Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Get stuck in: Friend with social anxiety #GreenRibbonIRL

Today's blog is the first response from the submissions received in my previous post. I'm still accepting submissions for Green Ribbon month below, as outlined in my previous post.

Hi Virtual Papercuts, Your blog is great and addresses so many different things well done! My question is I have a friend who has anxiety, it mostly occurs in a social context, how do you help them without making them feel anxious?
Thanks for your question and encouragement!

The first point I’d make is that it is difficult to advise without knowing whether or not your friend has confided in you that they suffer with anxiety, or if you yourself have noticed that they appear to be anxious. If they have disclosed to you that they find social situations daunting and triggering, my first advice would be to ask them if there’s any way that you can help, or make things easier for them. Often, people know themselves what helps them best.

While my anxiety is more general, I do find social situations quite daunting, and before therapy etc, they were definitely one of the biggest sources of worry for me. Something I still prefer to this day is not to arrive to a group gathering alone. I am lucky enough that I’m usually attending social things with my boyfriend, and if I’m feeling particularly funny, I will ask him to meet with me even around the corner so that we can arrive together, if we're not both arriving from home. If it’s the case where there isn’t an option to meet with someone else beforehand, and especially if it’s a venue I’m unfamiliar with, I might look at pictures of the layout online, and will always want to know who in the “party” to expect on my arrival, and know where they’re sitting. These days for me, the most anxiety inducing part of social gatherings is usually the arrival, so if I set myself up well, I will have relatively plain sailing. If my “entrance” has been particularly stressful (no-one responding to texts with requested info, having to wander for a bit before finding the group), I might throw a quick “hi” at people, and excuse myself to the loos to take a moment for myself to breathe. This gives me a chance to get my bearings, and remind myself I can always excuse myself for a breather at any stage if the gathering proves overwhelming.

I suppose my advice for you, as a friend, is to keep an eye on your friend and make sure that if you offer to be a support in social situations that you actually make yourself available as a support. This might sometimes mean interrupting a fun conversation you’re having with someone to accompany your friend for a walk around the block for some fresh air and open space. It might mean asking someone to watch your drink while you meet your friend at the bus stop and walk in with them, because their anxiety has meant that they’re 2 hours late (even at this stage, a half hour late is on time for me). Only offer what you're comfortable to deliver on, and nothing that will visibly put you out in any real way, because anxious people feel like a burden by their very existence, and don't need to feel like they are any additional effort!

I think this is some good, but definitely not exhaustive, advice for you as a friend. It would be interesting to get a question from someone who has social anxiety themselves, as my advice to them would be very different!

It's #TimetoTalk, so I'd love to see a discussion in the comments on social anxiety, and even little things from non-anxiety suffers that make them feel nervous about social situations.

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