As humans we’re biologically designed for connection.
∆ Connection to ourselves
∆ Connection to each other
∆ Connection to nature and animals
∆ Connection to the wider universe
Our bodies continually attune to what’s happening around us, adjusting at subconscious levels to the information surrounding us, to the level of safety or threat and any potential response.
If you’ve ever suffered from social anxiety, you will know that it feels like the cruellest blow, to long for that heart-connection, understanding of who you are, for physical presence but for it to seem like the most impossible thing.
What is social anxiety?
Social anxiety comes from the sympathetic branch of the vagus nerve and can happen in response to long-term stress, trauma, experiences that have evoked fear. Loss of a sense of safety in the social engagement system means that the ability to connect goes off line and instead survival responses (fight or flight patterns) are prioritised.
It presents itself in excessive fear of being judged or rejected in social situations, leading to avoidance of social activities and intense distress when exposed to them, also self-consciousness, fear of being embarrassed, and physical symptoms such as sweating, trembling, and a racing heart.
When I reflect on my own experience, I think social anxiety might just have been the hardest area to navigate, for the simple reason that it takes away from you the exact medicine you need to help you heal. It separates you and keeps you in the constraints of your story that there must be something wrong with you.
My journey with social anxiety started possibly before I was even born – a family dynamic that triggered hyper independence and anxious avoidant attachment. Later, bullying by girls as I started secondary school, leaving me separated from the group and responding by rejecting and disowning who I was. The final blow in this perfect storm was my journey into motherhood. Exhausted, pressure from many different angles, autoimmune disease unfolding and my general anxiety went through the roof, like nothing I’d ever experienced before. It’s hard to believe now that at the time I didn’t even know what anxiety was! My eyes felt like they were bulging out of my head, I couldn’t relax, I was paranoid, tearful and I became like an automaton moving through life, performing the tasks I needed to, completely disconnected to who I was.
I eventually took myself to the doctors and was lucky to be assessed by someone who told me they I thought I had social anxiety disorder (as well as depression). Unsurprisingly I had never heard of this either, but seeing my symptoms written down and under the heading of something that other people also had, helped to separate it from me…from my view that I was somehow a broken individual with no hope.
I would love to say at this point that this is where everything changed, but in reality this was my closest connection point to what might be causing this and I got moved on to a CBT Therapist, who was wildly unsuccessful in improving how I felt. What happened in the following years was a mix of limping along as I was, life busyness, working on my physical health and making life changes. Sometimes life gets so busy, you forget the shadows that lie beneath, other times they grow so big that they eclipse your experience and pull you under.
Realistically, social anxiety was just another element that got absorbed into my wider story of healing that started to be unpeeled with the arrival of perimenopause. Through my work with somatic coaching and polyvagal theory, I finally received the answers as to why my experience was what it was and see that so much was out of my control.
If I’m honest, it has only really been this year that I’ve faced my social anxiety in any real manner. Although I feel lucky to have kept a small circle of patient friends and my amazing partner who have helped me transition through challenging times, I longed for connection and I longed for like-minded souls who were on similar paths of healing, discovery and awakening. I knew I was safe and in a better place and with much greater connection to my soul and the more open functioning of my heart, I pushed myself out of my comfort zone, made new friends via connection apps, hosted womens circles and connection events and even went on my first all-womens retreat.
It was hard, I was constantly triggered (from my own stories, not the actions of others), growth was painful at times, but I also watched my life grow in ways I never thought it would. I also used this time to observe myself, to see how I responded in relationship and to be with my triggers when they arose and allow the emotions to move through. When you live with social anxiety, there are a whole bunch of adaptive responses you live with and I really had to soften these and open up top others to enable sustainable change.
Am I cured? Maybe in 5,10,20 years I’ll say yes to this, but for now my answer with these things is, it’s always there, I’ve just softened into it and it’s effects just shows up less and less in my life. It certainly doesn’t inhabit my body in the same way, permanently residing in my cells and triggering negative stories at the slightest thing, but the patterns are still there, in the backroads of my mind. Every now and then I’ll think it’s behind me, then I get triggered or some seriously socially awkward behaviour shows up! I just have to keep using it as a reminder to love myself no matter what, to stay in alignment with my soul and to celebrate myself for how far I’ve come and how far I’ve travelled with this debilitating way of being.
It is my belief that are greatest pain sits right next to our greatest power and I have been firm on a mission to bring back conscious communities for healing and connection with my work.
Why is social anxiety such a widely growing problem?
But there are so many humans on this planet – why would we not connect with ease?
I could talk all day about the conditions our ailing society has created which are the perfect environment for the rupture of community, connection and the creation of social anxiety, but here are few big areas:
∆ Many of us are living in various levels of anxiety, meaning our social engagement system is turned-off or stuck in modes of people-pleasing.
∆ The huge reams of information we receive overloading our systems.
∆ Lack of time for meeting people and for real connection to happen.
∆ Competitive societal programming leading to isolation and bullying.
∆ Loss of soul connection meaning many of us finding our authentic truth hard to find or recognise in others.
∆ Our general disconnection from the natural world and all its beautiful resources.
What can be done to help resolve it?
Grab a virtual coffee with me
If hearing about my work has ignited something in you and you’d like to get together human to human to find out more, or if you are ready to book and start your journey, then I’d love to share some real time with you. Book a free informal chat here.
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