Social Anxiety Killed My Relationship (Managing Social Anxiety)
As a teenager, I was always very social. I had an abundance of friends in high school and I wasn’t shy around them. I was regularly involved in school drama productions and I loved performing. But as a young adult, things changed. I was around 21 years old when I first realised something wasn’t quite right. I had never even heard about social anxiety until my therapist mentioned it in my first session. Could I [the once, social teen butterfly] really have social anxiety?
I was told I had mild social anxiety after that session and I then began 6 weeks of one-on-one CBT.
What is social anxiety? (In case you’re in the dark too).
Social anxiety is more than just being shy. It is an overwhelming sense of fear that can affect everyday activities, your self-esteem, relationships and in general, your quality of life. Social anxiety can be different for everyone. Many people have worries about social situations like public speaking, speaking to authorities, or lack of confidence. However, for some people, these worries can become much more intense and difficult to cope with. Everyday activities that most people wouldn’t think twice of, like answering the phone, can become nightmares recognised by endless feelings of anxiety and lack of confidence.
From Social Butterfly to Wallflower
I moved to London just before my 20th birthday. I moved over knowing only one person, my boyfriend. He had a very large social group here in London, and I knew no one but him. I was already petrified as to how I would fit into his group of friends and it would cause me worry every day. This is where it all began for me.
Personally, my biggest problem was socialising in large groups. If my boyfriend and I had been asked out to a social event I would worry and worry about it constantly up until the day. I would catastrophise the situation by thinking of everything that could possibly go wrong, as well as convincing myself that these terrible things will actually happen.
My thoughts were along the lines of:
‘What if no one likes me?’
‘What if I do something stupid and embarrass myself?’
‘What if I have nothing interesting to say?’
‘What if they will notice how nervous I am and judge me?’
‘What if my mind goes blank when someone asks me a question?’
‘What if they think I’m a bitch when all of this stuff ^ (above) happens?’
‘What if I have a panic attack and I have to leave? ...
‘Maybe I just shouldn’t go at all.’
After dwelling on these thoughts for days, if I then made it to the event, I’d be in a huge state of panic. The more I would notice my symptoms, the worse they would get.
My symptoms included:
shakes, mind blanks, loss of memory, mumbling words/struggling to find the right words, heart palpitations, chest pain/trouble breathing, and on occasion, panic attacks.
I was so embarrassed and ashamed of myself that other people could see that I was nervous when there really was never anything to be nervous about.
It was a vicious circle for me. When the thoughts happened, the symptoms would start, and when the symptoms started, the thoughts would get worse. `
“I was constantly fighting the nerves and anxiety when I should have been out having a good time and enjoying my 20s!”
How did it affect my relationship?
Avoidance was a big outcome of my fears. My boyfriend would go out and do things with his friends most weekends. I would often say yes and pull out last minute. Sometimes I wouldn’t say yes at all to just avoid all the worry from the beginning. And sometimes, very rarely, I would say yes and I would go. From the beginning to the end of the day/night was a ruthless battle with myself. Thoughts, symptoms, thoughts, symptoms… thoughts… symptoms…
One night, at my boyfriends Christmas work party, I had a panic attack in the bathroom. I had taken myself there to have a breather for 15 minutes, but I couldn’t control my thoughts, I couldn’t control my breathing and I couldn’t stop the panic.
Unfortunately, my social anxiety had affected my relationship significantly. I was missing out on social events with my boyfriend and his friends couldn’t get to know me. I became less attuned to the needs of him because I was more worried about my anxiety. I was no longer present in the relationship and I could tell that he was beginning to resent me for this.
Shortly after the incident at the Christmas party, I called a helpline and I told them what happened and how I had been feeling. I’m so glad I did. Learning about social anxiety and why I was suffering was the starting point to being able to manage my symptoms. I believe my social anxiety will always be there, but I have now found ways of managing it.
How did I overcome the hurdle?
I forced myself out of my comfort zone. Very slowly. I started conversations with random models at castings. As I was the one starting the conversation, I felt in control and this brought my confidence up. I forced myself to contact friends, make plans and followed through. No matter what my body was telling me, I just did it. I also went to my therapy sessions and learnt the ins and outs of my anxiety and practised the exercises I was taught. Avoidance is a huge hurdle to overcome. It does not help the situation, it only feeds the fear and allows the condition to worsen.
Tip: If you’re in a social situation and you’re starting to feel uncomfortable excuse yourself to the bathroom for 5 minutes. Take this time to practice deep breathing exercises… or even psych yourself up in the mirror… or slap yourself in the face and snap out of it!! Your symptoms don’t control you, you control yourself. Continue pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and you’ll be free of the mental prison before you know it.
Social anxiety is relentless. When mine was at its worst, I couldn’t leave the house. I will never let myself get there again. I won’t let social anxiety control my life like it did. I run my life. I am in control.
Ps. The image at the beginning of this post was taken by my beautiful mother in Kynance Cove, Cornwall. I’m pretty sure I caused her some anxiety standing on that cliff, so I’m sorry mum. xx