5 Ways You Can Make Life Easier for Peeps with Social Anxiety

I asked the babies, “What should I do if I say something very embarrassing in front of everyone?”

“Run away,” declared the 8-year-old.

“Cry,” from the 6-year-old, with empathy.

“Get very mad and stomp my feet,” stated the 4-year-old, calmly, as if there was no other option.

Hi, my name is Kara, and I have tried all of these response methods during the 15 years I shared my life with social anxiety. None of these have helped me.

What is social anxiety?

“Social anxiety is the fear of being judged and evaluated negatively by other people, leading to feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, self-consciousness, embarrassment, humiliation, and depression. If a person usually becomes (irrationally) anxious in social situations, but seems better when they are alone, then “social anxiety” may be the problem.” Thomas A Richards Ph.D.

I was 23 when I finally diagnosed the stronghold in my heart that birthed social anxiety–this petrifying disease. At age 23, Jesus showed me that anxiety was an attack on my destiny, strategically planted in my 8-year-old heart by my enemy, the father of lies. 

I’ve spent years of fierce fighting to win the prize of freedom. Here is what I learned.

Destroying a lie planted in childhood is like trying to excavate an age-old wisteria vine out of your grandmother’s flowerbed. It’s confusing to know where to start. It’s HARD, sweaty work! Your muscles will complain after each go-round.

Every bit of root left in the dirt sprouts a new vine and makes you wonder if you’ll ever get a chance to put the shovel down.

Until one day, you realize it’s been so long since you had to excavate a sneaky sprout, and there are so many other flowers blooming in your grandmother’s flowerbed, that you’ve forgotten there ever was a wisteria vine ruling this area at all.

Social anxiety CAN be 100% overcome. While the battle is ongoing, here are five ways you can help your socially anxious friends feel known.

1. Keep Social Events Chill

Understand that folks who are anxious become more so at fixed events such as meetings or formal dinners where the entire group does the same thing for a space of time determined by the host. It’s not that the event is unpleasant, it’s just the feeling of being ‘trapped’ and/or conspicuous that raises the anxiety trigger. One of my instructors handled this scenario in a classroom setting by inviting the students to get up and walk around the room during class as needed, step outside for a breath of air, or change it up by sitting elsewhere in the room from time to time. Help your socially anxious friends feel comfortable at fixed events by lightening the mood, inviting guests to move about, dimming the lights a bit, or holding the event in a less formal area.

Events that are dimly lit or where the main focus is not on the guests are usually spaces where shy folks feel more relaxed, such as movie night, concerts or a campfire.

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2. Create/Offer Inconspicuous Spaces

It always helps people feel safer when they can choose how ‘seen’ they want to be. If you are a host and know of a guest who is anxious or shy, place them in a less conspicuous area, beside someone they already know well. When possible, try to have more seats available than the number of guests.

If you attending an event with your socially anxious friend, save them a seat beside you or someone else they feel at ease with.

3. Offer A Way Out

Don’t force your friends to participate in speeches or games–designate a less conspicuous role for them if they want it, such as photographer or point-keeper.

4. Intervene

When you are at an event with your socially anxious friend, pay close attention to their body language. Be ready to quickly change the subject if your friend is being bombarded in an uncomfortable conversation. Suggest ‘safe’ topics that you know they are at ease discussing. Lead your friend to interactions with those who have a calm demeanor and/or share similar interests.

5. Speak Life

Encourage your friends by speaking words of blessing over them. Those who struggle with self-worth value words of hope highly, even if it is hard for them to believe the words. Mention obvious realities to help your blessing take root, such as, “I noticed the way you held the door for my grandmother tonight. You really have class!” No one can argue with a real-life event .

BONUS ROUND!

Hey there, possibly-socially-anxious-fellow-human. No matter where you fall on the social continuum, here are a few ways you can help your friends understand you.

Practice Naming Your Emotions/Stress Responses

For example, if you hate a certain activity, try to figure out why you dislike it. Maybe someone close to you can help with this. When you have named the root sources of your fear, write it down. Naming triggers and responses is a big step towards breaking free!

Be Honest With Your Friends

Educate your close friends about what social anxiety feels like. You can just say something simple to start with, such as, “I can’t relax in large groups.” As you learn to name your feelings, you’ll be able to share more specific things with your friends, such as, “When people look at me, it feels like they are taking something I can’t control and can’t get back.” or “I place a high value on people’s words about me, and find it nearly impossible to risk being laughed at.”

Speak honestly about what activities you truly do enjoy.

Hold on to What is More Deeply True Than Feelings

The world is built on the unchangeable, because our Creator is unchangeable. Study the voice of your Creator. Memorize it. Declare what is true about yourself every time anxiety attacks. 

The truth is that, although of course we lead normal human lives, the battle we are fighting is on the spiritual level. The very weapons we use are not those of human warfare but powerful in God’s warfare for the destruction of the enemy’s strongholds.

