I have social anxiety. I’ve never been specifically diagnosed, but I just know. It’s kind of hard to miss it if I can’t manage to walk down a hallway without obsessing over how long someone stared at me, and wondering what exactly was going through their head when they were. Worry doesn’t seem to ever leave my mind alone, as Ray Lamontgne soulfully sings in in one of my favorite songs, “Trouble”. Social anxiety, and any other sort of anxiety isn’t something you can just toss to the side as so-called “shyness.” It’s one of the most common mental disorders among teens, and doesn’t get nearly enough attention.
When I try to explain how anxiety feels to people, they usually don’t get what I’m trying to say. The closest I have ever gotten to an accurate description is when I say “It feels like everyone always judges me and I’m never good enough for anybody.” But that’s nowhere close to being able to put the complexities of anxiety into words. Anxiety weighs me down, it chains me to a post built of self consciousness and keeps me from pursuing the things I love. Tumblr user heymonster does a pretty good job of explaining it in this comic:
Personally, my anxiety affects me most at school. I’m surrounded by people, all of which I can feel looking at me, judging me. Now, that may not be true, but that is what my anxiety is like. Judging, labelling, and rejection are my greatest fears, and my mind has decided it’s perfectly okay to prey on those fears(it’s really not, though). My anxiety is like a pair of shackles that holds me back from everyday acts of bravery. I can’t say more than a sentence to that boy I’ve got a crush on, because what if I trip over my words and he doesn’t want to talk to me? I avoid the popular kids at all cost, because what if they start a rumour about me? What if people find out about my anxiety and think I’m crazy? I’m buried underneath “What if?”s and I so desperately want to dig myself out and be brave. But I just can’t manage to get the courage to do so.
If you have a friend, or know anybody at all, that has anxiety of any kind, do not tell them to “get over it” or to “stop freaking out.” People who suffer from social anxiety can’t get over it, because it has buried us under it’s weight. Please also keep in mind that every case of anxiety is unique, and whereas some might be similar, they are not the same. Anxiety can affect anyone, anywhere. At home in their own bed, at their job, at a party or school. Victims react in a variety of ways, including panic attacks, hyperventilation, and isolating themselves. When I panic severely, I tend to hold my breath, feel my pulse, and tap my foot like I am keeping time to music. Steady beats calm me down. The best thing you can do when you see someone you know having an episode is to ask them what you can do to help. Get a glass of water, and do what they tell you. They know what helps them, just follow their directions.
The best thing you can do to help someone cope with anxiety, as a friend, is to be supportive. Award small complements, make them feel wanted and loved. Be gentle, but remember they are still your equal. Don’t treat them like children, it only makes matters worse.