I don’t know if anyone has done a guide on this or not but regardless, I decided to make one myself because I have social anxiety too and words don’t even begin to express how much it irritates me when people over-exaggerate or confuse it with something else. With that being said, I wrote this guide in hopes that it’ll help you understand it better and even play your characters a little more realistically.
-- Understanding social anxiety:
Basically, what social anxiety is - is a mental disorder in which the “victim” has an unreasonable fear of social situations and interactions. It is composed of anxiety, otherwise known as intense nervousness, and self-consciousness. People who suffer from this typically dislike being closely watched out of fear of being judged or criticized, and they endlessly worry that they will make a mistake and/or embarrass themselves in front of everyone. Something that will definitely help you with social anxiety is to actually LOOK through the social anxiety tag on Tumblr. It helps, I’m telling you. There’s hundreds of people suffering from it and I feel if you read some of the posts, it’ll help you get a proper idea of what social anxiety truly is. Have a look at this tumblr especially, as it is a blog dedicated entirely to social anxiety.
-- What provokes anxiety:
There are certain things that will make people tick. While they vary for everyone, here are some of the most common things that will make someone become anxious.
Eating or drinking in front of others:There are two instances to this one. I will list them both -
Alone: When a sufferer is surrounded by a sea of strangers, it becomes a common worry for them that everyone around them will be watching them closely. Typically, they will not want to remain in that situation and will try their best to get themselves out of it by doing something like ordering food to go. However, if they find themselves stuck (because they’re waiting for someone, etc), they have to deal with it. When they’re forced to deal with it, they begin to think to themselves, “You’re doing something weird. They’re looking at you. Stop. Don’t eat. Just stop. Stop eating, that’s probably why they’re staring at you!” And, while they may try to avoid it at first, they will begin to focus on everyone around them. When this happens, they’ll focus a little too hard. They will begin to assume that if someone is laughing (which there WILL be, especially if eating in a public place such as a school cafeteria or a restaurant), it is because of them. They assume that is someone is whispering something, they’re secretly talking about them. And then their food becomes the last item of interest. Afterwards, it is common to either refrain from eating anything in public at all and some even go so far as to not sitting by themselves at all. They don’t even attend.
With friends/family members: Because you’re with people that you know, the sufferer should feel a little more comfortable. However, this does not mean that they will not get anxious because they will. The good thing about having someone they know and, hopefully, like around is that they will pay less attention to those around them. Personally, I try to focus on the conversation at my own table rather than everyone elses. By focusing, you will not be as concerned when others are laughing because you, too, will be busy laughing with the people at your table - even if you prefer to just listen rather than speak which will probably be the case if you’re not too close or familiar with these people. Regardless though, even in conversation, a sufferer may find themselves eating slowly, or maybe not even at all, because their thoughts are somewhat focused on what the people sitting around the table may think of them and their eating habits. If no one else is eating, they more than likely won’t eat either as they don’t want to be the odd ball out. But this mostly depends on the relationship between the sufferer and the people around them. If they’re close, by all means, they will eat as though they normally would when they were by themselves in the comfort of their home. If they’re acquaintances or something of that sort, then this probably applies.
Working in front of others.
In other words, group work. I have always hated group work in school and, more than often, found myself begging to work alone. The reason being is that unless I’m able to choose whose in my group, the teacher is picking for me and that requires me having to work with people I barely know. In a sufferer, it’s going to be completely common for them to get nervous. They’ll think things like “what if they don’t like me? what if they don’t like my ideas? what if they think I’m stupid? if they refuse to work with me?” and many other negative thoughts..They jump to the conclusion that this is bad, this is not going to work and their partner(s) will hate them and possibly exclude them. That being said, the entire time they’re supposed to be working, they will basically just follow whatever their partner tells them to do and will not put their input into it no matter how badly they want to. Group work is never fun.
Being in the spotlight or center of attention.
Presentations, speeches, parties - sufferers just don’t enjoy these things. While parties may not be so bad, it’s the sole thought of standing in the center of a large crowd, all eyes focused on them. That, alone, is terrifying and is just an open invitation for everyone to go right ahead and judge you. Who in their right minds would want that? No one, especially if they have social anxiety.
Other small quirks.
Talking on the phone — I don’t know how many other people with SA dislike talking on the phone but personally, I hate it. If I barely know you, I begin to panic. I’m afraid I’ll say something stupid or that you won’t understand me, or even that I won’t understand you and I’ll be too afraid to ask you to repeat yourself because I don’t want to hurt your feelings. My heart beats really fast. It’s extremely difficult for me to call and order food or call customer service because I’m just terrified to speak to them and sound stupid. Of course, sometimes I’m forced to do it and my voice gets shaky and I put the call off for as long as I can. When it’s time to speak, I pace back and forth in my bedroom. I speak quickly, quietly. I listen too hard and find myself trying to decipher their judgments. However, most days, I’ll get a friend to call for me.
