Thursday, 11 December 2014

Social anxiety, assertiveness and breaking free

Anxiety, I feel, is often overlooked because everyone experiences it from time to time. But I challenge anyone in that moment of anxiety to try and take a second, to think how they'd feel if that was what they woke up with every morning, and what they carried around every day, which was heightened in line with certain triggers.  Perhaps then they might gain a bit of understanding as to why it is so dif´Čücult a condition to live with; but until then the best we can do is share our experiences as openly and honestly as possible to give a bit of insight. It's important to note that my personal experiences come from that of someone who also has dyspraxia so yours might differ slightly to mine.
I decided to write this blog for quite a few reasons, firstly as it's coming up to Christmas time and social situations aren't easy for everyone, secondly I think there's a lot of stigma surrounding social anxiety and a lot of misconceptions, and finally like in my previous blog about self care give some tips and advice which might help others and anyone in general who might struggle in some social situations, if you do experience a lot of anxiety when you socialise it is nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about and there's lots of things you can do to help yourself, even though you might not find some things easy it doesn't mean it will never happen, I think when you do overcome fears it makes you a lot more determined and appreciate things more than say someone who finds social situations really easy, so in the long run a positive can come out from it.

Social anxiety seems to be a bit of a buzz word at the moment like it's something cool to have as is the word socially awkward like they're things you'd want to be, but in reality it's such a frustrating, crippling condition. At it's worse it's all the things people take for granted such as:  making a phone call, eating in public, meeting new people and being in groups/crowds. For a lot of people these are things which people don't even think about they just do. When the condition it's self cripples your ability to try and explain it, it becomes all the more challenging! Social anxiety is also the constant worry that you're going to embarrass yourself, or make an idiot out of yoursef, or say something and nobody will "get it" and everyone will laugh at you. Then there's the post socialising feedback te constant worry that you've done something to upset someone and that people hate you and are simply putting up with you. Then comes the added stigma surrounded social anxiety when you're anxious your whole body can tense up and you can struggle to give eye contact, if you have a condition like dyspraxia or or on the autistic spectrum this can be even more harder. Social anxiety can be perceived as rudeness, two faced, that you're simply just boring, that you're odd you name it I've probably had it. When this happens it can make you feel even more self concious and insecure. I describe it sometimes as having everything you want to say in your head but  a block about trying to get it all out, as a result you can come across as very quiet and shy when you just want to be able to  get it out. Social anxiety and anxiety can also go alongside depression as afterwards you are constantly over analysing what as happened and it can make you feel very low and down when this happens  I feel like I'm a bad person and don't deserve any happiness in my life, and that I don't have anything worth giving to anyone. I also feel like noone would ever want to have anything to do with me because I'm an awful person and not someone you'd want to be around.

I had no idea until around 6 months ago ish it was social anxiety I put it all down to shyness and dyspraxia. But I knew something wasn't quite right, the thought of opening up to people filled me with dread, after a bad experience at uni disclosure was just a no go zone, when I did open up I was shaky stammery and didn't make any logical sense. I was always perceived as a bit of a people pleaser, someone who didn't have the confidence or assertiveness to stand up for myself. People assumed I only had limited interests because there was certain subjects which were safe to me even though I longed to be able to talk about more. It was like I was constantly trapped which was not only exhausting but so frustrating too. I saw people close to me who also struggled with anxiety being constantly written off and it was very upsetting to see. Maybe me explaining this will help others understand why I maybe did certain things the way I did. To be constantly perceived as a bad person was very upsetting, when in reality I just didn't have the assertive skills or confidence to speak up and explain myself clearly.

