I have a love-hate relationship with social settings. Growing up painfully shy sprouted many painful social memories. Yet having a fairly large extended family eventually taught me to be more comfortable.
As I wrote in my May 3rd blog, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S. About 15 million adults are affected by Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD). Interestingly, the symptoms usually begin around age 13, in junior high. (1) Since this is the average age of puberty, it's no surprise that social anxiety would emerge in this season.
Let's define SAD. It is "characterized by chaotic, fearful and toxic thoughts in the presence of people or in groups." It can lead to "putting their brains and bodies into toxic stress." (2) The body begins to think there is danger ahead and the biological need for protection starts its launch sequence. You will then want to either fight or flee the group.
For me and several people I've talked to, social anxiety is woven into sensory over-stimulation. The abundance of noise, lights, and movement overstimulates the brain. As much as I love being around people, this over-stimulation drains me. I choose to "flee" after a time. This is why I prefer meeting in people's homes as opposed to restaurants.
Social anxiety can also have its roots in insecurity. If you were not trained as a child how to behave in social situations, you can react awkwardly and then get negative reactions. This in turn leads to future avoidance of social situations.
Many of our special needs kids are socially awkward and get overstimulated very easily. One therapy that helped my son was Sensory Integration Therapy. Of course years of manners training from mom helped a little too. He actually loves to socialize now, but in smaller settings. He still has trouble thinking of questions to ask to become an active part of the group, but he gets more mature with each passing year.
Social connection is truly the bottom line. You can certainly obtain this one person at a time. Having five really good, close friends is worth far more than knowing a hundred people only as acquaintances. If you suffer from social anxiety, perhaps moving more like the tortoise than the hare is a better solution.
Since May is Mental Health Awareness month, I chose to blog about some common issues. Next Friday I will end this series by writing "Living with Hope!" Please join me!
(1) Anxiety and Depression Association of America, www.adaa.org.
(2) "How to Deal with Social Anxiety," Dr. Caroline Leaf, May 1, 2019; https://drleaf.com/blog/single-entry/print/how-to-deal-with-social-anxiety/