Anxiety Mama Series #1: Our Journeys Through Anxiety with Marijke Visser

I went live on Instagram for the first time! My friend Marijke (@girlmom.strong) and I chatted for an hour about how anxiety has impacted our lives and influenced our motherhood.

Some things we talked about:

  • Anxiety levels at the beginning and end of the Live
  • What anxiety looks like for us
  • How anxiety impacts our parenting
  • Tips for someone experiencing anxiety
  • Favourite books on mental health or motherhood
  • Questions from viewers

This video is now available on IGTV for anyone who might be interested! (Or you can scroll down!)

I can’t bring myself to re-watch it yet.

We’re talking about making this a monthly series, like Anxiety Mama Monthly or something. 🙂

  • The feature photo for this post includes part of the promo graphic created by Marijke.

How My Husband Helps Me Deal With Parenting Perfectionism

“Why do I get so angry at the kids?” I said tearfully to my husband this past Tuesday night (shortly after writing this post). “I always thought I would be so patient. But I feel like a bitch mom.”

“You’re an amazing mother,” he replied. (I’m omitting our pet names for each other to save you from gagging.) “You’re just way too hard on yourself. I don’t think you’re actually angry at the kids… I think you’re angry at yourself. For not meeting your own impossible standards.”

And that, in a nutshell, is the conversation that helped me break out of the parenting perfectionism/anxiety trap I had been in for weeks.

Perfectionism and anxiety rob you of the present moment

It’s hard impossible to be present, playful, and calm with two tiny tornadoes when your inner voice is always there narrating for you in the most toxic way: “You’re bad at this. You’re doing it wrong. You’re not doing enough. You’re ruining your kids. This is all your fault. Why aren’t you better at this?”

These feelings tend to sneakily build up over time, until I finally break down in tears. In those moments, I rely heavily on my husband to validate and reassure me, while calling out my inner bully.

Sometimes I just can’t do it for myself.

When I get stuck seeing the trees, my husband helps me step back and see the forest.

Perfectionism and anxiety keep you trapped in the details

Photo by Todd Trapani from Pexels

I get lost in the trees, focusing on how each one isn’t perfect, and taking on all the blame and guilt for every knick and knot.

My husband can see the whole forest. He sees that our family is healthy, that our kids are happy, and that their mama is doing way better than she lets herself believe.

Our marriage is not perfect. The trees of our relationship forest have seen some shit. But when my mental health and self-esteem are on the line, there is no one else who can soothe my soul and help me silence my inner bully the way Jesse does.

To the supportive partners out there: Thank you.

I wish there were more of you in the world. Your support is a potent antidote to the toxic thoughts that run through the mind of someone who struggles with perfectionism, anxiety, and low self-esteem.

Fall 2019. Shortly after Jesse’s return from deployment overseas.

14 Simple Ways To Love Your Socially Anxious Self

There’s a time and place for working on overcoming anxiety, and there’s a time and place for going easy on yourself. Let this post be your gentle reminder to practice the latter when you need it.

On that note, here are 14 ways to practice a little self-love if you struggle with anxiety. (And even if you don’t. You deserve self-love too, you functional adult, you.)

These ideas do not involve extensive interaction with other humans or lofty goals like going for a walk through your neighborhood–because that’s where the people are, and I don’t know about you, but if I am having a social anxiety flare-up, I need solutions that are low-stress.

I’m excited to hear what you think of the list.

Note: None of the links are affiliates or sponsors — just things I like.

#14: Read a book that soothes your trigger areas

Three areas I have experienced a lot of anxiety are perfectionism, pregnancy, and parenting. These books have made a world of difference to me:

Whatever you struggle with (body image? self-esteem? hair pulling?), there’s almost certainly a book that can help.

#13: Get super silly

My kids and I always get a ridiculous laugh out of the filters on Messenger. I highly recommend them.

We sent this to a friend to say, “Have a good niiiiiiiight!” And we laughed our wee heads off.

Remember: You don’t have to actually send the video to anyone if you don’t want to.

#12: Remember your awesomeness

This only works if you’re not feeling like a total self-care rebel (à la “No, I will NOT do anything constructive for myself *foot stomp*). (It happens to the best of us…)

Try listing 3 things that you are quite sure are not-shit about yourself. For example, mine would be:

  1. I make people laugh sometimes.
  2. I have the power to create other human beings.
  3. My hot chocolate is my husband’s favourite.

