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An Open Letter to Social Butterflies with Social Anxiety

You get invited to a friend’s condo for drinks and you’re excited. You start thinking about the cool people who’ll be there, what you’ll wear, whether that cute person you met at the last get together will be around. The night of the event comes and the doubt begins. You imagine all of the terrible scenarios that could happen while you’re there and start thinking of ways to get out of going. That’s pretty much my thought process any time I have to attend some sort of social event. My mood constantly fluctuates between “I NEED to be there” and “Get me the HELL out of here.”

What makes this even harder is that I am incredibly social, and here’s the funny thing about being naturally social: you get invited to shit all the time. The even funnier thing is people get extra offended when you don’t show up because they assume you didn’t show up because their event just wasn’t good enough for your social butterfly status.

I will never forget the first time I recognized it. I was heading out with boyfriend at the time to visit his friends who were away at university. I initially started off excited, but right before we got in the car I felt an odd uneasiness that persisted and made me feel uncomfortable and panicked until we made it home the next day. Looking back, I can pinpoint particular instances in my life where I was experiencing these symptoms and brushed them aside. But ever since that trip, the anxiety ABOUT my anxiety persists.

I won’t lie: I’ve let it get the best of me many times. I’ve missed out on trips to the beach, picnics in the park, condo parties and more. I’ve bailed ten minutes before I’m supposed to meet someone for a drink. You can only suffer so many cases of FOMO after seeing cool Instagram beach pics before you take the bull by the horns and deal with your shit. Here’s how I’ve dealt with it:

Chill the %!*# out. No, seriously. Anxiety mirrors your physical behaviour. If you find yourself getting anxious you’ll notice you’re usually fidgeting and breathing quickly. I’ve learned that by changing these few things with deep breathing and a calm demeanor, my anxiety tends to follow suit.

The cliché: think happy thoughts. When I begin to feel anxious, my mind automatically goes to the worst-case scenario. I’ll be at a social event and think, “Oh god, I’m going to turn red, someone’s going to notice, I’m going to have a panic attack and have to leave and then will be forever pinned as the ‘weird girl’ who never gets invited out.” Whenever this happens, I reverse the thought and think of the best-case scenario, which instantly lifts my mood. I realize this is WAY easier said than done, but I started from the bottom (crippling anxiety) now I’m here (mild anxiety). I’m an anxiety 6 god.

Know that some days come easier than others. I’ve had month-long stretches where I live my life without giving my anxiety a thought and then BAM! An important presentation pops up at work and for two weeks anything and everything turns me into a panicking mess. Just like anything else worth fighting for, managing your anxiety takes work and dedication—so be prepared to fight.

Be honest and open with people AND yourself. I denied my anxiety for years because it’s a weird, scary thing to admit you suffer from. You also know that once you accept it, it becomes a problem you need to face regularly. But there’s no way I could have taken strides without first accepting there was an issue to solve. You’d also be surprised at how caring and supportive your loved ones are when you’re going through the motions. There is nothing worse than trying to pretend you’re okay externally when your body is doing all it can to show the world you are not. Don’t keep your anxiety hidden; the stress of the secret makes it worse.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying all anxiety is just a matter of willing yourself to be calm—it varies and can be treated in a myriad of ways. But, in my experience, most of my anxiety stems from a constant battle with my mind trying to psych me out. Lately, I’m finding that I’m winning the battle more and more.

2 Comments

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