Anxiety is something that we all feel and it comes from our caveman brain. It is natural to feel it. It is a good thing and it keeps us safe from danger and helps us to problem solve. But for some anxiety can take over and it can become an issue, preventing you from doing the things that you want to do, or need to do, or should do. Social anxiety is one of the most common types of anxiety that people feel and it is something I support young people with quite a bit, through the course of my work.
Although I can feel anxious, I wouldn’t say that I have an issue with social anxiety and am fortunate in that I am not paralysed by a fear of being around others or of presenting my thoughts and ideas to them. I am aware of how difficult this can be for many though, and although I am lucky for it not to be an issue, I still struggle to manage my caveman brain at times. This short film explains very simply why we feel as we do, and why anxiety affects so many of us.
My caveman brain has been working overtime lately and it does so whenever I have something to do which pushes me out of my comfort zone. Usually I am able to manage it with simple and easy strategies and use my protective factors to allow me to reason, challenge and overcome the negative thoughts and feelings that I have. I think it is normal to feel a sense of nervousness about presenting to an unknown audience, or about going to an event you have not attended before and really, many of us feel the same way about these sorts of activities.
Speaking in front of an audience is something that I do every day and so I am lucky that I get plenty of practice. I am used to creating sessions of about an hour and allowing the topic to move, and change shape, and tailor itself to suit the needs and interests of the group that I am speaking to. I am aware that although my usual audience at school could be unforgiving, I have emotional currency invested with each and every one of them and so they are not likely to present a challenge that will throw me off completely.
Feeling confident at what you do is important and so a different audience, a different situation, a new or unfamiliar topic can throw you into a different way of thinking. I don’t like to feel judged and so a nervousness will creep in when I am unsure what to expect. My mind will race and the comparisons will start – the old caveman brain will make me worry about not fitting in. It will make me feel like a situation could be dangerous and will encourage me to pull back and not take part.
Essentially, I fall into the anxiety trap. There are many things which trap you in your own anxiety and the ones that keep me there are over-thinking (going over and over what has been said and done and reading into everything), catastrophising (imagining a chain of causal events where things become increasingly worse and worse) and thinking negatively (I assume that people are critical and will think badly of me). Often our fears are misjudged, but sometimes it is a case of genuine danger which kicks off the cycle, so it is always worth considering.
Usually when I find myself in this situation I will try to remove the threat by challenging my thoughts and looking for logical evidence that they are unfounded. I will try to look at the situation from an alternative viewpoint in the hope that a fresh stance will help. I will try to separate the emotional from the rational and use that to talk myself into action which will be positive. I will also try to think about the positive outcomes of completing the task to encourage myself, and aim to put things into perspective.
I know that anxiety comes when the perceived difficulty of the task outweighs the perceived ability to cope with it, so I try to minimise one and elevate the other, redressing the balance and allowing me to achieve whatever it is which has caused me to feel anxious. I don’t usually worry about social situations too much although I will feel nervous when something is new. I will try to do things which boost my self-esteem and make me feel confident. For this reason clothes are important. If I am happy in what I am wearing then I will feel more comfortable at the event. It sounds crazy but not knowing what to wear has led to me close to cancelling on more than one occasion.
Another thing which helps is being with people who I trust and are supportive, and for that reason, I am able to do things with HL that would normally be crossing boundaries for me in terms of social situations. When I enter a submissive mindset nothing else matters as my focus is on him, so that can be a factor in managing social situations such as kink events and other events that we have attended. He distracts me from the things which might usually make me hesitate and in that way being with him dismisses them for me.
Sometimes my caveman brain is triggered and for good reason. I can’t say that this is usually a threat from a lion or a tiger, but it can be from someone who is trying to harm me or harm someone I care about. I know the signs of this well and, if it is something more prolonged, rather than something which can be dealt with quickly, I can work through all of my potential strategies but the fight, flight or freeze response remains. I tend to avoid confrontation where possible, so my usual response would be to remove myself from the situation.
Avoidance can reinforce anxiety where the threat is merely perceived but when it is real, it can be the safest approach to take. Usually I will also have weighed up all the possible advantages and disadvantages in processing the issue, and if there is nothing to be gained for me by going along, I will simply pull away. Being part of a couple means that it is not only me who is affected though, so I have had to put myself through some difficult and unpleasant situations at times in order to meet HL’s needs, which can sometimes be different to my own.
I am okay with this as when it happens it has the tendency to pull us closer together in the way that dealing with adversity can. I am able to focus on the greater purpose and gain strength from the fact that we are managing whatever it is in a united way; I know that even though it may be hard at the time, like any bout of anxiety, its effect will be limited to my exposure to whatever it is that has been the trigger. While HL makes the final decisions, they are always informed by listening firstly to how i feel, and therefore, I trust him to keep me safe.