#11: Reach out

If you’re not feeling TOO far gone into hermit mode, it can be nice to connect lightly, gently, quietly with another human, even if all you can manage is a heart emoji by text message. Sometimes that’s all it takes to get the ball rolling.

Actually, with one friend, we use the heart emoji as my code for “I see your message and I’m thinking of you, but I’m too caught up in anxiety right now to engage.” (A friend who will do that for you is GOLD.)

Related reading: 💜 To the Friends of Those With Social Anxiety 💜

#10: Reach in

Basically this comes down to self-compassion.

Just give yourself an inner pat on the back.

Sometimes I (silently) tell myself things like, “You’ll get through this.” or “You feel anxious, and that’s okay.”

#9: Get warm

I learned this from a podcast episode by The Savvy Psychologist on 4 Surprising Ways Depression Affects Your Body (bold emphasis is my own):

A recent Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) study gave depressed participants just one session of whole-body heat treatment using infrared heat. The study showed that, even a whole week later, participants  who received the heat treatment experienced less depressive symptoms than those who got a sham treatment without heat.

So, if you struggle with depression, one inexpensive way to give yourself some relief may be to take a hot bath or do some hot yoga.

From 4 Surprising Ways Depression Affects Your Body

Here are four ways I use heat:

  • I like to take a bath after therapy, when I’m most drained.
  • I lie on a heating pad for a few minutes at bedtime every night. It helps me sleep and relax. (Actually, I just bought a replacement pad because the one my mom-in-law gave me finally died. THAT was a sad day.)
  • I have a microwaveable rice bag that my friend made for me years ago.
  • I ingest much tea (more on tea below).

#8: Do an anxiety meditation

I don’t meditate much. (I have this bad habit of resisting things that are “obvious” methods of self-care. I don’t know why… something something self-sabotage, maybe?)

But anyway, when I really need help stopping the thought-vortex, meditation is occasionally what I turn to, whether it’s for morning encouragement, mid-day relief, or sleep help.

I’ve been meaning to try Headspace, but for now I use the Insight Timer app’s free collection. They have a whole collection for anxiety specifically.

My favourite teacher is Aluna Moon because of her soothing voice and the fact that a lot of her content is short and also caters to my mom angst:

Aluna Moon courses in Insight Timer
Some of Aluna Moon’s courses in Insight Timer.

I also like her Peaceful Sleep Meditation.

#7: Listen to a podcast

Podcasts are great for keeping my mind from going to blah and meh places, especially when I’m doing busywork but my mind is not occupied (and therefore free to spiral).

Here are two of my go-tos:

#6: Make it dark

Dark is cozy.
Photo by Designecologist from Pexels

This might just be me, but darkness is like a cocoon when the world feels a little too big.

I love taking a shower in the dark after the kids go to bed (bonus: heat therapy!).

#5: Normalize your body

If you experience body-related anxiety or insecurities like me (I learned that this is fairly common for those of us with social anxiety), one thing to try is to hop on Instagram and see the bad-ass content creators on there who are working to normalize all bodies and encourage healthier relationships with ourselves.

Some of my faves:

There are so many more. I could write a whole post on my favourite accounts and the uplifting work they’re doing.

And if you need a little extra love, check out my post You (Yes, You) Are Beautiful. xoxo

#4: Eat

Hunger + Anxiety = Hanxiety (Hanger 2.0).

I once cried the whole way to my favourite local Mexican restaurant because I was afraid it would be closed and I wouldn’t get my enchilada platter. (I was very pregnant and it was my birthday and we were running late.)

It was not closed. I got my enchiladas.

Moral: Pregnant, anxious, and hungry do NOT mix.

Just eat if your body needs to eat.

#3: Tea

Tea is warm and soothing and smells nice and it is a truth universally acknowledged that a tea-lover in possession of a kettle must be in want of a mug. Or… something.

Here’s your mug.
Photo by John-Mark Smith from Pexels

My favourites at the moment:

#2: Doodle

Ideally something funny. Like this:

I challenge you to draw a bumblebee ninja.

