If you're someone who suffers from social anxiety, you know there are certain things you absolutely dread hearing. Often, friends, family members, and even coworkers say these utterances with the best of intentions. You know, they just want you to come to the company holiday party and have fun. Doesn't it sound easy when they put it like that? The spirit behind these comments are almost always good: These people genuinely love your company and want you to enjoy yourself. But if you have social anxiety, which generally involves an intense fear of criticism and judgement from others, spending too much time with people can be a source of legitimate stress.
Many people who have social anxiety feel an immense amount of pressure to perform the "right" or "correct" way, even in a casual atmosphere like a holiday luncheon. And in spite of the stereotype that it's just "in your head," people with social anxiety often experience physical symptoms including intense blushing, excess sweating, trembling hands, and dizziness. When social anxiety is in high-drive, it doesn't always matter how great the food is or how many of your friends are with you. Mental illness is never a choice, and social anxiety is no exception.
At the end of the day, people with social anxiety will all handle their illnesses differently. There are an array of coping mechanisms and approaches to best handling the disorder. Many people see a mental health professional for a combination of therapy and medication. It's fair to be point out, too, that people have different "triggers," so what might go over just fine with one person who suffers from social anxiety might be very much not OK for another. Either way, though, here are a few things it's best to avoid saying to someone who has social anxiety as a general rule:
1. "It's All In Your Head."
Telling someone with any form of mental illness that it's "all in their head" is generally a horrible idea, and this is no exception. Even if your intentions are excellent, the message ultimately comes across as demeaning and dismissive of what is a legitimate and serious illness.
2. "You'll Feel Better Once You Get Out."
3. "Are You Sure This Isn't Just For Attention?"
4. "You Should Smile More."
Women in general hear this one way too often, but for people with social anxiety, it can feel like a slap in the face. For many people with social anxiety, there's already a fear of being monitored and judged, so to have someone suggest that they need to smile more (or laugh more, or essentially be someone other than themselves) can feel like a nightmare coming true. Even if someone doesn't intend to come across harshly, a suggestion like "you should smile more" can come across as a criticism or a command instead.