The best advice I’ve been given about social anxiety and avoidance

Everything in life involves other people. It’s just how we are as humans – social connections are important. It’s why I think social anxiety is so cruel, by avoiding what you fear, you avoid the ability to live your life.

Despite this, I have managed to reach out to others, even if it’s just been in a mental health setting like a support group. It’s always seemed easier that way, as I felt I would be understood by others who have their own mental health difficulties.

I was thinking about the advice people have given me over the years and thought it would be good to share it here. It really helped to give me a different perspective.

Quietness can be a powerful presence

The first lot of advice came from the 18 months I spent in group therapy. I usually took a back seat within the group and found myself listening to other people’s stories and I would occasionally chip in with advice.

I voiced my frustration in the group one day and said: “Sometimes it feels like no one would notice if I didn’t even show up as I just sit here without saying anything. I almost feel like a ghost.”

They assured me that wasn’t the case, as when I did speak, they noticed and valued what I was saying as it was often thoughtful. One person said they wondered what was going through my mind. The therapist added: “You might feel like your quietness makes you invisible, but it can actually be quite a powerful presence that is noticed when you’re absent. When you do speak up, people notice.”

It stuck with me as it shows that there is value in being quiet. Of course, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work on expressing yourself, but it’s fine if you’re not a chatterbox too!

You either avoid, or you don’t

Next came from the social anxiety support group I used to go to. I was talking to one guy about avoidance, and how we used it as our main coping mechanism. I said that I often overanalyse myself and think about how small my life has become as I avoid so much.

He replied that it didn’t have to be so complicated. At the end of the day each time your fear is triggered, avoiding it is a choice. You either avoid something, or you don’t. If you’re sick of avoiding things, then you can choose not to. He then started laughing and said: “one day the earth will be swallowed up by the sun, so it won’t matter anyway!”

I guess you could argue it’s a simplistic way of thinking, but I kind of like it. When something crops up now, I’ll think: “well, are you going to avoid it or not?” The key is to not beat yourself up about it. There will be times when you feel like you need to avoid, it’s a coping mechanism, just try to balance it with facing things too.

Many people feel socially anxious

Finally, I’ve noticed that most people will have some understanding of social anxiety. I’ve mentioned it to quite a few different people, that I’m shy and socially anxious – they probably noticed it for themselves. What surprised me was that they can often relate. I’ve lost count of the times where people told me they feel like that too, and that’s from people who you would never guess!

Social anxiety disorder is obviously different from being a bit shy, but I found it reassuring that people could understand where I was coming from. And it helped me frame it in my mind: social anxiety is normal. It makes it easier for me to accept.

So there you have it, I hope you found my examples helpful or thought provoking. What’s the best advice someone ever gave you?

Anxiety warriors

I’m all for being a strong woman, but battling anxiety is a concept that I need to let go of. There’s a lot of talk in the mental health community about being a ‘warrior’, which is kind of cool, (I’m picturing myself wearing Vikings-style makeup and waving an axe around,) but sometimes fighting can be counterproductive.

Because let’s face it, these warrior battles take up a lot of energy, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t have much of that right now. Instead of charging into battle, try to put down your weapons and let anxiety do its thing. Observe how it feels and notice the thoughts going through your mind. There is a lot of power in accepting things as they are.

You can still be a badass warrior, but pick your battles. Consider when it’s a good idea to push yourself and when to retreat. It can be frustrating, because I forget this all the time and fall back into bad habits.

I started overthinking. I was wrapped up in worries about the third lockdown currently underway here in England. How would I manage the next few months without going anywhere or seeing anyone?

But I realised that I’m thinking too far ahead, my inner warrior is pacing for battle, when what I need to do is focus on the here and now. So that’s what I’d suggest to anyone reading this – take life one day at a time. Sharpening your axe in preparation for a fight may feel productive, but it takes away from the many good things in the present moment.

Keeping with the theme of Vikings, I was looking at some Norse proverbs and quite liked these:

The unwise man is awake all night, and ponders everything over; when morning comes he is weary in mind, and all is a burden as ever.  

Poetic Edda

Not every cloud which darkens the day brings rain.

Heitharvega Saga, c.7

Do you need to keep searching for a ‘cure’ for anxiety?

I love solving problems. If there’s ever something bothering me health-wise, or if there’s a thing that needs fixing, I’m straight onto google. I research the problem and all its possible solutions so I can formulate a plan. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t always a bad thing, as it means I’m proactive and end up learning a lot of information about the most random things! But sometimes the research can go too far.

It comes to a point where whatever you learn, it never feels like enough. The buzz of looking for answers, the quest for that nugget of wisdom that will fix your life, can actually distract you from the important knowledge you already have. Sometimes you need to stop the search and put what you know into practice and give it time! There’s always another self-help book or breathing technique out there to try if you feel your current routine isn’t working.

The true wisdom is in taking time to digest the information, being present, and using it. It’s an important lesson that I’m only just putting into practice myself. I think a part of me will always feel restless, so I need to reign it in to be satisfied with my life. After all, we live in a society that gives us the message that ‘more’ will make us happy. More stuff that we don’t need, more friends, more money. So I’m taking this opportunity to say no – less is more!

Take the time to think about what you already know, slow yourself down and sit with it for a while. I never really realised this before but the search is exhausting. It inhabits a large part of your mind and attention, so it feels great to just let it go. I’ve got my plan now, and although it’s hard and takes effort to put it into practice, that’s what makes it so worthwhile.

“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” Oprah Winfrey