My Battle With Social Anxiety, How I Identified & Overcame It.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Have you taken yourself out for drinks and dinner because you love you and isn't it nice to go out somewhere and not have to spend 20 minutes arguing over which restaurant to go to?! One of my favourite things to do is to take myself out and enjoy being alone, it's something I've had to get used to doing again because I moved to Harrogate last year for work, I thought I would soon be checking out all the amazing restaurants available to me. 

But something happened. Something which I had never experienced before. Something which I've only just come to understand and see happens to a lot of people. A little thing called Social Anxiety. I just couldn't face sitting alone where everyone would be looking at me and wondering why this girl was all alone. Stupid huh?? When I used to go to coffee shops alone all the time and be fine with it so why was it happening?? I couldn't really understand it until recently. 

Back home I felt comfortable. Comfortable enough to go into any coffee shop, cafe or restaurant alone and happily sit there for as long as I wanted and not be bothered about what anyone else thought. I think this was because it was where I'd lived all my life, the streets were so well walked, the places so well seen that nothing surprised me anymore. There was nothing new to look at, no new places to go therefore I had a familiar confidence which allowed me the freedom to sit alone.

It's no surprise really that I started to suffer from social anxiety when I moved to Harrogate. New environment, new people, new worries. I tried to shake it off, to emerge like a butterfly, ready to take on my new home and eat all the food. But I couldn't. I suffered from this for a couple of months and it really made me quite sad! Why couldn't I be like I was before? Was it too much to ask to be able to be comfortable in my new hometown? 

I don't remember how I eventually managed to go out and eat alone. It just happened. I went into a cafe, sat down and ordered some tea and cake. It wasn't easy but small steps lead to greater things, so whilst I may seem confident on the outside & be able to go out alone, bubbling under the surface is my anxiety, ready to rear it's ugly head at any point in time. Thanks a lot! 

My social anxiety came into play when I went along to an event hosted by my new friend Victoria from The Harrogate Girl. A 'Harrogate Live' event where local business owners could network and meet one another, perhaps forming new business contacts along the way. I thought this would be fun, seeing my new friend, supporting her and maybe meeting some new people? How wrong I was, so very, very wrong. I went but sat at the bar all night feeling so anxious that I wished I hadn't even bothered. It didn't help that I didn't know anyone except Victoria and was drinking wine on an almost empty stomach. That was the moment I realised I may just be suffering from this thing called social anxiety. 

" Social anxiety is the fear of social situations that involve interaction with other people. You could say social anxiety is the fear and anxiety of being negatively judged and evaluated by other people. It is a pervasive disorder and causes anxiety and fear in most all areas of a person's life"

They say that you don't 'get over' social anxiety, that it's something which needs therapy: 

"It is chronic because it does not go away on its own.  Only direct cognitive-behavioural therapy can change the brain, and help people overcome social anxiety.

But yet mine isn't chronic. I haven't been suffering from it in the way it's described here, so does that mean I don't really have it? That this 'thing' I've been suffering from is just nerves?? The feeling of being unsettled in my new home, unable to phone a friend to meet for coffee, see a familiar face sitting across from me. That was the feeling I had. It was like something gripped me and prevented me from stepping inside. An unknown feeling but one I am beating every single day. 

When you read about the perceptions of social anxiety, it couldn't be further from how you'd describe me:
"People with social anxiety are many times seen by others as being shy, quiet, backward, withdrawn, inhibited, unfriendly, nervous, aloof, and disinterested."

The name of this blog (and my nickname) Sunshine Sarah tells you everything you need to know about me really. I'm chatty, friendly, bubbly, chatty, it seems odd that I'd be suffering from something which typically shouldn't affect me. So why does it?! I don't think I'll ever really know, but it's good to know that there's help available and a good community of people to talk to should I ever need it. 

Thanks for reading. 

Love, Sarah

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