You will not be able to beat this rendition by a friend who shall remain nameless–unless she chooses to out herself as the bee-ninja artist she is–but your attempts will probably entertain you and anyone you show:

Update: She doesn’t mind being named. Everyone tell Julie how amazing she is and which bee you like best (left, middle, or right). I chose the bee on the right. (This was in her congratulations card to me when I was pregnant with James. We called him Bumblebee at the time. We still exchange many LOOOOLs and BAHAHAHAHs about this drawing to this day.)

#1. And the ultimate way to love your socially anxious self…

Wait for it…

Photo by @thegardenpics // More info in this article // My husband 100% sees the newer version of this on his way to work every day.

Think about it:

No partner = No performance anxiety.

Just sayin’.

(It’s a little more nuanced than that, as you might expect. Anxiety is rarely straight-forward. Read more here.)

There you have it!

Soooo… Would you try any of these ideas? Am I going to get to see some bumblebee ninjas? I will 100% accept bumblebee ninjas in my email inbox (blushygingersadie [at] gmail.com) or on Instagram or Facebook!

Go love your fabulous self in the way you like best!

And I’d be tickled pink if you’d consider sharing this with someone who could use a little pick-me-up today. xoxoxoxo

P.S. Word of loving advice from someone who does this very thing: Try not to let yourself get anxious at the thought of having to try ALL THE THINGS RIGHT NOW. Pick and choose, or come up with your own idea(s). Just go easy on yourself. 🙂

And remember:

What Is Exposure Therapy For Social Anxiety?

In a nutshell, the rationale behind exposure therapy is “short-term pain, long-term gain.”

It is meant to have the opposite effect of avoidance, which provides short-term gain but long-term pain by reinforcing anxious thinking patterns.

Fear is in the unknown

There could be ANYTHING down there. Werewolves, vampires, HUMANS.
Photo by Lucas Pezeta from Pexels

Think of it like watching a scary movie over and over. The movie gets less scary the more you watch it. But why does it get less scary?

  1. You’ve watched it before, so you know what’s coming.
  2. You know you’ve gotten through it before, so you have more confidence about your chance of making it through this time.
  3. You get to start noticing things you couldn’t notice when you were too scared and hyper-alert, and that opens you up to new and fascinating observations.

Fear is also in the memory of the unknown

By which I mean, I find it scarier to think back on a scary movie than to actually re-watch the thing.

Avoiding anxiety triggers gives them power. Facing them takes that power back.

(even though it might feel like
teeth-gritting,
butt-clenching,
vomit-tempting
mortification in the moment)

(Para)sympathy for the devil

In my CBT program, our group leaders told us that our bodies can only sustain a high level of anxiety for so long until our parasympathetic system kicks in and brings down our anxiety naturally. If you flee the situation too soon, you’ll never get to that lower-anxiety place.

Basically, if you’re willing to have a standoff with your anxiety, it will eventually fall asleep, unlike the kindergartner who tries to engage me in deep, convoluted conversation at bedtime every night.

But what do you actually DO for exposure activities?

Here are some examples we were encouraged to consider:

  • Make a telephone call
  • Read in front of others
  • Refuse an unreasonable request
  • Offer an opinion that is different from someone else’s
  • Buy one Timbit from Tim Horton’s
  • Ask for the time in a location where the clock is clearly visible
  • Buy, and five minutes later, return, the same book
  • Engage a stranger in conversation while trying to be as boring as possible
  • Order something that is clearly not on the menu, like pizza at a coffeeshop
  • Intentionally make a grammatical mistake online

Just looking at this list makes me a little anxious. (Sadly, just looking at the list probably doesn’t count as exposure therapy.)

Hospital parades and other shenanigans

Wherein tail feathers are shaken.
Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

I did many of the items on the list during therapy, and since.

One notable activity that’s not on the list was the day our group leaders presented us with a trunk full of ridiculous costumes and announced we were going to get dressed up and do a parade through the whole hospital, each taking 2 turns as leader of the crazy-parade.

It was a fuchsia feather boa and garish CANADA DAY headband for me, by the way.

No, I don’t have photos.

We did a bunch of other silly stuff too. But I shall regale you with those tales another day.

Trite and true

In closing, I will say that two cliches are certainly true for anxiety and exposure therapy:

  1. You can’t have courage without fear.
  2. Sometimes the only way out is through.
Or you could make yourself a hair-shield like I attempted to do in summer 2018, but your mileage may vary on this strategy.

