My driving anxiety is pretty much cured at this point. I still have the occasional bad moment every once in a while, especially driving in very heavy traffic. But those moments are few and far between now. What isn’t cured yet is that I often feel paralyzed by fear and anxiety when I leave the house.
I still suffer from very bad social anxiety disorder (SAD). This means the fear and anxiety I feel when I’m around other people is paralyzing a lot of the time.
It’s frustrating, because I’ve been in therapy for the last 25 years. I’ve spent countless hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to overcome my fear of other people. But I’m still mostly afraid whenever I have to be around others.
People who are paralyzed by fear and anxiety tend to be those who were very shy as kids. That is certainly true in my case. I was a very shy child. I was so shy that my mother held me back a year from starting kindergarten because all I did at preschool was scream and cry.
What Causes Paralyzing Fear and Anxiety?
- There may be a genetic component to anxiety – There is some scientific evidence that social anxiety runs in families. This is probably true in my case, because my mother had very severe mental health issues throughout most of her life.
- Another cause of social anxiety is lack of social skills – Every kid needs parents who model good social skills, because it helps children develop those skills themselves. Unfortunately, many parents don’t model strong social behavior for their kids, because the parents themselves lack social skills.
- I was raised by a single mother who was very mentally ill – Needless to say, she didn’t teach me good social skills because she had no skills to teach me. All of the skills I have now, I taught myself as an adult.
- Finally, childhood abuse often causes fear and anxiety later in life – Growing up in an unsafe environment leads to assuming everyone is unsafe and should not be trusted. I was sexually and physically abused as a child, and it has changed me in some profound ways. I’ve never felt safe around nearly everyone since growing up. Some of those scars will be there forever.
How I Deal With Anxiety When Leaving the House
I can’t stay home all the time. I have to work and run errands. So I’ve developed some coping strategies for dealing with my social anxiety outside the home. The list below should not be considered healthy anxiety coping tips, because most of them definitely are not. But they’re the strategies I use to keep from being paralyzed by fear and anxiety when I leave the house.
- I rarely interact with anyone directly – I don’t speak to anyone when I’m out in public, unless it’s absolutely necessary. I have to talk with cashiers and store clerks sometimes though. So I keep those interactions to two or three words maximum. And I try to use self-checkout whenever possible.
- I never make eye contact – I never look anyone in the eyes when in public. I stare straight ahead and pretend the people around me don’t exist.
- Try to look as intimidating as possible – I’m a very tall guy. I’m 6′ 7″, which is very intimidating to most people. And I always have a scowl on my face, and I wear dark sunglasses. I look mean most of the time, even though I’m not actually a mean person. But being big and mean looking keeps 90% of people away from me.
- I look angry a lot – That’s because I am angry most of the time. Living with chronic mental illness in a world that doesn’t give a shit about you would make anyone angry. The advantage is, people tend to give angry individuals a wide berth, which suits me just fine.
I feel for people who are paralyzed by fear and anxiety, I really do. If you’re one of them, just know that you’re not alone. There’s a lot of us out there navigating the world as best we can. I’m going to keep working on my social anxiety disorder, and I hope you will too.