Brains are Weird. Mine has Social Anxiety. Here’s How I Fight Back.

by | Jun 2, 2015 | Self Help

Brains are Weird. Mine has Social Anxiety. Here’s How I Fight Back.

by | Jun 2, 2015 | Self Help

Brains are weird. Mine wants to stop me from going out with friends. My brain tells me all kinds of stories to convince me that I’m better off staying inside, where I can grab a blanket and sip on a warm, comforting tea. This is my socially anxious brain.

Social anxiety is an intense fear of being evaluated or judged in social situations, and the solution for many people is to avoid social situations all together. Avoidance lessens the anxiety that comes from being around other people, but backfires by increasing feelings of loneliness. You see, the socially anxious person really does want to go out the door, but their brain is holding them back.

This has been true for me for a long time. Sometimes I find my brains’ stories really convincing and say to it, ‘you’re right! Going outside is crazy talk’. When I do this a lot, my feelings of loneliness intensify. Other times I tell it, ‘you know what? I don’t think you’re right on this one,’ and run out the door before my brain has a chance to yell, ‘STOP!’

The thing about the socially anxious brain is that you can’t tell if someone has one just by looking at them. If you look closely though, you might pick up on some things. The socially anxious brain tends to get flustered when in conversations with other people. I’ll often make mistakes in the words that I’m using (screw up past- and present-tense), be unable to say what I mean, avoid eye contact, or laugh uncontrollably at what the other person is saying… even if they’re trying to be serious [embarrassing]. Most often, though, the socially anxious brain avoids social situations where it can get flustered at all costs. It does this by telling compelling stories to its human.

You see, the socially anxious brain is an investigative journalist who likes to record all the times you socialised and it didn’t go well, so that when you want to go out it can lay out the ‘evidence’ and convince you not to. It just so happens that the socially anxious brain is a biased investigative journalist – it’s quite sneaky – even the times where social situations went well, the brain interprets it negatively so that even small things, like eating in front of a friend, are written up by the journalist brain as front-page disasters.

To take charge of my weird, socially anxious brain, I start small by challenging myself to contact two people each week to meet up. I do this on Sundays as I’m planning my week so I can schedule meet-ups into my diary. I also tell myself that what my brain is really doing is telling me a story. Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT) has helped me a lot on this one.

My brain tells me hundreds, if not thousands, of stories every day, most of which I pay little attention to. Thoughts like, ‘wouldn’t it be awesome if I had superpowers?!’ come and go when I let them. The social anxiety stories are exactly the same. My social anxiety thoughts are just weird stories from a biased journalist who I don’t have to listen to. When I remember this, I find it deeply relaxing. My brain yells, but it realises that it can’t keep me captive. In moments like this, I’m free to go out the door to laugh, connect with friends, live life to the full, and it feels incredible.

This post was inspired by the national mental health initiative, Beyond Blue, and their new #brainsareweird campaign. The campaign aims to educate young people about some of the key signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as tackle the issue around self-stigma, which is a barrier to getting support. To find out more, head to www.youthbeyondblue.com, www.facebook.com/beyondblue, or www.twitter.com/beyondblue