Anxious Thoughts #2: How To Challenge Cognitive Distortions

Story time

So I’m working at Chapters (Indigo) right now, and when I first got here I couldn’t figure out how to access the laptop outlets under the big work table. I fiddled a bit, but then couldn’t bring myself to ask anyone for help.

So then I went to the Starbucks side of the store hoping for a table with an outlet, but they were full, except for one table where a man was packing up his stuff. But I couldn’t bring myself to stand there waiting awkwardly.

So I did a lap, and lost the table to another woman. Curses.

Now. Normally at this point I would have abandoned my mission of working in public (exposure in its own right, and something I try to do regularly). But instead, I forced myself to go ask an employee for help with the original Chapters outlets.

He was very helpful and it was only slightly embarrassing when we got back to the table and the (same) people who were (still) there watched as the employee–a kind, older gentleman–crawled (stiffly) under the table to (easily) pop open the outlet.

And then another patron made a (non-mean) joke about the employee earning his pay today. And I laughed along graciously and airily and all “Hahaha! I’m a normal human and you’re so funny and this is so not awkward AT ALL hahahaha HAHAHAHAHA okay stop laughing now.”

Anyway I’m not doing this story justice but the point is that it was AWKWARD (for me) and also a moment of bravery, because I didn’t just go home.

And now!

My last post talked about cognitive distortions, or “wonky thinking.” Check it out here: Bloodthirsty Jaws of Inescapable Death.

Last week’s post (clickable)

Based on one of your questions, I decided to do a follow-up post on how to actually challenge, or counter, those anxious thoughts.  

Countering a distortion involves asking healthier, more realistic questions to help pull you away from the brain bully’s toxic thought-vortex.

Using the same examples from my last post, here is how I would counter each distortion.

Countering cognitive distortions

Probability overestimation:

  • What it sounds like: This is for sure going to go downhill fast and end horribly.
  • How to counter it: What are other possible ways this could go? Is the Worst-Case Scenario the only or most likely outcome here?

Catastrophizing:

  • What it sounds like: If a kind-of-bad thing happens, then an even worse thing will happen, and then THE WORST will happen, and it will basically result in a zombie apocalypse.
  • How to counter it: If my worst-case scenario does come true, how bad would it *actually* be? A year from now, looking back, will I still think it’s earth-ending? [barring actual zombie apocalypse]
Rubber ducky who’s seen too much.
Photo by Tinyography from Pexels

Mind reading:

  • What it sounds like: I know what you’re thinking about me, and it’s bad.
  • How to counter it: Do I truly know what they are thinking? What ELSE might they be thinking? [there’s a very good chance they are thinking about their grocery list]

Fortune telling:

  • What it sounds like: This is going to end badly. I just know it.
  • How to counter it: Am I jumping to conclusions? Can I know FOR SURE what the future will bring?

Personalization:

  • What it sounds like: Whatever it is, whenever it happened, if it was bad, it was my fault, and I’m so, so sorry.
  • How to counter it: What other factors might be at play here? Does there HAVE to be someone to blame? Am I taking more than my fair share of the responsibility pie?
This girl is consuming all the responsibility fruit loops. Don’t be this girl.
Photo by Criativithy from Pexels

Minimizing the positives:

  • What it sounds like: You’re only calling me strong because [you don’t know me that well/I’m medicated/you’re trying to make me feel better].
  • How to counter it: Am I maybe, just maybe, focusing on my weaknesses and forgetting my strengths?

Discounting coping skills:

  • What it sounds like: If something bad or hard happens (it will), I won’t be able to handle it.
  • How to counter it: Am I forgetting similar situations that I handled well, or at least coped with and got through?

Should statements:

  • What it sounds like: I should be better at this. I shouldn’t need so much help or time. I should never be a bother to anyone.
  • How to counter it: Would I hold a friend or relative to the same standards?

