Coping with the Invisible Burden: Overcoming Social Anxiety

As a child in the early 1980s, I often felt awkward, shy, and nervous. To avoid being judged or rejected, I learned to conceal these emotions from the world. I remember being invited to a popular girl’s birthday party in kindergarten and feeling simultaneously excited and fearful. I can still vividly recall my mother walking me to the front door of the girl’s house, where I stood feeling nauseous and dreading the prospect of socializing with the other girls at the party. While everyone else seemed to easily make friends and chat, I struggled to do the same due to the invisible burden of social anxiety.

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Coping through Adolescence and Beyond

This continued into my adolescence, and by middle school, I had developed IBS. I continually thought there was something wrong with me. I was the wallflower, always hiding in plain sight. Why was it so challenging to speak up and engage with my peers?

During my high school years and into adulthood, I avoided certain situations, particularly those involving large groups of people. I discovered that I functioned much better when I was either by myself or in a small group. Making small talk was not my strong suit, so some people considered me stuck up for not engaging in conversation. Whenever I had to go somewhere new, I would become anxious, and I rarely went alone. One year, on my 40th birthday, I decided to challenge myself and celebrate alone. I treated myself to a day at Kripalu in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. Despite my daily challenges, I persevered and attended a 6 am outdoor sunrise yoga class. When I returned home, my husband embraced me and said he was proud of me, even though I had not shared my anxiety about traveling and going to the retreat alone. He knew it was a significant accomplishment for me.

Alcohol Enters the Picture

Early on, I tried different strategies to deal with the anxiety. None of them were healthy. I became sarcastic, borderline mean. My friends found me amusing, so this positive feedback for poor behavior only encouraged me. Then in my mid-teens, I discovered alcohol, and my problems were solved.

Alcohol changed my entire perspective – I was the life of the party, and no longer did I hang by the wayside- no sir, I let my inhibitions run wild.

What I didn’t realize was I was still hiding, this time behind alcohol.

Alcohol is often used as a coping mechanism to reduce social anxiety. Social anxiety, also known as social phobia, is an anxiety disorder involving excessive fear of social situations. People with social anxiety may feel extremely self-conscious, embarrassed, or anxious in everyday social situations, such as meeting new people, speaking in public, or interacting with others in groups.
It’s tough dealing with social anxiety, as it can bring physical and emotional symptoms. Many people experience sweating, blushing, trembling, nausea, and a rapid heartbeat when faced with social situations. It’s also common to feel as though others are harshly judging or that we’re inadequate. These negative thoughts and beliefs can make social anxiety even more challenging.

So why would alcohol “fix” my uncomfortable social interactions?

Effects of Alcohol on Anxiety

It is believed that alcohol affects the brain’s neurotransmitters, like gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and dopamine, which regulate mood and behavior. When alcohol is consumed, it increases the amount of GABA in the brain, which produces feelings of relaxation and reduces anxiety.
Additionally, alcohol can also increase dopamine levels, which can produce feelings of pleasure and reward. This can make social situations more enjoyable and less intimidating, as individuals may feel more confident and outgoing.

However, it is essential to note that while alcohol may initially reduce social anxiety, it can also lead to negative consequences in the long term. Alcohol use can lead to dependence and addiction and even worsen social anxiety, precisely what it did to me.

Now the problem is two-fold. Flash forward to November 2021. I quit drinking- I won’t get into the details here, but if you are interested, you can read the blog post titled 364 days, here.

Sobriety and Social Anxiety

If you have yet to guess, a newfound sobriety is a challenge. I encountered various obstacles and difficulties along the way, such as dealing with cravings, managing my emotions without alcohol, and finding new ways to cope with social anxiety.
Building a solid support network is a helpful strategy for managing social anxiety in sobriety, as well as setting boundaries. This can include attending support group meetings, connecting with friends and family who support sobriety, and seeking therapy or counseling. Practicing self-care and prioritizing activities that bring joy and relaxation is also essential.

It can be challenging to overcome social anxiety and addiction, but it’s essential to know that seeking help is a brave step toward recovery. I want you to know that recovery is a journey that takes a lot of courage. It’s essential to take it one day at a time and seek the proper support and resources to achieve your goals and maintain your sobriety. You’re not alone in this struggle; I understand how difficult it can be. Having been sober for 618 days, I assure you that things get easier over time. Always prioritize your well-being and keep moving forward, no matter how hard it may seem.

It’s comforting to know that social anxiety is a treatable condition. There are effective treatments such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, medication, and self-care techniques like exercise, relaxation, and mindfulness. If you or someone you know is struggling with social anxiety, please seek help from a mental health professional who can provide guidance and support. Remember that you’re not alone; there is always hope for a better tomorrow.

Managing Social Anxiety with Meditation

Social anxiety and sobriety can be challenging conditions to manage, but meditation can be a helpful tool to alleviate symptoms. Meditation is a practice that involves training the mind to focus on the present moment and cultivate a sense of calm. By practicing meditation regularly, individuals can learn to manage their thoughts and emotions more effectively, which can help reduce social anxiety.

To begin a meditation practice for social anxiety, find a quiet, comfortable space where you won’t be disturbed. Sit in a comfortable position with your back straight, and your eyes closed. Take a deep breath in through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Repeat this process a few times, allowing your body to relax with each breath.
Next, begin to focus your attention on your breath. Notice the sensation of the air moving in and out of your body. If you find your mind wandering, gently bring your attention back to your breath. Allow yourself to be fully present in the moment without judgment or expectations.
As you continue to practice meditation, you may find that your social anxiety symptoms begin to lessen. You may feel more relaxed and confident in managing anxiety in social situations. Meditation is a practice, so it may take time to see results. Stick with it and be patient with yourself.

I have found that practicing meditation has been beneficial in my journey toward sobriety and managing my social anxiety. Although I still struggle with some social situations, I now have practical tools to help me manage the stress and emotions during those moments. Meditation allows me to shift my thought patterns and prevent anxiety from taking over.

Finding a sense of calm through meditation is a wonderful starting point for overcoming social anxiety. Moreover, reaching out to a mental health professional can provide valuable guidance and effective strategies for managing social anxiety. Remember, you’re never alone on this journey toward improved mental well-being; there are numerous resources available to support and empower you every step of the way. Embrace the opportunity to seek help and discover the path to a more confident and fulfilling life!

For assistance with mental health or addiction, please visit Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services

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