Using public restrooms — I don’t know what about this I find so scary but I absolutely hate public restrooms. I dislike having to knock and possibly interrupt someone, I’m afraid someone will walk in on me, I’m afraid I’ll get some sort of disease even if I don’t sit on the toilet, I’m scared people will think I’m weird. Basically, using a public restroom alone (without someone standing near the door or stall) makes me over think. If someone walks into the bathroom as I’m in the stall, I will awkwardly sit there until they leave.
Doing things while being watched — That’s right. It’s that simple. Doing things like walking a dog. I get extremely panicky if I’m out in public, minding my own business and someone is watching me. I begin to think badly as if they’re staring because my hair is ugly or my face is weird or something. This is common for sufferers, as SA all together is the sole fear of being judged. This will commonly cause someone to rush and half-ass whatever it is that they’re doing. For example, if you’re walking your dog and you feel someone is staring you down, you give your dog five seconds to pee and rush off in the opposite direction, all the while - your dog is still urinating as you pull.
Up-close contact — Whether it be ordering at Fast Food restaurant or approaching the window at the bank, sufferers dislike it. This is just like being on the phone; you’re worried you’ll say something stupid and embarrass yourself. Only here, you cannot hang up and make it go away, which makes it so much worse because you worry even more.
-- The main causes of social anxiety. (derived directly from webdm)
- Biological: Social anxiety disorder may be related to an imbalance of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Neurotransmitters are special chemical messengers that help move information from nerve cell to nerve cell in the brain. If the neurotransmitters are out of balance, messages cannot get through the brain properly. This can alter the way the brain reacts to stressful situations, leading to anxiety. In addition, social anxiety disorder appears to run in families. This means that the disorder may be passed on in families through genes, the material that contains instructions for the function of each cell in the body.
- Psychological: The development of social anxiety disorder may stem from an embarrassing or humiliating experience at a social event in the past.
- Environmental: People with social anxiety disorder may develop their fear from observing the behavior of others or seeing what happened to someone else as the result of their behavior (such as being laughed at or made fun of). Further, children who are sheltered or overprotected by their parents may not learn good social skills as part of their normal development.
-- Other facts of importance.
Avoiding certain situations.
Using a cellphone: In a situation where one finds themselves becoming anxious, a cellphone is good to have and can be used to soothe their nerves. Many sufferers, as well as non-sufferers, will pull out their cellphones when waiting alone in a public place. This is done so you don’t seem as alone as you actually are and for sufferers, it’s done to occupy themselves. Otherwise, they will catch onto people looking at them and their mind will go into overdrive. This is an effective way to prevent an attack. On the phone, you can play games, listen to music, browse the internet or text (even fake text!) to pass the time.
Using friends: In the case that a sufferer may not want to make a phone call or speak for themselves when ordering food in McDonalds or cashing in a check at the bank, sufferers will have their closest friends do it for them. Most people typically don’t mind this, as it’s harmless. This is an effective way to get themselves out of social situations, however, is sometimes difficult because you worry about being told no or making yourself seem as though you are a coward.
The importance of friends, yet how hard it is to make them and how they do it.
Sufferers need friends. It’s imperative. Not only do they need friends to do things for them when they find that they cannot do it, but they will also need friends to distract them in public places. If you don’t have people you feel comfortable around, your anxiety will literally take over you anywhere you go. Having a few good friends will definitely ease your anxiety and I know this from experience, as I would be more than willing to go into the middle of the street and twerk with my best friend because I am completely comfortable around her and because she is so confident, I feel confident to do these things with her. However, if you don’t have friends and suffer from SA, it can be quite difficult to make them. I don’t know about other sufferers but I, myself, have one smooth way of making friends or associates. When I first meet someone, despite how anxious I am, I offer a small smile. If the gesture is returned, my smile will grow in size. Next I will point something simple out such as I like your shoes. This brings me into small talk, where I keep things cool and simple. “How much? Do they have other colors? Where did you buy them? Oh, you shop there? Me too!” And alas, an associate is born, and they later can become a friend. With social anxiety, sufferers just need to ease in it. Start with texting, then speak on the phone (although the first time will be very awkward!) and try to set up a day to hang out.
Anxiety and how it affects people online.