All-or-nothing/black-and-white thinking:

  • What it sounds like: If I don’t get a new personal best on deadlifts, everyone will think I slacked on training and it will just prove to them that I am lazy and undisciplined.
  • How to counter it: Is there an in-between or grey area I’m ignoring? Can there not be reason for pride even if I don’t live the heaviest weight of my life today?
You must be THIS HAPPY ALL THE TIME or it doesn’t count.
[This is wrong. You can be half this happy or any amount of happy and it still counts.]
Photo by Jill Wellington from Pexels

Selective attention and memory:

  • What it sounds like: That one temper tantrum this morning means that my kids are miserable with me as a mother and I am not doing a good enough job.
  • How to counter it: Are there strengths in me I’m ignoring? Would an onlooker see it the same way?

Question!

I have several examples of real-life countering that I wrote down during therapy. One situation, for example, involves me mind-reading what our daycare supervisor thinks of me as a parent, and then notes on what questions I asked to talk myself through the anxiety.

Would you be interested in seeing a real-life example like this? If so, I can share it as my next post. 🙂

Closing thoughts

If you experience anxiety, remember that anxiety is a shared human experience. Some of us just experience a lot more of it and it interferes with our lives.

You didn’t choose to experience excessive anxiety. It’s not something you “deserve” because of some mistake you made or some personal failing.

This doggy would love you anyway. Tap into your inner unconditional love pup.

Mental health disorders are worthy of immense self-compassion.

We’re all just doing our own version of muddling through.

P.S. Here’s a list of just the countering questions! 😊

  • What are other possible ways this could go? Is the Worst-Case Scenario the only or most likely outcome here?
  • If my worst-case scenario does come true, how bad would it *actually* be? A year from now, looking back, will I still think it’s earth-ending?
  •  Do I truly know what they are thinking? What ELSE might they be thinking?
  • Am I jumping to conclusions? Can I know FOR SURE what the future will bring?
  • What other factors might be at play here? Does there HAVE to be someone to blame? Am I taking more than my fair share of the responsibility pie?
  • Am I maybe, just maybe, focusing on my weaknesses and forgetting my strengths?
  • Am I forgetting similar situations that I handled well, or at least coped with and got through?
  • Would I hold a friend or relative to the same standards?
  • Is there an in-between or grey area I’m ignoring? Can there not be reason for pride even if I don’t live the heaviest weight of my life today?
  • Are there strengths in me I’m ignoring? Would an onlooker see it the same way?

Anxious Thoughts #1: What Are Cognitive Distortions?

Today’s post was inspired by Caz’s informative series on the topic (cognitive distortions, not jaws of death). Check out her post on 10 thinking errors of depression that could be ruining your life. She has follow-up posts on the same topic as well!

Welcome to your brain gone wonky

Photo by Gratisography from Pexels

When I was doing my cognitive-behavioural therapy program for social anxiety, we learned about cognitive distortions, or, as one psychotherapist I used to see called them, “wonky thinking.”

One way of understanding cognitive distortions is to imagine looking at the world through a negative filter, where you see a warped version of reality that you interpret as true. It’s a biased thinking pattern that affects how you interpret yourself, other people, and the world around you.

Everyone has moments of wonky thinking. What is life if not a collection of subjective experiences that get all twirled together in our minds for better or worse, like salty, delicious mind pretzels? (…I’m hungry.)

But people with social anxiety disorder (SAD) can be practically drowning in distortions (me) and this affects their (our) well-being and mental health. And in the case of SAD, these distortions usually focus on our performance or what people think of us.

It’s like seeing yourself and the world through rose-tinted glasses, except less rose-tinted and more… judgy finger-pointing.

Good times.

Knowledge is power and so are giggles

Photo by Francesco De tommaso from Pexels

The point of learning about cognitive distortions is to begin recognizing them so that you can eventually challenge them.

There are plenty of Very Authoritative Articles providing clinical descriptions of cognitive distortions, and they are of course extremely valuable. But given that Very Authoritative Articles are generally not my jam (I prefer honey anyway) (with butter) (it’s heresy to have honey without butter), I decided to explain the distortions from the perspective of a person who often experiences them.

It is light-hearted (ish) because that’s how I like to approach things, but I don’t mean for it to sound like I’m taking serious matters lightly. I just need a little levity in my life when dealing with heavy topics like this.

The other note I’d like to make is that I wrote this list back when I was in therapy. I’ve come a long way since then in mastering my wonky thoughts.

Here is the list!

