Let me tell you a secret. Not every piece of advice people give you is good advice. Even if that person is someone you trust, like a parent, or even a doctor. We are all human, and we all have the ability to give bad advice, especially about topics we don’t understand. Social Anxiety is a topic many people don’t understand, but it’s also a topic many people love to give advice on. It seems everywhere I go, people think they know everything about social anxiety and even though they’ve never had it or known anyone who has it, they automatically know how to “fix it.” Most of the advice I’ve been given is ridiculous.
For those of you who don’t know me, I discovered what social anxiety is during college, and suddenly, my entire life made sense. No, I have never been formally diagnosed (yet) because I have never seen a real professional about it. I manage it myself. Sometimes. Other times I don’t or can’t manage it, and I do things like taking failing participation grades in every college class I was ever in.
So no, I am not going to tell you how to fix social anxiety. I don’t know how. I’m not even going to give you advice, other than to tell you to trust yourself and weigh advice carefully. What I do know, is I have spent almost 22 years on this Earth being told various different ways to fix my social anxiety, and so far, every single one of them has been absolutely ridiculous.
Here’s The Ridiculous Advice I’ve Been Given
1. “Just speak up first so you can get it over with.”
A professor gave me this advice in college when she wanted to know why I never spoke in class. I explained my social anxiety and how I would love to speak in class, but I just can’t. Her advice was for me to be the first person to speak in class. Sorry, but my paralyzing fear of speaking that keeps my mouth shut with steel clamps doesn’t care if anyone else has spoken first. The fear of being judged will exist whether I’m the first person to speak or the last.
2. “I’ll j
us t call on you more. That’ll fix it.”
Ah, yes. The perfect way to get me to skip your class for the rest of the semester. This is the exact opposite of helpful advice. If anything, this just makes me even more terrified of class than I already was. This one was said by another college professor. See a pattern yet?
3. “I don’t think you have social anxiety. You’re talking to me just fine.”
This one actually made me angry. Like really angry. Specifically, because it was said to me by a counselor in my University’s counseling center, where I went to get help so I would stop failing participation grades in every class. This woman actually believed that because I could tell her what was wrong and why I was at the office that day, that meant I didn’t have social anxiety. It’s hard enough for people with social anxiety to ask for help, and this unprofessional statement set me back YEARS in terms of managing social anxiety.
4. “You should take a group counseling class once a week with a bunch of other college students.”
Um, hello? I just told you I can’t talk to people in a group setting. Were you even listening? Yes, this was the same “professional” in the counseling department. Obviously, I didn’t go. Then the counseling center banned me from more appointments for the rest of the semester for skipping the group therapy. *Eye-roll*
5. “You should be a computer programmer or something where you don’t have to leave your house.”
I am not a hermit. I am a human being with social anxiety. Believe it or not, I enjoy social interaction. On my terms. Preferably with people younger than me or in one-on-one settings. Shutting yourself away is not a cure for social anxiety. Actually, it just makes you depressed, and depression and anxiety feed off each other to make you miserable. Trust me.
6. “Just get over it.”
Yep. Someone actually said that to me. I don’t think this one needs much explanation.
7. “You could’ve gotten a better grade if you just participated”
I mentioned above that I often failed the participation portion of college classes. As a result, my GPA wasn’t as high as some people would have liked. I accepted that because I had no choice. The counseling center was the opposite of helpful, and I didn’t know how else to get help, so I took zeroes and just tried to keep my paper and test grades as high as possible to keep a B average. This annoyed a lot of people, namely my parents and my professors. I got this response a lot.
8. “You’re just shy. You’ll grow out of it.”
Nope. Sorry. I’m actually not very shy. Give me five minutes, and I’ll tell you my entire life story. However, force me to speak in a group of people my age? Ask me to participate in an ice-breaker? Nah, I’m good. I don’t feel like having an anxiety attack today, thanks. I’m almost 22, so I’m fairly confident I’m not growing out of it.
Bonus: ” It’s all in your head. No one is judging you.”
Thank you. Thank you so much for telling me that my mental illness is in my head. I never would have guessed that. Does that magically fix social anxiety? Nope. I know I’m irrational. I know no one is judging me, really I do. Does my mind understand that? Nope.
How to Handle Bad Advice
Historically, I didn’t really handle this advice well. I ignored most of it, got annoyed very easily, and just stopped trying to help myself. I wouldn’t recommend that.
Earlier, I promised I wouldn’t give any advice in this post, and I’m not. I’m making a statement, and you can take it or leave it as you will: not everyone is looking out for you all the time. Some people just don’t understand. That doesn’t mean they hate you or that they are bad people. It does mean that you are your own advocate and only you can determine what advice is worth accepting.
I found ways to manage my social anxiety myself. It doesn’t always work. I still cannot speak in group settings. I still have trouble making phone calls (although I’ve gotten better and I wrote a blog post about how I make phone calls earlier!) However, I also don’t follow ridiculous advice people give me, and I don’t let that advice bother me. They don’t have social anxiety. They don’t get it. I’m careful about who I ask for help, but I do ask for help now, and that’s important.