See Part One Here
Generalized Anxiety Disorder—If you can think of a symptom, I’ve had it at one point or another.
All it takes is being around too many people and, in the words of the wise Jack Sparrow, “we have our heading.” And it’s direction is down.
To cope, I have subconsciously been collecting an Anti-Anxiety Kit: a combination of things and ideas that help soothe the bad moments and distract my mind from itself. In case it helps someone else, I wanted to share it here. Considering we have Christmas just around the corner, it seems timely!
How To: Handle a [insert social scene] When You Are Anxious
I spend a lot of time in internal dialogue, trying to get myself out of the house. Especially, If there are people I don’t know there and experiences I have not yet had, it can take a bit of convincing.
Having done that, if I walk into a space where there are lots of people, many of which I don’t know, I might start getting nervous. Sure, I often seem like a very social person, but that doesn’t mean potential interactions don’t freak me out. And parties can get weird: the music is likely too loud, someone who is waaaay too drunk is getting really close to my face to talk, making me feel physically uncomfortable. Usually, at this point, it’s extremely likely that I’ll start getting physical symptoms: dizziness, nausea, sweaty palms—that’s in addition to being visually and audibly overwhelmed.
What to Do Now
This one is tricky because not everyone has the luxury of being comfortable with doing what I do. I go and look for people who will not judge me.
See? I said it’s tricky. Likely, they’re friends I already know or strangers who look welcoming.
If I can’t do that, then one of two things will happen:
- I will leave. If I don’t like the people I am surrounded by why should I stay? They don’t need me bringing down their celebration and I am getting to be physically sick. No one will enjoy me staying. No social ritual is worth feeling this bad about. None.
- I will make it my priority to find other like-minded people. I am extroverted though, so I like making new friends as long as they seem approachable and kind once we start talking. How to spot them? Well, this ability comes with time and after making lots of mistakes first.
If You’re At a Family Function
Thankfully, I don’t have to worry about this anymore, but I have sat at many Thanksgivings where the tension could be cut with a knife. With every gathering, I recommend you access the situation and determine what will be worse, how you feel if you stay at the function (guilt, misery, joy, etc) vs. how you'll feel if you stay home (isolation, fear, joy, guilt, etc.). I usually felt that I needed to go. Once I got there, I couldn’t just get up and leave, fearing that I would upset someone. I didn’t have anyone in my family to talk about this with, so it was just me, my mind, and my worst thoughts.
I had to stay until the end, but I found ways to avoid the toxicity around me. Whenever I started feeling too heated, I would find a way to nicely excuse myself for a moment. I would find any reason to leave the room. Sometimes, I would suddenly become the most helpful human. Need help walking the dog? Taking out the garbage? Anything to step outside for air. Otherwise, I would excuse myself to the bathroom to take a second to catch my breath. If someone asked, I just made a joke about eating a big meal. Usually, questions stop there.
If you do have supportive, kind family and all the issues are"inside your mind" so-to-speak, I would consider addressing that by getting professional mental health help to figure out what your next steps should be.
Actually, while I am here, I feel like it’s a good time to make a general point. People who follow me live know that I promote two things to handle mental illness
- Find a doctor you trust
- Find a friend (hopefully friends) you trust
I can’t tell you what to do, but if you keep finding yourself among people who don’t understand you or judge you, wouldn’t it reduce some of that stress to find people who are good to you? By no means will this be easy. You will hit some duds. But, as someone who has now surrounded herself with kind, understanding humans—you start by being kind to others when they need it and it’s amazing how much people appreciate that. It’s a breath of fresh air to encounter someone who is a beam of light. Be that light to others and you’ll find yourself among better friends.
Do you have any tips or tricks? Please share them in your local comment section.