Online, sufferers have the ability to be themselves. They can come off as confident as they’d like, as bitchy as they’d like. Whatever. On the internet, they’re whoever they want to be. However, for some people, anxiety can get to you even online. Before replying to a message (especially from strangers), you will type something and more than likely reword it, paying close attention to what you say and how it’s written out, as you don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea. You begin to question what they’ll think of this reply and more than likely, erase it and say something else. Your anxiety will certainly affect your responses, even in text messages! It also affects your statuses. Like a response, you will question something before posting it and more than likely, edit the statement before publishing it. If no one “likes” the status, chances are, the sufferer will then assume everyone thinks they are stupid and delete it. So, yes, Facebook likes are important to some who suffer from SA, as they use it as a source of acceptance.
Sufferers are, indeed, people-pleasers and this is NOT a good thing. Not only do we take no for an answer, but we are typically afraid of hurting people’s feelings and so we say yes to everything asked of us, regardless of whether or not we want it. However, we are more inclined to say “no” to family members and friends, as we feel more comfortable with them. But with strangers or people we kind of know but not really, we will generally do whatever we can to please them, whether it be eating the food they’ve prepared although we’re not hungry or carrying all of their shopping bags when they’re too lazy to do it themselves. Again, this is a source of acceptance. In our minds, saying no will have them believe we’re mean or rude and dislike us and of course, we don’t want that. We aim to please, and we don’t argue against the wishes of others. This can be linked to peer pressure and it is very common of sufferers to give in. However, in a place of DANGER, we do not always follow through. There’re times where if I feel unsafe, I try as hard as I can to make an excuse to leave and I do. I feel bad, yes, but I got myself out of the situation. So, while I might not help you burn down a building, if you ask me to stand there, there’s a 5/10 chance that I will. But I will not help you, out of fear of getting in trouble.
TRIGGERING: SEXUAL ABUSE.
Another thing, in the case of sexual abuse like being molested, I don’t know what other sufferers what do but from personal experience, I never said anything. I was too scared and alas, I just let it happen. I remained quiet about it and refused to tell anyone until about a year or so after when I got into an emotional conversation and just broke down. Even afterwards, I felt as though no one believed and people thought I was just looking for attention. Again, common for a sufferer and probably the main reason they’d keep quiet. As for rape, I like to believe that I would scream and shout and thrash and say no and get myself out, however, there’s a chance if I’m being threatened in any kind of way, I will fall silent. You can also refer to this story, which is a personal experience from a girl with social anxiety. She states: “When he tried it again I didn’t say anything and basically let him have intercourse with me. I didn’t try to push him off me but I just laid there with my head turned the other way trying not to cry. I told him no more than once and he kept going kept pushing me. I feel like he used the fact that he knew I was shy and not very forward to take advantage.” Mind you, however, this does not have to be the same for everyone. There’re some people, I’m sure, who would fight back and get themselves out of the situation but for those with bad social anxiety, like - extremely bad - this would more than likely be the case. So always think about the level of your characters SA.
Other disorders linked to anxiety.
Trichotillomania: Trichotillomania is a compulsive pattern of pulling one’s hair out, to the point where it results in noticeable hair loss. People afflicted with this typically experience a powerful sense of shame and embarrassment which leads them to try to hide their hair loss. This often results in the use of cosmetics, hats, and other devices to hide the hair loss, as well as the avoidance of activities which may reveal it, such as swimming, being outdoors in the wind, and physical intimacy. It’s believed to affect about 3% of the population, and occurs much more frequently among women. It usually appears in late childhood or adolescence. It’s often accompanied by increased levels of anxiety and depression.
Anorexia or Bulimia Nervosa: People with anorexia or bulimia are concerned about being judged for overeating or being overweight, and may develop unusual patterns or rituals such as shifting food around on their plate or cutting food into tiny pieces. SA will lead them to believe they are being judged and some may assume it is due to their weight, which can lead to these disorders.
Dermatillomania: Dermatillomania (also known as neurotic excoriation, pathologic skin picking (PSP), compulsive skin picking (CSP) or psychogenic excoriation) is an impulse control disorder characterized by the repeated urge to pick at one’s own skin, often to the extent that damage is caused. Research has also suggested that dermatillomania may be thought of as a type of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Dermatillomania and OCD are similar in that they both involve “repetitive engagement in behaviors with diminished control” and also both generally decrease anxiety. However, episodes of skin picking are often preceded or accompanied by tension, anxiety, or stress.
Depression: Feeling anxious and blue about the future all at the same time? It’s not surprising, given the established relationship between depression and anxiety. When it comes to social anxiety disorder (SAD) in particular, feelings of anxiety and worry about being around others can eventually translate into feeling down in general. The effects of co-morbid social anxiety and depression are even more profound with respect to the potential for substance abuse, suicidal ideation, and life coping skills. Individuals who suffer from both social anxiety and depression have a much higher likelihood of becoming addicted to alcohol and drugs. They also prove to engage in thoughts of suicide with greater frequency than people who suffer from just one of the disorders, and make more actual attempts on their own lives. In addition, their overall effectiveness in coping with the challenges of the workplace, as well as other necessary areas of life, is greatly diminished by the simultaneous presence of both conditions.
