As summer is in full swing (PHA! Done nothing but rain!), as is the potential to have multiple invited to large and small social gatherings. I’ve been pushing myself towards these as a way to start enjoying my summers again, and intend to blog about my journey through summer to hopefully pass on some tools for people who need it.
I’ve often refer to my anxiety disorder as ‘social anxiety’. Although it’s more of a panic disorder, once triggered, I find social situations very difficult to cope with. As experienced anxiety sufferers will know, this in itself can make it difficult to even start as thoughts begin to make it difficult before you’ve even got there.
I’ve been doing this now for 3 years (give or take) so have gathered my own coping techniques that I thought I’d share with you in order to get through it. This won’t work for everyone, but can definitely work for some.
The main thing is to ‘challenge’. You’ll have definitely heard this, but may not know what it’s about. Basically, your brain has been trained to think something bad will happen in the most mundane and safe scenario. Mine, for example, likes to go into a panic and make me think I’m going to pass out at the drop of a hat. You may think if you go somewhere the kids won’t be safe, or where you’re going isn’t safe.
Whatever it is you aren’t alone. Anxiety disorders begin in so many different ways, and manifest themselves in what may seem such a unique way, and that may be the case, but getting to the heart of anxiety is often done in the same way.
To challenge your thoughts, you must first go into a fearful situation. It’s petrifying, I’m not going to lie. It’s basically facing your greatest fear every day (except bungee jumping – I’m not an idiot). When I do it, I go to the situation, and I prepare myself for panic. I say to myself ‘what can happen that you’ve not dealt with before’ and I do it. And the good thing about challenging, is that the end result is what trains your brain again. The fact that I go through the panic and it eventually subsides, and I don’t pass out yet again, makes my brain think ‘oh…it’s not bad after all!’
I say this, but not everyone is at a stage where you can go face-to-face with your anxiety, and that is perfectly ok. It’s very important that while you push yourself outside of your comfort zone, you’re close enough to hop back if you need to.
You can do this by trying something small. If you don’t like big crowds, go to a small gathering. If you prefer to hide a little, go to a large gathering. These smaller challenges are what prepare you to go one step further next time. As you conquer a big crowd, the smaller ones don’t seem so bad, so your next step is to go smaller.
I understand that leaving your kids with some one else must be so hard. You have to trust the person implicitly. But try it. If you hate leaving your kids behind with someone else, try it. Even for 15 minutes, leave your kids with someone you trust implicitly. Once you’ve done 15 until it’s comfortable, try 30. Once you conquer this, you can push further until eventually you can try popping out for the evening. It may seem impossible now, but if you do this repeatedly, you will train your brain not to worry about things that seem so bad to you know.
When fighting my anxiety, I first educated myself on what it was. I’m very independent, so when something was controlling me, I needed to know what it was. Once I knew, I could learn what I needed to fight it. After that came CBT, where I was taught about challenging my thoughts and physical symptoms.
It’s very difficult to offer advice on what to do when you struggle with anxiety, as there are so many variants. What you can do is work together with other sufferers to come up with a solution that may help you to start taking control.
I’m always happy to help people, you can tweet me @anxiwarrior
Good luck. It’s time we started to enjoy life again.