We were in for a big Christmas this year, 13 people in total. Some of whom I hadn’t yet met. I was given months worth of warning to prepare myself and I did all of the regular things to avoid an overwhelming rush of social anxiety come to D Day. The plan was that we were headed to a Xmas Eve party with family, which is an hours drive from our house. We would then stay in a lovely hotel for the night and arrive back at the family home in the morning for the present opening and Xmas lunch.
All was going well until the morning of Xmas Eve. I woke up, started to pack for the night and decided I would vacuum before we left so the house looked nice and clean when I arrived home. Literally, mid vacuum I started to feel sick, my heart started pounding, I became short of breath and I had to stop what I was doing, vacuum running, I immediately stopped and sat down for about 10 minutes and performed a new breathing exercise I have recently learned.
This is the very first time I have felt an anxiety attack start, noticed it immediately as social anxiety, took steps to calm myself down physically and move through it. This is a huge step in the right direction for me. Rather than start going down a rabbit hole in my mind, wondering if I had some fatal and incurable food reaction which would mean I couldn’t go to Christmas, or something else equally as dramatic, I noticed it for exactly what it was and I had the remedy! 15 mins flat and it was all over, yay. A Christmas miracle.
I had been feeling a little uncomfortable about the gathering, as I do every year. No matter where I am or who I am with. Both of our families, and everyone in them, are absolutely wonderful. No weird racist Uncle’s and just the right amount of Dad jokes but man my mind can go to town on the social anxiety at this time of the year. This year, I had a plan, I was going to beat this thing. With a few visualisation and breathing techniques in my pocket, I had it under control. Because of this, I had the best Christmas I think I have ever had. Best one as an adult anyway. I wasn’t so nervous and I wasn’t in anticipation of it just all being over, I was able to enjoy myself and meet new people. Stress-free!
We are home now and I wanted to write a quick note about my experience, just in case anyone else has had similar feelings over the course of the day and feels like they are weird, or the only one, you’re not! In case you do suffer a similar feeling I wanted to share this brilliant breathing exercise with you so you can manage your social anxiety too! The reason I think it works so well is that it’s so simple. Thankfully, I didn’t have to use it on Christmas day but I think just being aware that I had the tools available to calm myself down, stopped it even happening.
Here it is, the magic trick.
Breathing a square during an attack of social anxiety
1. Sit down somewhere comfortable and quiet.
2. Close your eyes.
3. Visualise the basic shape of a square in your mind.
4. Pick a corner of the square, any corner and start there.
5. Close your mouth and take a deep slow breath through your nose while visualising moving from one corner of the square to the other. This entire inhale should take to the count of 4.
5. Once you get to the first corner, stay there and hold your breath for 4 counts
6. Now exhale over 4 counts while you move to the next corner of the square.
7. Hold your breath for 4 counts.
8. Repeat from step 5.
That’s it! Of course, you could jazz it up with cushions, a scented candle, oils in a diffuser or by turning on some relaxing music in the background. There are also many other breathing exercises that you can use, you will find 10 great breathing exercises here.
You can perform this basic breathing exercise anywhere, anytime. It’s probably more comfortable in a quiet room on your own, rather than during a boardroom meeting though. But, you do you. When the social anxiety kicks off, remove yourself and start breathing. I find between 5-10 minutes is a good amount of time for this breathing to calm my body right down. You could absolutely do it longer but if you are anything like me you will be bored of it once you have calmed down and be ready to continue on with whatever it was that you were doing.
When I have an attack of anxiety it feels like I have adrenaline rushing through my body. My mouth dries out, I can hear my heart racing and sometimes my hands tremble a little. Not noticeably, but I can feel them. My hearing can become so focussed that every noise is grating in my mind. Like the worlds worst brass bland playing my least favourite song right there in my eardrum. I feel light-headed and can become instantly overwhelmed. My body is giving me the sign that I need to be away from everyone and take a few minutes to regroup.
I do believe that our internal responses to situations are always communication, telling us that something is not right. When we experience social anxiety our body is telling us that we are overwhelmed. We need to listen to it and act accordingly. If you live your life against your physiological wishes then you will suffer for it. Much easier to figure out what you need, give it to yourself and then carry on as the rock star that you are.
If you experience social anxiety too, give the breathing exercise a try. Truly, it works a treat. I have also written a blog about getting a better night sleep after overthinking, you can read this here, there is a link to some amazing relaxation music that you might also find useful in calming your mind.