When Michael Jackson sang, “I always feel like somebody’s watching me,” did you want to sing along so bad? Or do you ever just dread social situations and feel that all eyes are on you?
While it is normal to feel nervous, shy, or overwhelmed on certain occasions, people with social anxiety experience extreme fear or feel highly uncomfortable in many different social settings. You might experience distress when meeting new people or initiating and engaging in a conversation for fear of being judged or ridiculed.
What to expect?
Many intrusive thoughts are probably going through your mind in a social setting. You start to feel self-conscious, worrying about how you look, whether you are dressed appropriately for such an event, or you may begin to wonder what people are saying about you. My personal terror centers on worries that what makes sense in my mind comes out sounding like senseless dribble in even the most casual of conversations. I have huge anxieties about being misunderstood or thought of as an idiot.
Thoughts like “Are they talking about me? Did someone tell a joke or, are they just laughing at me?” are brutal. We know that social anxiety, also called social phobia, can be crushing. And we’re here to help you understand and handle it better.
What is social anxiety?
Social anxiety goes far beyond discomfort meeting new people or awkwardness in unfamiliar settings. Almost everyone suffers from occasional shyness, but most people can carry on normally. Social anxiety causes extreme fear, so powerful that it can be disabling. People who have social phobia have difficulty carrying out everyday tasks in front of others; their anxiety about being judged can make it all but impossible to go to work or school. Usually, the symptoms associated with social anxiety are an issue only in certain situations, and those differ by individual. Symptoms rarely occur in all social situations.
Common signs that you are suffering from social anxiety:
- You tend to be extraordinarily self-conscious when social situations are involved.
- You are highly concerned about upcoming social engagements even weeks before they occur.
- You feel an impending doom that anything you do will go wrong any minute.
- You feel sure that you’ll be judged and humiliated by the people surrounding you.
Social anxiety frequently causes physical symptoms, which are not limited to:
- Upset stomach
- Pounding of your heart
- Excessive sweating
- Trembling or shaking
- Shortness of breath
- Dry mouth and difficulty speaking
- Persistent blushing
Only a professional can diagnose a social phobia. If you believe that you have it, talk with a healthcare provider or a therapist.
What can you do?
Having social anxiety does not mean that swinging is out of the question for you. It is very possible to deal with a phobia while participating in the lifestyle, but you have to put some work in to be successful.
First things first — familiarize yourself with what anxiety is and what it entails. Social anxiety goes beyond the usual shyness or feeling uneasy, uncomfortable, or nervous in situations. It is a mental health disorder, so you shouldn’t try to battle it by yourself.
You don’t have to suffer in silence or alone. Several different treatment options exist, and your mental health provider can help find the one(s) that work best for you. Options include individual counseling, group therapy, exposure therapy, and medication.
Challenge your negative thoughts.
One of the key characteristics of social anxiety is that sufferers know that their fears are unrealistic but feel unable to manage them. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is one treatment that is effective in helping people identify their triggers, recognize negative thoughts, and change their internal dialogue.
Irrational fear and nervousness arise from recurring negative thoughts. For swinging, some examples might be “I’m gonna bomb this” or “If I don’t perform well, these people will ridicule me.”
One of the best ways to challenge negative thoughts is by grounding yourself. When you hear yourself going negative, interrupt the thoughts as quickly as possible. Replace the negative with things like “I did really well last time” or “How likely is it that everyone will notice my shoes?” Feed yourself some rational thoughts, and you can eventually learn to replace your negative ones with clear and realistic scenarios.
Focus on things other than yourself.
One common mistake people with social anxiety make is focusing on themselves when things get overwhelming. This just triggers more unwanted and unnecessary thoughts as you become more aware of how overwhelmed you are.
It will significantly help when you focus on the people around you. In swinging, most often than not, the parties involved are very much focused on themselves – wondering how they look to you and everyone else in the room. Everyone is nervous. When you look around, you will be able to confirm that there are no groups in the corners pointing and laughing at you.
Focusing on the people around you makes you realize that no one’s watching you and that your thoughts and fear of being judged are really not likely to happen. One way of forcing yourself to tune into others is to pick something – blue shoes or blonde hair, for instance – and count how many people in the room have or are wearing the thing you chose.
To the extent that you must focus on yourself, focus on yourself in the present moment. Anticipation or fear of the future is a huge part of social phobia. The unexpected is part of swinging. You can’t always predict what will come next, but you can always focus on what is happening right now. People are not pointing, staring, or laughing at you right now. Cut yourself some slack and just focus on what’s happening at the moment, rather than getting caught up in what might happen next.
The physical symptoms of social anxiety include massive pounding of the heart, sweating, lightheadedness, and an upset stomach. Addressing these physical reactions may be tricky, especially during a swinging session, but breathing and relaxation techniques can help.
Deep and slow breaths can aid in calming your physical responses. Breathe in slowly through your nose for about 4 seconds, and then hold it in for about 2 seconds. Once done, you can release the air nice and easy from your mouth in about 6 seconds.
It’s okay to tell others in your group that you need to take a breather. Don’t worry; they won’t hold it against you! Remember that swinging requires consent, and it won’t work if one of you is not ready yet.
Utilize your senses.
Lastly, rely on your senses. Your senses of sight, smell, taste, touch, and sound are not just essential in the intimacies of the swinging process but are also necessary to help relax you when you’re experiencing social anxiety.
To ground yourself and focus in the moment, utilize these senses. Take a look around and pinpoint three things that you can see, smell, taste, touch, and hear. This will give you a sense of security that you are grounded in the present.
Handling and addressing social anxiety before and during swinging is beneficial for everyone involved, not just you. Social anxiety hinders you from creating meaningful connections with your swinging partners, which is the ultimate goal in swinging.
The constant worrying about what other people might think, or fearing their disapproval when something goes wrong with what you’re doing, is detrimental to the whole swinging process. Being equipped with tools to address your anxiety helps your swinging partners as well as yourself.
Overcoming social phobia is not a walk in the park, but it can be done. Talk to a professional to get expert help, and work on yourself every day. Negative thoughts will come, but you can challenge them. Make sure to ground yourself. Focus on living in the moment rather than worrying about an unrealistic future.
And make sure to get plenty of sleep and avoid too much caffeine! It’s all part of setting yourself up for success. Breathe in, breathe out!