What is it?
It’s when a person finds themselves excessively uncomfortable in social settings. This can be online, public, or otherwise. Each person’s anxiety varies individually. Some have concerns with the phone, while others are unable to move forward with simple things in life like going to the store or a restaurant.
Coping from the insider’s mind
When a person experiences Social Anxiety Disorder in one form or another they have to find ways to cope. That means adjustments in what others may consider daily lives. Many people experience anxiety making a phone call but find use of the internet and text messaging is smoother for completing many daily communication tasks.
Regarding exiting the home for one reason or another, a person with social anxiety disorder often seeks those they are most comfortable with. While some can, in time, move forward on their own, it isn’t something expected by the person experiencing the disorder. The steps needed to be taken are often smaller than the outsider would appreciate. The effort to move beyond a comfortable environment alone is stressful and overwhelming. It can generate anxiety attacks with a simple thought of doing so. The smaller steps taken to overcome this are needed to ease the process of being able to cope. Visiting a common store with someone close often can create a feeling of familiarity for a person who’s experiencing SAD. Eventually this location may become a feeling of safety and thus could be something they experience on their own in time.
Coping from an outsider’s point of view
Those with social anxiety disorder often appear to be unwilling to challenge themselves to take on the events of the world around them. This isn’t the case and to approach someone with SAD while holding onto this thought process, a person can do more harm than good. If a person attempts to explain to they are unable to bring themselves to do certain things alone, or beyond their comfort zone, it is an advisement of what they contend with daily. This information does not change who a person is. It does identify current limitations that need to be respected.
Should you select to support a person who encounters daily events of Social Anxiety Disorder it is important not to pressure them. This may be easier said than done as the nature of the disorder can generate pressure in itself. Listen to the individual experiencing the social anxiety and you’ll hear what they need to manage or cope. If they ask for support going to the store, this is an activity a personal support friend can draw themselves into. Select someplace that can accommodate everyday needs and make it a regular stop. Eventually this activity will become comfortable for the person who experiences Social Anxiety Disorder and it may become something they are able to achieve one day on their own.
Should there be activities, such as eating out, that a person enjoys but due to their social anxiety concerns they may have other challenges. Keep in mind that dining out is often done in the company of friends. Those who are not friends may trigger the anxiety. With this in mind – all restaurants are filled with anxiety. The server is a stranger. The host that walks to the seat is a stranger. The people at most of the other tables are also unknown to the person with social anxiety. As such some easy tips for helping them cope would be to allow them to select a seat most comfortable to them. If needed, identify what they would like to order and convey that to the server when it’s requested.
If you’re a friend to someone who finds phone calls anxiety inducing, text, email, or social network with them. It’s a simple process that allows and enables the person to be social in a way that does not induce anxiety.
Speaking from Experience
When I first began to experience Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) it covered many layers. Overtime, as I pushed myself, I’ve been able to move beyond some things and not others. Often pushing myself out of need and with the help of anti-anxiety medications has enabled me to continue to provide for my family. This fact doesn’t make the process any easier. I am still excessively contained to people who knew me as an extrovert. Online, I often still appear to be, however that doesn’t change what I experience.
For me, phone calls are a big deal. I can manage as needed but when I can avoid it I do. This has led to some hurt feelings among those I care about. While this result is regrettable, it is better to maintain a level of personal emotional security than for the anxiety to interrupt my daily routine. Most have come to understand that text messaging is key for maintaining communication with me. I’m grateful to everyone who has. It makes one of my personal anxiety concerns less interrupting.
There are many people who experience some form of SAD. Our experiences are unique to us individually and as such we need that support to cater to the individual not as a blanket response. If you know someone who experiences it, regardless of what you may once recall of them, spend your time getting to know their needs and emotional limitations without being intrusive. Give them the room to control what is needed to cope and support any requests made in that arena.
Applications to Writing
In creating a realistic character who experiences this disorder an author needs to take into account all aspects of their world. This character is typically not going to be someone who can not leave their home at all. That’s another anxiety inducing disorder all together,Agoraphobia. You will want to create a character who is willing to challenge their limitations in some small way each time. At no point will those steps appear to be huge, but they will feel huge for a character.
For example: If you have a character that finds meeting new people may cause them to become short of breath or encounter another physical manifestation of their anxiety, this character may only order food to be delivered. This delivery person is a new person and could trigger the anxiety but it’s a step forward for someone with a daily experience of SAD.
To maintain realism with a character who lives every day with Social Anxiety you will want to generate a forward and backward stepping process in their development. For every step forward there will be a struggle. For every victory, a defeat should mimic their achievement.
Do you personally experience this disorder? Have you ever created a character who’s experienced this or another social disorder? How so? What are your thoughts?
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