mark 19th to 26th December as Mental health Awareness Week. Stay tuned!