Believe it or not, although they do not control it, a lot people with SA are ashamed of themselves for getting so nervous and worked up over such little things. Many people assume they’re rude for rejecting an offer or refusing to speak, or even that they’re weird and I’ve witnessed this first hand as I was living with an old friend during the summer of 2009 before her mother literally kicked me out and sent me home because she thought I was rude. That wasn’t the case, I just had SA and wasn’t aware of it at the time. It’s very upsetting and makes one feel quite bad about themselves, especially when they’re unable to explain it to someone who may not even understand. It’s incredibly frustrating and sufferers can mostly agree.
Treatment and pills.
Treatment is generally used to seek methods of coping, however, these are mere little goals and many of them are not effective. Sitting down in a room with a stranger for an hour is embarrassing and awkward and most sufferers are not fans. However, in time, you get used to your therapist and a friendship does form. Some therapists, however, are not for everyone and if your relationship is not improving over time, it’s deteriorating and that’s no good. Pills such as Zoloft and Xanax are taken to release the stress of anxiety.
In general, sufferers are quiet shy. Their face may turn red when a stranger speaks to them, palms become sweaty. Their heart races, they don’t make any eye contact, they choke on their own words, their voice becomes shaky and speak quickly, often having to repeat themselves. A lot of this, though, they will try to hide in attempts to act as if everything is okay. A sufferer may often leave a place earlier than expected due to fear of judgment and suffocation within the room, they will avoid attending certain places (such as a barber shop etc) to avoid close examination. If forced to remain in situations where they’re uncomfortable, their moods may shift. They may seem fine one second, laughing and smiling but two seconds later, tears are swelling up slightly in their eyes because they want more than anything to leave but cannot bring themselves to say so and instead, suffer in silence. Again, I have witnessed this first hand. I was at a parade about two months ago, surrounded by massive crowds of people. I was with a few friends so I didn’t mind, we just walked together until picking a spot to stand out. Suddenly, the floats begun passing by and my friends and the people around me begun screaming loudly for beads. They were having a good time. I wanted to join in and scream and shout out but for whatever reason, I couldn’t. I was paranoid, afraid that if I screamed, people would look at me as though I was weird even though everyone else was screaming too and no one seemed to mind. I couldn’t make eye-contact, I couldn’t raise my arms up in the air in fear that if a bead wasn’t thrown in my direction, despite what I was doing to get one, I would look stupid and be embarrassed. And within no time, you bet, I was getting ready to cry and ended up returning home before the parade finished, sitting alone in my bedroom in a not-so-good mood.
001. Let it be known that people with social anxiety are NOT cowards, do not make your character a little chicken shit on purpose and try to stereotype them. Just because I have social anxiety does not mean that I will not hesitate to curse someone out, nor slap the hell out of someone who makes me angry. Now, while I do not condone this behavior (in real life), once my adrenaline gets pumping, it’s a done deal. I will beat the hell out of anyone making me upset and I won’t care, simply because that adrenaline is rushing through my veins and it makes me a little more confident than what I truly am. Of course, before I hit or punch or get into a fight, my mind does begin freaking out. I think “what if I get beat up? what if these people laugh at me? what if this person kills me? has a knife and stabs me? should I do this? am I gonna go to jail?” but I do it anyways. Mostly because I don’t want to come off as a coward, people’s thoughts and opinions matter a lot to a sufferer even if they say they don’t. Afterwards, however, the anxiety kicks in even worse and I begin to think I did something stupid, and that everyone around me is secretly judging me and I remove myself from the situation by quickly gathering my things and walking away.
002. Facades. I’m not going to go into a lot of detail here but some sufferers do tend to put on facades. Some try to act tougher than what they actually are, in hopes that maybe they’ll come off as more appealing to others and will be more generally liked.
003. Keep in mind the reasons as to why your character has social anxiety. Are they realistic? The anxiety develops over time and if you’re not putting in careful attention this stuff, your character won’t seem very realistic.
And now, that is the end of this guide. Hopefully I hoped you understand how to play a character with social anxiety. It was incredibly hard for me to write this, as I mentioned things I normally refuse to tell anyone about myself. Not even my closest friends, and the fact that I’m sharing it with strangers hits home a little bit but that’s alright. If you read this entire guide, you’re great. Thank you and remember that if you need any other information, feel free to inbox me and I’ll try to help you to the best of my abilities.