Cognitive distortions common to social anxiety

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels
  • Probability overestimation: A bad thing is likely to happen (except it’s not actually that likely).
  • Catastrophizing: If a bad thing happens, it will be catastrophic. One bad thing will unleash a domino effect where each domino is laced with horror and despair until every one of us is devoured by the bloodthirsty jaws of inescapable death (credit for that exquisite turn of phrase goes to Moana’s grandma in this opening scene.)
  • Mind reading: I know what you’re thinking about me, and it’s bad.
  • Fortune telling: I have an invisible crystal ball that is telling me that this is going to end badly. (There’s some overlap with many of these.)
  • Personalization: Whatever it is, whenever it happened, if it was bad, it was my fault.
  • Minimizing the positives: This is the “yeah, but” distortion. If you call me brave, I will say (in my mind), “Yeah, but you only think that because [you don’t know me that well/I’m medicated/you’re trying to make me feel better].”
  • Discounting coping skills: If something bad or hard happens (and it will), I won’t be able to handle it.
  • Should statements: One of our group therapists called this “shoulding all over yourself.” I should be better at this. I shouldn’t need so much help or time. I should never be a bother to anyone. [I am the queen of shoulding all over myself. I’m SO full of should, you don’t even know.] Applies to “must” and “must not” statements too.
  • All-or-nothing/black-and-white thinking: Letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. If I don’t hit a personal best on deadlifts today, everyone will think I slacked on training and it will just prove to them that I am lazy and undisciplined. 
  • Selective attention and memory: Noticing and remembering the negative more than the positive. That one temper tantrum this morning means that my kids are miserable with me as a mother and I am not doing a good enough job. (Never mind that our kids are happy, healthy, and loved.)

Such progress I’ve made, though

Photo by Singkham from Pexels

I used to think I really could read minds, and it never occurred to me that my interpretations might actually be wrong. That sounds arrogant until you consider that all my interpretations about myself were negative.

I also used to think that my social anxiety “quirks” made me unlovable and “bad.” But when I saw the others in my CBT group express those same thoughts and behaviours, it did not seem bad or ugly. It made me feel great empathy for them.

Over time, I’ve learned to extend that same empathy toward myself. And laugh a little at myself, too, but not meanly.

For the longest time, I had this weird feeling of not really “living” my life. I called it living a meta-life. I judged myself and imagined others judging me rather than actually being able to engage in the moment.

This sensation has become less intense over time, and I do think a lot of that is thanks to learning not to trust every knee-jerk thought and reaction I have.

Can I be a little sappy for a sec?

Photo by Frans Van Heerden from Pexels

I found this scrawled in my therapy notes, and thought I would share it because it reminds me of how much I was learning, even in those early stages of treatment:

“Black-and-white thinking is setting yourself up for failure. Learn to tolerate uncertainty and imperfection, and you’ll unlock a whole world of colour.”

Happy Friday you guys.

I really need a snack now.

To the Friends of Those With Social Anxiety

Maintaining friendships can be tricky when you have social anxiety.

(I mean, maintaining friendships can be tricky even if you don’t have an anxiety disorder, but that’s not the point of this post.)

The thing about social anxiety is that it isn’t a personality trait. It’s a barrier to your personality, or at least that’s how I experience it.

So I can love my friends and miss them and want to talk to them and visit them and make plans with them… and that’s the real ME feeling those things.

But social anxiety steps in. Closes the doors. Explodes its party cannon of what ifs.

And so I hold back. I stay in touch in writing, which is less intense. Less scary. Less… invasive and uncontrollable.

But more lonely.

It’s a short post but I wanted to put this out there. If you have a friend with social anxiety, I know it can be hard for you too.

It can be hard to always be the one initiating. To always be coaxing us out into your world, out of our caves, through the anxiety mist and past the what if confetti.

But thank you for doing it. Your socially anxious friend probably appreciates it more than you know, even as she resists your efforts every step of the way.

You’re a little scary. But you’re a lot loved.

Happy end of 2019, and go hug your anxious friend!

Hahaha no just kidding don’t do that being touched is scary too.*

* Being hugged is actually very nice. Having to initiate a hug is the stuff of horror movies though.

How Does It Feel To Have Social Anxiety?

Are you wondering whether what you’re experiencing could be social anxiety, or just curious about what the disorder feels like on the inside?

