Category Archives: Social anxiety

Holidays Aren’t Happy For Everyone…And That Should Be Okay

Waking before dawn, sneaking into your siblings’ room to whisper excitedly about what special treasures you might soon find hidden downstairs.

Snuggling on the couch with a full belly, surrounded by the comforting sound of loved ones’ laughter.

Photographs flashing.

Wine glasses clinking.

Wishing time would pass just a little more slowly, so you could take it all in, relish it, savour it.

Holidays come and go quickly, as all special occasions seem to. But for some, this coming and going can’t happen fast enough.

Waking before dawn, your stomach sinking with dread as you remember the day ahead will be filled with forced smiles, the hiding of shaking hands, and drinks taken in secret.

Clutching your blankets, breathing deep to hold back the nausea, as you long for the comfort of your lost loved one’s laughter.

Photograph avoiding.

Wine glass refilling.

Wishing time could just skip over this day, so you wouldn’t have to put on an act, so you could avoid the guilt, escape the pain.

Holidays come and go quickly, as all special occasions seem to. But there are people out there who would rather the holidays didn’t come at all.

Perhaps it’s because they grieve a great loss which only gets highlighted when the holidays arrive. But they endure it with a smile so they don’t make anyone else uncomfortable.

Perhaps they suffer anxiety in silence and feel overwhelmed and exhausted by pretending they’re okay throughout the flurry of family activity.

Perhaps they suffer depression, and attend holiday events out of obligation. Expectations to enjoy and be happy force their face into a smile, but inside their feelings of guilt and self loathing only grow.

Whatever the reason, wouldn’t it be nice if those who are unhappy come holiday time didn’t have to pretend?

Of course we have the best of intentions when we expect and encourage full, enthusiastic participation in holiday events, when we wish everyone a “Merry Christmas”,  we certainly don’t mean to make anyone feel bad.

We just need a little more awareness.

We just need a little more acceptance.

We just need a little more openness and honesty.

Although we’ve made progress, our society still feels rather uncomfortable being open about things that aren’t sunshine and roses, and this is especially true at holiday time.  And what do we do when we’re uncomfortable? We judge, we avoid, we ignore. This makes things much harder than they have to be for people who are grieving or suffering mental illness.

Pretending is exhausting. Pretending is lonely. Pretending makes you feel ashamed of your reality.

Let’s take the pressure off holiday happiness.

Let’s ask honest questions about how loved ones are feeling.

Let’s extend invitations that are truly optional, and come with alternative plans for later.

Let’s acknowledge our loved ones’ struggles with respect and empathy.

Although we can’t make things all better, we sure can make the holidays easier by being real. Not everyone loves holidays. And that is okay.

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Thank you for reading.

Be Brave, and Talk

What Social Anxiety Feels Like: “The Grocery Store”

I lie face down on a sunny patch on John’s man room carpet.  I massage my forehead, to try to relieve the dull ache.  Dora The Explorer plays upstairs, as Megan enjoys her quiet time. Over the baby monitor, I hear Tara roll over and sigh dreamily.

My whole body hurts, as if I’m coming down with the flu. I’m so tired of feeling like this, I really need to call the doctor about adjusting my medication.  I’ve been telling myself this for weeks now. Maybe on Monday I will be brave and actually call.

“So are you ready to go?” John crouches down and rubs my back. I blink back tears. He doesn’t notice.

“Yep.” As I struggle to my feet, my thoughts flash from a facebook “some cards” joke (Motherhood: when a trip to the grocery store alone is like going on vacation.) to a vision of stabbing myself in the stomach. I am so incredibly weak, and so pathetically selfish. (What is wrong with you? You have two beautiful daughters, a loving husband. You better start enjoying them, start enjoying life, or something is going to happen to take it all away. Grave illness. Car accident. Divorce. And you will deserve it.)

I slip into my coat, put my hands in my pockets, grip my hand sanitizers. One for each hand. They give me a brief moment of comfort.

“Have fun,” John chuckles and kisses my cheek.

“Thanks,” I manage a smile, and head out into blinding white.

In the car I turn the music on full blast, because after all, I can. I sing along. I take deep breaths. I mutter a few prayers that the girls will be safe while I’m gone.

As I drive into the parking lot, my stomach sinks and my heart starts beating faster.  I feel angry, and at the same time I feel guilty for feeling angry. Saturday. Far too many people here. I contemplate going right back home, but I cant. We need food, damn it.

I speed walk into the store. I try to breathe slowly, to relieve my increasing dizziness. As I frantically manoeuvre my cart through the produce section, flashing polite/ apologetic smiles at the other shoppers, I realize I am much better off when I bring the girls with me.  They help me stay focused. They help me see through the fog that now clouds my brain.  They give me someone to talk to. They make me brave. Right now, I am scared. Scared I will run into someone with my cart. Scared the women with highlighted hair and stylish boots look down upon my Joe Fresh jogging pants. Scared I will catch a disease from opening fridge doors.  Scared everyone can tell I feel like I’m going to pass out.

