How do you feel when you walk into a party full of people you have to make small talk with? What about when you’re about to give a presentation at work, or perform on stage? How about when you meet your partner’s family for the first time or attend a dinner party? If even the thought of it starts to make you sweat, then you may be part of a growing number of people suffering from social anxiety.
Though it tends to develop well before our 20’s, many of us tend not to notice its effects until we are thrust into more real-world life situations.
When we are younger, various trigger reactions can be passed off as “nerves,” “shyness,” or “development issues,” but the truth is that social anxiety is real and can have a detrimental effect on the lives of those of us who suffer from it.
I am someone whom is rarely described as shy. My friends have always been amazed at my ability to move to new cities where I know no one and immediately meet people. I can easily strike up a conversation with a stranger in a café or bar, and for the first 30 years of my life, performed for anyone who would put me on stage. In fact, I didn’t start to experience what I understood to be ‘anxiety’ until after my first major breakup at 26, when, walking into the gym we were both members of, I was so overwhelmed by feelings that I suddenly couldn’t breathe, everything went black, and I thought I was having a heart attack. From then on, anxiety in one form or another became a part of the depression package I had been dealing with for years.
Now, to be fair, it was probably always there masking itself away as something else. As a child I suffered from chronic insomnia due to an unexplainable fear of going to sleep. I was made fun of at school when I was seven and developed chronic stomach and headaches because I was terrified to go back. And while I never had ‘performance anxiety’ or ‘stage fright’ as a kid doing theatre, once my career turned professional and I began to receive critical feedback at auditions or jobs, my fear of being judged and failing took over… until eventually I quit acting altogether.
After this, my life path took me to Asia, Indonesia, India, and LA, amongst a variety of other adventures. All of this was easy for me, until I would begin to succumb to my persistent inner fear of not being liked and not fitting in, and would pack up, move, and start anew. I’m great with new people. New people can’t judge me because they don’t know me and they don’t want anything from me… also, a few drinks at a bar always helped.
Over the past year, I have been examining my drinking habits to try to understand why, if I choose not to drink, I’ll feel my heartbeat racing in my chest and my focus go dizzy if I walk into an event or family dinner without my crutch of alcohol. With a lot of hard work and self-awareness I have begun to notice when I am choosing to self-medicate my social anxiety. Now, I monitor my intake and am learning through therapy to work through the anxiety instead of reaching for another glass of wine.
Self-medicating for social anxiety is not uncommon. It is very easy for people to develop addictions to drugs and alcohol because they are soothing and numbing. They quiet the voices and lubricate the nerves. Does this mean that a little glass of wine or a puff off something is always a bad thing? Not necessarily, as long as addiction isn’t a problem and you keep in mind that sometimes what makes us feel good in the moment, can potentially make things worse the next day.
Therapy — specifically CBT therapy, CBD, and beta blockers — are just some of the many ways to deal with social anxiety safely.
COGNITIVE BEHAVIORAL THERAPY (CBT) —
CBT can help us get to the bottom of what causes our anxiety and can help us learn to face and eventually overcome it. Anxiety often stems from a fear of being judged, and by breaking that down and learning to empower oneself, eventually we can get to a point where the symptoms are no longer triggered.
CBD AND MEDICAL MARIJUANA —
If you live in a place where marijuana is legal you can find a reputable doctor and pharmacy where they can help you find products that will reduce symptoms of anxiety, specifically. Experts believe the winning combo should involve a very high number of CBD, mixed with a very low amount of THC (think 20:1 ratio).
BETA BLOCKERS —
Originally prescribed to treat high-blood pressure, beta blockers block the hormones in the body that cause stress reactions. If this is the route you want to go, I recommend speaking to your doctor and therapist as there is a wide variety of varying information out there about these blockers. Natural beta blockers can be found in supplements like fish oil, ashwagandha, St. John’s Wort, and pomegranate juice. A naturopath or the supplement expert at your local health store can direct you to something that might help.
Whatever you choose, just know that you are not alone. Speak to someone you trust about how you are feeling. Try to be mindful about putting yourself in situations where you know you will be triggered, and never feel bad about excusing yourself when it gets to be too much. After all, there’s always the “Houdini” exit or the “Irish Goodbye!”
Michelle Lipper spent the first half of her life immersed in the world of acting and entertainment in Canada and LA. Thus far, the second half has taken her all over the world in pursuit of healing, spiritual growth, and the meaning of home. She’s rode motorbikes through rainforests in Thailand and Bali, learned to meditate in India, became a kundalini yoga teacher, survived cancer, and adopted the world’s best rescue dog. She has found a way of using her voice in her writing to uniquely communicate and interpret what she has learned into our day-to-day realities. Michelle currently resides in Florence, Italy where she consumes vast quantities of carbohydrates whilst plotting her return to the entertainment industry and Los Angeles. You can follow all of her adventures on Instagram at @lipmich.