Published on behalf of Group Member.
On leaving the meeting last week, as I said in the previous blog, I was looking forward to it without any trepidation. However, as the week progressed and I started to think more and more about our “home work” assignment and considering my obsession to try attain perfection (if I have well prepared I have control of the situation and will not make a fool of myself which reduces my anxiety) I found myself getting more agitated as the night approached. I started to realize: I am no longer talking to total strangers and I became very conscience of what should I say in order to not come across as a fool for not having done my homework. I found myself dwelling on what could happen and so forth; symptoms I associate with my “social anxiety”. Since I am used of speaking in public I approached the meeting using, my typical defense mechanism; Plunge right in ; do not over analyse potential scenarios and think on my feet if necessary and at worst simply admitting I am unable to answer the question but I will get back to you. You may be asking “if I can do this why go to an anxiety group”; but as you will learn or maybe already know there are many varieties of social anxiety.
When I arrived, a few minutes late, I found I did not have to choose where to sit, which was a relief. However, I became aware that this is another form of defense and clearly it is implausible for everyone to use it. The first half of the night, like last week, involved us breaking into pairs and discussing a particular topic. Odhran, like many component facilitators, took on some of the burden of this process and decide who should be paired with who. We discussed the process of how we carried out the exercise as opposed to the results of the exercise. The main findings of this exercise, how you felt in social situations, were:
Some people forced themselves into social anxious situations while others encountered them during their normal social activity and like me one or two others did not seem to have any “anxious” social encounters.
Other revolved around how we documented the exercise. Here certain issues, as associated with any social experiment, involved: confusion of how the process should be correctly performed; how best to avoid biasing the situation, and when was the most appropriate time to document how you felt- It was decided that at a later meeting we would consider these issues, as they were important in correctly documenting our social interactions and its associated anxiety.
The next part of the meeting involved us describing how we react during social anxious situations. Not surprisingly, there was a lot of similarity between the different members of the group and on deeper reflection I could relate to all of these reactions: such as tightness of the chest; dry mouth; shaking and the desire to run away.….other reactions included blushing and less tangible reaction ,a sort of out of body experience; so while talking your are “an observer” of the conversation.
After the break, Odhran considered our reactions and undertook a very interesting analysis of these reactions. I will not spoil the fun or fascination of the discussion, which unearthed the relationship between feelings (bodily reactions) and evolutionary survival. An intriguing example would be sweating which has about survival characteristics: cooling, making you slippery to potential predators and reducing your resistance when taking flight.
It me realize that our reactions were that of a typical anxious event. Every person experiences anxious moments; but with socially anxious people they can often manifest themselves, inappropriately, at social situations. In fact all animals share most of these reactions which are often referred to as the adrenaline reaction: freeze, flight or fight. I will not talk much more about the rest of the discussion beyond to say that certain reactions, e.g. blushing, are unique to humans [as far as we know] and are associated with our “self-awareness”. Anybody with social anxiety can easily relate to this concept.
At the end of evening he gave us an exercise, to analyse the positives in our social interactions, even if it is only one a day -as far too often most of our memories are negative ones; .e.g., why did I say/why did I not say that…etc.
The final exercise for the night wa sfor us to go to the pub (after all it is a social situation causing many people great anxiety) for a drink.
It seemed to me that as a group we have moved from a bunch of strangers to a group of people who know are beginning to know each other; this is typical of every group; think back to when you were at school or college. However, I believe the dynamics is different from “generic” group interactions in that we all have common goals and can empathize with each other’s frailties. We are now more like a team or at least beginning to become like a team working to achieve the same goal (overcoming social anxiety); this might explain how a group of socially anxious people are able to go for a few beers and have relatively few problems in talking “freely”with one another and possibly more importantly ensure that no one was left on their own or excluded from the team: A good achievement I must say for which both us and the group facilitator should be commended.
In conclusion I can confidently say that the impact of the night was successful. While the night started off, for me, with a little apprehension, this dissipated as the night progressed – probably due to the way I began to relate to the others in the group. I now feel much more comfortable around the others in the group as I am starting to realize that I have quite a lot in common, from an anxiety perspective, with the others and so I am again looking forward to attending the next meeting and I am confident that, unlike last week, these feelings will not change significantly.