2 Corinthians 10, PHILLIPS

We are at war.

Together, we will win.

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Jesus was homeless, too.

I don’t live in the city anymore, but when I did, I never once gave money to sign-holders. I’ve never dropped even so much as a quarter in a Salvation Army bucket. That’s a shame.

No, it’s more than that. It’s a complete disgrace.

I met a homeless man named Richard LeMieux last week, and if I would have judged him by his looks and name alone, I would have laughed and said, “It’s all a game. People with high-class, French-sounding names aren’t homeless. Look at him! He has a dog! Homeless people don’t have dogs. And he has a van. What a lazy bum.”

But then I saw the dejection in his eyes, and the humiliation, and the hopelessness. I knew, even before I had heard five minutes of his story.

This man really is homeless. But that’s not the reason for the pain in his eyes. His heart is shattered because he is alone, scorned and rejected. 

Richard LeMieux was depressed.

Depression is a taskmaster who steers the wheels of many, many….. FAR too many lives. No one sees these lives, because they are too ugly—too unpredictable to look at. Yet denying their existence does not cause them or their problems to disappear, and so they exist, and careen farther and farther into the ever more arid desert of un-lovedness. Richard is one, and it didn’t happen by choice. He didn’t start out homeless.

It wasn’t the choice of the 30 men and woman eating ham around me at the Catholic nunnary, the people who had nowhere to go on Christmas morning.

It wasn’t their choice that EVERY single one of their friends disowned them.

It wasn’t their choice that their business went bankrupt and the bank took all they owned.

It wasn’t their choice to be a victim of abuse, and to live life on the move from city to city, hiding for their life.

And the ugliest part of their reality is that almost nobody takes the time to understand them–and that fact alone is the most undeniable proof that they are unwanted and unloved.

Richard and his friend C–two real people with beating hearts just like yours and mine–sat down together one day, having just seen their homeless friend Adrian being dragged behind a car in retaliation for a drug deal gone bad. This is what they said.


 

“You know who the most famous homeless man in history was, don’t you Richard?”

“No.”

“Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head, Jesus said.”

“I should have known that.”

“You, Richard, are in good company.”

“People were afraid of Jesus.”

“Yes, and people are afraid of the homeless today. And they are disgusted when they see a person digging through a garbage can or a dumpster. They’re frightened when someone unclean talks to them—afraid they might ask for money, afraid they will steal their car or rob their house or stab them.

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But it isn’t the homeless they should fear.

It’s the people who have jobs and money—like that truck painter, Gary Ridgeway, aka the Green River Killer. Did you know he admitted to killing forty-eight women in Washington State? He’s the deadliest killer in the United States to date.”

“Yes, I did read that.”

“Can you imagine that one Christmas Eve, Ridgeway got off work early, cashed his Christmas bonus check, went to the mall, bought some presents on his MasterCard, had dinner at home with the wife, and then went out and killed a young woman and dumped her body along the road?

She was one of those disgusting, homeless prostitutes people fear.

H—, maybe the %$@# did her a favor! She would probably have had to sell her body over and over again for ten, maybe fifteen years just to pay for a three-hundred-dollar-a-month apartment, electric and water, and a run-down car!

People should REALLY be afraid of guys like the Tacoma police chief who shot his wife to death in the parking lot at the mall. Or the son of the director of the Department of Corrections for Washington state who raped a two-year-old. He pleaded guilty and got a whole six months! If a homeless guy had done that, he’d get life in prison!

You know, the big thing that sets the homeless apart is that they usually only commit crimes out of desperation. Those with homes and jobs commit crimes out of boredom or hatred or greed.

‘You are not needed anywhere, not wanted anywhere. Nobody cares what you do.’ And you know, unless people have been there—lost, alone, rejected, feeling worthless and unwanted— they just can’t know the numb feeling that drags you down. All the dreams are gone, gone forever. You’re just hoping for some force to end the nightmare peacefully.

Whatever happened to Emma Lazarus’s sonnet on the Statue of Liberty? ‘Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!’

Homelessness in this great country of the United States is an abomination!

But the great masses—who are only one paycheck or one stroke of luck better off themselves— even THEY repeat the same great lies about the homeless: ‘They are lazy. They don’t want to work. They are drunks, bums, drug-using, worthless scum.’

If you tell the same lie over and over again about the homeless, eventually it becomes the truth. You tell your wife the lie, then you tell your children the lie. Rush Limbaugh and Mike Savage then broadcast the lie, and politicians who want your vote politicize the lie. The lie just grows and grows.

The homeless are human beings. Okay, so they are people with problems—some greater than others. But there is no problem that can’t be overcome with love, patience and kindness. Given help and a sense of direction, most will help themselves and even help others.”

-Dialoge between C and Richard, Breakfast at Sally’s by Richard LeMieux


Homelessness in America is an abomination! But even worse? My response.

So, what am I going to do about it?

 Love. Not fear.