I’m not a mental health professional, so I’m going to come at this by sharing what it feels like from my perspective as someone with social anxiety. The list is not exhaustive (though the symptoms themselves are exhausting).

The signs and symptoms of social anxiety disorder can be broken down into three groups:

  1. Physical what’s going on in your body
  2. Cognitive what’s going on in your mind
  3. Behavioural how you act (or don’t), what you do (or don’t)

The categories all work together and feed into one another. Let’s start with what goes on in the body.

Common physical signs (What your body does)

In anxiety-triggering situations, I often…

  1. blush (hard to hide as a ginger — during very stressful public speaking situations I often get red splotches all down my neck and across my chest too… which is a big reason why I avoid them most of the time) 
  2. sweat (a bit)
  3. feel my heart beat faster
  4. shake/tremble (I find this one pretty embarrassing — sometimes I can’t even smile without my lips getting all weird-twitchy)
  5. feel queasy/crampy (I spent most of my teenage years and early 20s thinking I had some kind of undiagnosed allergy or digestive illness)
  6. get lightheaded (and generally just feel very “out of it” or spaced out from reality)

Common cognitive signs (what you think)

The cognitive piece is what I sometimes call my brain bully. It is private torture but every bit as potent as the physical symptoms above. It’s gotten a LOT better through therapy, but at its worst, it looked something like this:

  1. They are going to think I’m [insert negative quality] and that I shouldn’t [do whatever or be however]. (I once told a counsellor that the title of my autobiography could be “The Lifelong Quest for Approval.”)
  2. I’m going to look like a complete idiot who is trying too hard and it’s going to be so embarrassing.
  3. I want them to like me… but I’ll probably just come off as [snobby/stupid/flakey/etc.].
  4. What if I’m overdressed? What if I’m underdressed? What if I was just invited as pity invite/courtesy invite? How will I know when it’s time to leave? What if they never leave my house and I need to go to bed but I can’t tell them that so we just sit there ALL NIGHT stuck in some sort of awkward social filibuster and then I DIE and THEY DIE and IT’S ALL MY FAULT and THE PAPERS ALL WRITE ABOUT WHAT A TERRIBLE, INCONSIDERATE HOST I WAS AND HOW IT’S AMAZING I HAD MADE IT THIS FAR WITHOUT KILLING ANYONE WITH MY SOCIALLY INCOMPETENT FOOLERY?!

….. that anxiety thought-spiral is an example of catastrophic thinking and definitely not likely to actually happen like probably not like almost certainly not or at least not most of it.

Right?

Common behavioural signs (What you do)

So we talked about the body and the brain pieces of the social anxiety trifecta. The last one is how you actually behave. Here are a few ways social anxiety influences my behaviour (during a bad anxiety flare-up):

  1. I am tempted to avoid many social situations. Like, I chose a job that lets me skulk in my basement office and communicate with people only via email. And also if you ask me to talk on the phone MY INSIDES WILL LITERALLY yes literally in the literal sense EVAPORATE INTO A PUFF OF TOXIC ANXIETY POISON AND THERE WILL ONLY BE A DRIED-OUT HUSK LEFT TO ANSWER YOUR CALL.
  2. When I am not ensconced in my fortress of hermitude and must interface with other humans, I tend to swing to the other extreme and be SUPER HAPPY AND PERKY AND CHIPPER.
  3. I apologize a lot. Like, even for a Canadian. If I could no longer apologize I’m not sure what I’d have left to say (I’m kidding… but not as kidding as you would hope for a functional adult).

If this sounds like you

You aren’t alone. You aren’t crazy (I mean, not more than me and I’m totally functional most of the time and more importantly I’ve made huge progress and so can you). It can get better.

There are people who can help. There’s medication if that’s something you’re open to.

You don’t have to display every sign and symptom in a description of social anxiety in order to “justify” getting support. (I didn’t experience every single piece of the description when I was diagnosed with very severe social anxiety a couple of years ago.) (I’m hoping I would fall into the “moderate” range now.)

If you think this sounds like you, then you’re probably right. At the very least, it’s a big enough red flag that there’s something worth looking into going on.

Reach out for help in whatever way you can. There’s too much at stake to just keep trying to soldier on alone. Believe me.

Good places for info:

You got this.

Have you experienced any of the signs and symptoms above?

Let me know in the comments!

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