As I send my two oldest daughters off to college my fear of them sitting alone at lunch or hiding by the gym lockers have moved to fear of them locking themselves up in their dorm rooms isolated and lonely.
I think my own social anxiety is triggering these fears. In my heart, I know my girls will push through the “uncomfortable” that always accompanies new experiences. I’m also a realist and know anxiety is a heavy load to carry.
For some students, be it 6th graders, high schoolers or college students, another year of school is another year of anxiety filled moments. Academic stress, athletic competition, social pressures and personal insecurity makes the start of school overwhelming and intimidating.
So much focus is put on academics and we forget the highest anxiety moments are the social ones. Since when is lunch the highest stress point of a student’s day? Sadly, it is the reality for more students than you’d think.
For students who live with ADHD, anxiety and depression, the “back-to-school” period is especially troubling. For many the fear of the unknown – like a new teacher, new school, or new schedule – can cause or exacerbate feelings of social anxiety. For students with ADHD these fears are magnified as their over-active minds play out one potential social catastrophe after another.
We give advice with the best of intentions:
“Go introduce yourself. Invite people over. Go to the dance. Put yourself out there.”
Feel like these fall on deaf ears? You are being heard. But the voice of social anxiety is louder. It wins every time. The only way to cope is to avoid all the things you just said.
Social anxiety shows up differently for everyone. Some suffer from intense feelings of self-consciousness, awkwardness and insecurity.
Some have a severe phobia of speaking with others. Some carry around a terrible phobia of feeling judged and persecuted even when NOT interacting with people.
Some feel as though “they’re losing it”.
Some feel claustrophobic to the point of hysteria when walking through crowded hallways.
Hearts race, muscles tense, eyes get glassy, and blood pressure shoots through the roof.
There is hope. These are just a few strategies that can help you or someone you love tackle the year ahead.
FEEL YOUR FEELINGS, LISTEN TO YOUR THOUGHTS, LET THEM PASS
This requires self-awareness. For the ADHD brain, there are thoughts zipping by at warped speed. PAUSE gives you the ability to recognize the onset of fearful feelings and cycles of obsessive thoughts. You suffer so much because you resist your thoughts and feelings. When you learn to recognize them, feel them completely, realize they are not truly “you” and let them pass, you are liberated.
EXPOSE YOURSELF TO SITUATIONS THAT MAKE YOU UNCOMFORTABLE
Yes, it sucks, I know. But I can also tell you that it is 100% of the time worth it, no matter how anxious you end up feeling. When you courageously face your fears you are immediately rewarded with a feeling of pride. Instead of continuing to sabotage your happiness, you are actually doing something to make yourself stronger. Slowly exposing yourself to uncomfortable situations for people is vital. Start small…like ordering a pizza or talking to your professor after class.
DO WHAT YOU LOVE
Fitting in is important. Whether you’re a bookworm or a jock, it’s easy to feel anxious when you’re trying to be something you’re not. Find activities, clubs, or organizations that truly interest you. Chances are, when you do, you’ll find a sense of belonging and camaraderie that is completely genuine.
TALK ABOUT IT
Change is never easy, and is often scary. It’s important to talk with a friend, parent, or counselor to start finding solutions and healthy coping mechanisms. Avoidance is not a healthy strategy. Avoidance protects you in the moment. The negative impact of “avoidance after avoidance” leads to isolation. Talking it through illuminates all the great things you’re missing out on.
COACH YOURSELF THROUGH EVERY CHOICE
When you are at a crossroads of choosing living or avoiding ask yourself:
Q: “Who do I want to be in this moment?”
A: “I want to be a fearless, confident person.”
Q: “Will I shame myself later for avoiding being uncomfortable?”
A: “Yes. Always.”
Q: “What is the worst thing that can happen if I leap?”
A: ”I will grow”.
Here’s to you for taking the first step.
Here’s to being uncomfortable.
Here’s to living life instead of standing on the side-lines watching it pass you by.