As  I race for the aisle with the laundry detergent, I long for my precious daughters to be here with me.  Saying hi to the old ladies and making them smile. Dropping stuff on the floor. I wish I could breathe in the scent of baby shampoo from their hair, kiss their foreheads. Ironically, this would be for my own reassurance.

Mercifully, I make it to the checkout line without losing consciousness. I take some deep breaths, silently say a few prayers for protection against the grocery store germs as I wait.

A pretty blond woman and her two teenage sons are waiting in line behind me. They see someone they know the next line over and start chatting. Everyone else around us who waits seems impatient, or perhaps it is just me.

My turn comes. I catch my breath as the service clerk who helps bag the groceries goes on break before helping me.  There are a lot of people waiting behind me. I must get my groceries bagged. Fast. My hands tremble. My armpits sweat. The cashier starts helping me bag the groceries, and for some reason this embarrasses me. The pretty blond lady and her sons, preoccupied by their conversation, have advanced too far in line, and block the interac machine. One of the teenage sons hovers over me as I clumsily stuff groceries into bags. I am on the verge of panicking.

I awkwardly ask ask the mother with twins to back up so I can pay. I’m so dizzy, it’s as if I am drunk.

“Hey, no problem at all. It’s all good.” The teenage boy who had been hovering gives me a sincere smile. He’s a lovely young man, and he’s my undoing. I stare through my tears at the pin pad.  It takes an eternity for the payment to go through.  I want to smile at the pretty blond woman and her sons as I leave, but I fear my tears will overflow. I look down, and briskly push my cart away.

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Thank you for reading.

Be Brave, and Talk

How to Stop Worrying About What Others Think of You: 5 Ideas

You watch your coworker as he speaks to the group. You don’t hear a word he says. Your turn is coming, and you are terrified.  Everyone’s ideas are going to be better than yours.  Your voice is going to shake, so will your hands.  You will probably turn beet red, or worse, you will get that blotchy red rash going on. Oh, so attractive.  The inside of your mouth is a desert. You try to breathe slowly to keep your heart from pounding right out of your chest.   Why, oh why must you be so afraid of what others think of you all the time?

Anxiety, in all its forms can be a very hard thing to deal with.  It can be downright debilitating. There is hope though. You can work hard at changing your thought patterns to lessen the symptoms of anxiety, and to free yourself from the nagging worry that often occurs after anxiety provoking events.

Here are 5 ides to help you cope:

1.) Realize that humans by nature are self absorbed:

They are far more concerned with the details of their own lives, and what your opinion is of them,  than what they think about you. Consider yourself, and you’ll know this is true.  Unless you burn with hatred for someone, or are madly in love, you really don’t spend very much time thinking about any one person.  As you fret, going over conversations in your head, wondering if someone hates you, there is a very high chance that they aren’t thinking about you at all. Try your best to remember this.

2.) Throw those thoughts in the river:

Every time you catch yourself stewing over someone’s opinion of you, take a deep breath, close your eyes and visualize a river, or a train. Picture the movement of the river or train, and picture yourself holding the nagging thought in your hands. Then, inside your mind, throw the thought into the river, or train, and watch it travel away. This might sound silly to you, but give it a try. I learned this technique from my therapist, and with practice, I found it to be quite helpful.

3.) Challenge your thoughts in a journal (and when you get good at it, in your mind.):

Write whatever troubling thought you have down on paper. Then, write all of the evidence you have for this being true (Do you even have any?) and all of the evidence you have  against this being true. In the against section, make a good long list of positive things others have said to you, and positive things you know to be true about yourself.  Cancel all of the negative thoughts out with lots of positives.  Try to think about the situation as someone on the outside would. Hopefully, this will help you realize most of the negative thoughts come from your imagination.

4.) Accept that you do not have the power to read minds:

No matter how much you analyze, no matter how hard you try, you will never be able to know for sure what someone else is thinking. It is a terrible waste of energy. I know it’s a habit that’s hard to stop, but it is definitely worth a try. When a thought crosses your mind, ask yourself, “Am I trying to mind read?” And realize you might as well be trying to soar through the air like Superman.

5.) Consider the worst case scenario, and then search your heart to decide if it truly matters:

So maybe that lady you bumped into at the mall does think you’re an idiot. Maybe that coworker was laughing at your blotchy face as you did your presentation. But really, what do these people actually mean to your life? Are they going to be on your mind when your time here on earth draws to a close?  Do these people, and their opinions matter in the big picture of your existence?

“Be yourself, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”

Dr. Seuss was a very wise man.

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Thank you so much for reading.

Be Brave, and Talk