You’ve probably come across it before in your life. You head out with your friends, enjoy a dinner and maybe a round of drinks. For the most part, everyone is laughing on the conversation. But one of your friends seems a little disengaged, a little too quiet. You realize that they’ve been like that for as long as you can remember, too. Sure, you’re generally very amiable with them, but once or twice you couldn’t help but think they’re a bit snobbish for brushing off your attempts to pull them into the mix.
Here’s the rub: it may not be snobbishness that’s holding your friend back. It might not even be shyness (though shyness does come with the package). It could simply be due to their heightened anxiety – it’s more rooted in fear than anything else. And the best way to help is to recognize it.
Holly Riordan, a contributor for Thought Catalog, had this to say about her own experiences with the horrors of anxiety:
“I’m terrified of talking on the phone and starting conversations with strangers. I’m even scared of texting certain friends and coming on too strong, of graduating from a concerned friend to an annoying nuisance. So I delete messages. I wait too long to answer back. I don’t let on that I care… But I care more than anyone realizes. I care so much it hurts.”
She then goes on to admit that she comes across as a snob, or as a (B-word). She doesn’t try to be, though – that’s simply how anxiety works. It takes your intention to care or be part of an interaction, then fills your head with such horrible ideas and scenarios that you can’t help but back off. So instead of risking embarrassing yourself or looking foolish, you back off.
Calm Clinic explains the spiral: “It is a vicious cycle wherein you feel anxious about speaking, then you find that you can’t speak because you’re too anxious about speaking, then you become anxious about not being able to speak, and the cycle perpetuates itself.”
That’s much worse than good, old-fashioned shyness. Shyness may manifest in a few tendencies, but it typically doesn’t derail one’s whole social life; anxiety does.
How To Help
So, how do you help someone if you feel they suffer from anxiety? Well, don’t just tell them to “calm down”, and don’t avoid them either. Those actions may pile on the pressure and make things worse.
Instead, spend time talking to them. Make it clear that you’re listening to them without being judgmental. Talk openly, and be sensitive in letting them know when you notice a change in their behavior. Once they seem more at ease, do encourage them to see health professionals, if they look like they need it. Accompanying them or assisting them in making an appointment would also go a long way.
And the usual rule of thumb, no matter what we’re dealing with, things become a lot easier when we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes.