Things got really bad in my early twenties. I moved to the city and was slowly turning into someone I didn’t recognize. I never wanted to leave my apartment, and if I did it was only when I had “liquid courage”. Some days I would wake up and I couldn’t even make it to work without a battle in my mind. My heart would be racing. I would be a nervous wreck and had this uncontrollable heavy feeling making it seem as though I couldn’t even walk to my car. This is when I discovered my social anxiety had gone from manageable to stage 5 psycho in a few short months
The more I avoided going out in public the worse my anxiety got. I started to drink more which only fueled the fire. One time I was called to jury duty. I walked into the courthouse I felt like everyone was staring at me. I began to sweat, my throat closed up. I immediately ran out of the room as the clerk yelled at me “there would be a warrant out for my arrest if I didn’t stay”. I didn’t care; I just had to get back to my apartment where I felt safe. Long story short, everything worked out but this was my first wake up call that I needed to work on my mind.
I started by moving away from the triggers, the busy city, and unhealthy friends, poor eating and sleeping habits. I started to clean up my life; clean up the way I ate, started to exercise more and got my drinking habits in check.
The anxiety really has never left me, I just learned how to manage it. I found that the more I hold myself hostage in my home and away from activities the worse it gets. I started to throw myself into all sorts of situations that made me feel uncomfortable. I said yes to most invites from friends. Eventually that weight that was always on my shoulders become lighter and lighter the more I pushed myself to be uncomfortable.
I started to feel normal, whatever that means. I remember reading somewhere that the pectin in apples is a great for anxiety so I started bringing apples and water with me whenever I would leave the house. If a panic attack came up I would choke down an Apple and drink lots of water and it always seemed to help. I’m not sure if it was the pectin in the apple or just the mindful act of chewing and swallowing that distracted me from these irrational fears. These little changes helped me to stay present in the moment and not wrapped up in my fears.
Fast forward to today. A lot of my friends always make comments about how I’m always busy doing something. This is actually very true, I enjoy being a busy body. I’m social in my adult life and I really enjoy it. I can’t even imagine being afraid to leave the house anymore like I used to; but I will admit some days those “fears” creep up. The difference is I accept they are irrational and in my imagination. I use words of affirmation. I go do whatever I want to go do. The thrill of getting out of my comfort zone has been something I enjoy. I don’t like it at the beginning and once I do it I feel so good afterwards.
So here are a few tips if you are or have ever suffered from social anxiety or any anxiety at that. Just like with all things it’s a work in progress, it comes and goes but I can successfully say I haven’t had a panic attack in almost 10 years.
1. Start small. Plan lunch or dinner with a friend or yourself once a week. DO NOT CANCEL because I know you’ll want to!
2. Avoid crowds until you are ready.I still to this day get anxious in crowds or going somewhere crowded – but I use the below tips to get through it
3. BREATHeven when you’re at home stressing about going to do something social count 10 deeps breaths. Do not cancel! It sounds cliché but this has saved me in MANY situations
4. Clean up your diet. I swear foods really do help heal us. Eat more veggies less sugar(especially at night) and avoid and limit caffeine especially before going into any social setting.
5. Push yourself. At the grocery store, coffee shop, gym – force yourself to talk to the cashiers and clerks ask them how their weeks going just strike up that convo.
6. Sleep.Get those zzz’s any way you need to. The more rested the easier you can manage your anxiety. So many times lack of sleep has resulted in a panic attack for me
7. Meditate/be present. Accept your fears, but remember they are only fears. Focus on right this minute. Eat something or drink water when anxiety starts to rise and focus on the act of chewing and swallowing.
8. No negative thinking. Part of being mindful… get affirmations ready and be ready to say them over & over. ” I am well and people accept me” ” I am calm and in control. I am strong”
9. Be kind to yourself. You are human and you are not going through this alone. Take it easy on yourself
10. Take inventory. When you find yourself getting back into old habits… take accountability- change the path asap and get back out there. It’s very easy to fall back into old patterns so stay aware.