Mental Wealth: Can social anxiety prevent you from enjoying life?

Christa McWhirter

Social anxiety has been a pain in my ass for the last five years of my life. It has prevented me from doing things I enjoy and even from making friends. Over the years, I found ways of coping with my social anxiety that have allowed me to be in situations that would have previously led to a sweating, crying, panicky mess.

Today, when anxiety creeps up and tries to stop me in my tracks, I remind myself of all the techniques that keep me calm and level-headed when it matters most. My family went to the Houston Rodeo with me over spring break and, at one point, I got left behind while at the chicken exhibit. I was marveling at a chicken with really crazy feathers and when I turned around, was shocked to find that my family was nowhere in sight. My heart started racing and sweat beads formed on the bridge of my nose. I felt alone, unsafe and overwhelmingly anxious.

I love the rodeo and go every year. But with a crowd of up to 185,000 people, I had to set myself up for success before entering the event.

Luckily, I prepared for this. When planning an outing to any large event, I always make sure to go with people whom I trust. This is my way of making sure that should things go downhill, someone will be there instead of ditching me the first time they see a souvenir margarita for sale. By going with trusted family or friends, there’s a safety net and it immediately reduces my anxiety.

Large crowds give me anxiety in part because they make me feel powerless. When going into a situation that will probably make me feel that way, creating an exit plan helps me feel more in control and calmer about the event overall.

Once I get to an event, I immediately scope out areas that have fewer people so that in the event that I get overwhelmed, I can make my way to those areas to recover. I have actually run into Port-A-Potty to get away from the crowds before. When it comes to anxiety, especially anxiety that escalates quickly, it’s helpful to be ready to do whatever it takes.

Despite all my planning, in the moment I was still unable to control my anxiety. When this happened, I had to resort to a grounding technique I have been using for years — breathing. The tactic sounds self-explanatory, but it isn’t just as easy as breathing in and out at any rate. Breathing in for three seconds and exhaling for five allows me to slow down my breathing and focus on a relatively simple task rather than my racing thoughts, giving my brain the time it needs to slow down.

Finding the techniques that work for me allows me to enjoy my life in a way that I haven’t been able to for years. It’s important to note the strategies that work for me may not for everyone, and it’s crucial to talk to a professional. Listening to your mind and body will also help reveal which techniques work best for you.
Today, I have the ability live my life to the fullest despite the anxiety that used to dictate my every move. Social anxiety, you no longer control me.