So what happened next, here comes the part in the blog where I hopefully I switch things round a little bit and talk about the positives I've done to try and overcome these issues. Being dyspraxic I probably will never be one of those people who finds social situations easy, I'll always struggle to block out back ground noise and if there are lots of conversations going on. I've always found it easier to socialise with people younger and older than me, never understood why I've found that's common in dyspraxic folk, I find older people that bit more mature and less fickle, a lot probably have children themselves and have had a lot more real life experience. Younger people sometimes see me as a motherly figure someone who is always looking out for them and looking out for them, which I like as I love helping people. Aside from accepting this one of the major things I've done is seek help both for how to cope in situations and with assertiveness. I discovered a few months ago I had never really said "no" to anyone. There's so many talking therapies around, getting there can be a challenge I was shaking from head to toe even if one doesn't work for you keep looking around. Sadly the NHS mental health system is a nit of a mess and people have to wait a long long time to access talking therapy.In the past my instinct has always been to hide the fact that I suffer from a mental health condition, as I have felt embarrassed, weak, ashamed, and misunderstood. Having finally decided that enough was enough – and realising that ultimately the main person who was suffering from my nondisclosure was me – I made a conscious choice to be more open about my anxiety and dyspraxia and dyslexia. Yet, having kept my secret so well, for so long, I wasn't sure how to even go about starting to talk about my anxiety never mind dyspraxia. This lead to me struggling with depression, a constant domino effect.
So I just decided to keep it simple and use techniques given to me by my councillor  give only the details I was comfortable with, and be as honest as was appropriate in the given situation. I also resolved that if I encountered negative reactions – as I sometimes have in the past – I would do my best not to take it personally and to understand that such responses are usually due to ignorance rather than malice. This is something very hard for the dyspraxic brain as we think quite literally and can take things to heart very easily. I began charity work and talking to people who might understand me more and understand the dyslexic/dyspraxic way of thinking, I started writing this blog and started fundraising. People with social anxiety  tend to have negative thoughts about
themselves and about what will happen in social situations. If you believe that social situations are threatening or dangerous, then you are more likely to feel anxious. However, it is important to realize that your thoughts are guesses about what will happen, not actual facts. People with social anxiety tend tover-estimate the degree of danger in social situations which can lead to avoidance.

Avoidingfeared social situations is a very effective strategy because it reduces anxiety in the
short-term. However, avoiding social situations increases your fear in the long-term
because it prevents you from learning that your feared expectations are either unlikely to
actually happen or aren’t as bad as you think. But I've found with help and the help bit is the most important thing there, with help encouragement and support taking little steps to overcome those fears. Sometimes you just have to do it. Examples for me in the last few months have been being flipped giving Mollie her birthday book and fundraiser and it going on youtube. I've always found Mollie a very calming person to meet, she has a very calming tone in her voice and always comes across as very frirndly, non assuming, non judgemental and caring. I once met her on crutches wearing my boyfriend's shoes as I'd torn a ligament in my foot badly and she told me I was beautiful and was so understanding I was probably 20x more un cordinated than normal.  I felt so proud of myself after the flip was put on youtube, even though I still cringe so much looking at it and everything I do in it but beforehand I'd been so paranoid she'd hate the book, I'd drop the fundraiser and it would smash. It also meant I had to surprise her (she had no idea she was getting the fundraiser) surprising someone you know is hard enough when it's someone who you know not very well at all even scarier. I also did some filming with dyslexia action and it meant me being open about my experiences, I was able to share the youtube video to my new boss in my new job and although initially scared she told me it was so inspiring and it had been passed around the whole college. I also stood up and talked at the dyspraxia foundation annual conference. I'm slowly becoming more assertive and learning to say no and standing my ground and taking small steps to open up to who I fully am as a person and all the interests I like and enjoy. I've realised sometimes to be nice you have to be honest, it doesn't mean you don't like someone, infact it can be the complete opposite and that you care. We all need a bit of honesty once in a while to help us go back on the right track and to help us succeed in future life. It doesn't mean you're being bitchy about someone you simply just want the best for them. I'm able to get the tube and buses by myself and go to social situations sometimes without matt.

Quick tips to help social anxiety
  • break tasks down into small parts and build on them
  • seek help if needed
  • learn breathing exercises to help self care
  • work on assertiveness if it's an issue for you
  • talk to others- you never know who might be feeling the same
  • join charities and organisations who have similar interests to you
  • be proud of yoursef and all the little steps you take to overcome things 
  • embrace differences
Quick tips to help someone who might be struggling
  • Don't perceive people to be someone who they're not and assume before not getting to know someone
  • send text or give little bits of motivational advice and praise when someone has overcome something
  • get to know people in different social situations
  • never assume someone can't or won't change, with the right help and support  and understanding barriers can be overcome 
  • ask questions, try and find as much as you can about someone, even little things like how was your journey or your day.
  • research if you know someone has a hidden condition or disability and try and understand it the best you can, ask questions too and try and find out how they effect someone's day to day life
  • be kind

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