Anxiety is the pits. It can cause you to freeze up at inopportune times. It can make you want to crawl out of your skin or want to hide. I’ve struggled with various forms of anxiety my entire life. It’s caused me to skip classes, cancel gatherings, and miss out on fun activities. Even as a mom, I still sometimes struggle with it, and I know I’m not alone. That's why i’s important for our partners to understand our experiences, and there are many things moms with social anxiety want partners to know.
The first is that we need their support. Honestly, we need the support of everyone in our lives, whether they be friends, family, or work colleagues. Without a good support system, people with social anxiety can often become isolated, which only makes things worse.
However, sometimes our partners don’t quite understand what social anxiety is, or why we feel the way we feel, or why we don’t just stop. It can be difficult for someone who has never experienced social anxiety to comprehend the complex nature of something that is, also and usually, difficult to describe. While every individual, struggling with anxiety or not, is different, I truly believe there are a few universal truths that every partner (and person) should know. So, if you’re reading this and your partner lives with social anxiety (or you suspect that they do), here's what you should be aware of, so you can help:
We Don’t Want To Feel This Way, But We Can’t Always Help It
Social anxiety doesn’t come with an on "off switch." We wish it did, though, and we understand how frustrating it is to others, like you, that it doesn't. Still, frustrating or not we need you to understand we're doing our best and trying our hardest to be OK.
We Might Seem Social Around Our Friends, But Only Because We’re Comfortable With Them
You might notice that we don’t often freak out around our closest friends. That’s because our closest friends have already seen us freak out. It doesn’t mean we're “cured” because we can hang out with them. It just means we respond differently to different scenarios.
This Has Nothing To Do With You
More than likely, we had social anxiety before we even met you. Maybe it was just lurking in the shadows waiting to pop up at an unexpected moment. Either way, our anxiety and the way we act because of it, doesn’t really have to do with you. Please don’t take it personally.
Things That Some People Consider A Lot Of Fun Freak Us The Hell Out
I’ve always dreamt of grabbing a mic and doing karaoke in front of a crowd, without fighting the overwhelming feeling that I’m about to pass out. But that’s, sadly, not my superpower. I’ve done it a couple of times, but I was shaking and I was terrified and it wasn’t as fun as it probably is for people without anxiety. We really wish we didn’t get so anxious about all these seemingly fun activities.
We Hate When You Try To Push Us
You can be encouraging, sure, but signing us up for a Toastmaster’s class or asking us to say a speech at a wedding without warning? Not cool. Please don’t try to force us into things we’re not ready for. It doesn’t help.
Social Situations Can Totally Exhaust Us
The thing about being social with social anxiety is that it can really take a lot out of you. Some people thrive off the energy of social situations. I’ve actually experienced that myself. But other times the anxiety kicks in and I want nothing more than to call it an early night and crawl into my bed. It really helps to have an understanding partner who might pick up on the parenting slack at that point.
Small Groups Are Sometimes Better Than Large Gatherings, But Not Always
Sometimes a large group is nice, believe it or not, because you can fade into the background and just people watch. Other times it can be so large it’s nothing short of overwhelming.
Sometimes small groups are nice, but other times the focus might be on you and, well, then it’s the worst thing ever. Basically, there are no hard and fast rules about social anxiety.
We Sometimes Feel Weird About Other People Interacting With Or Touching Our Kids
One of the things I don’t like about social gatherings with my whole family, is how I feel about people interacting with my son. Sometimes I am totally fine with people hugging him or playing with him (or at least trying to while he tries to whack them with a toy truck). But other times, it can send me into a bizarro tale spin of emotions. So please try and understand if I pick up my kid and say it’s time to go.
Our Social Anxiety Gets Worse When We Think Our Parenting Is Being Judged
People judge moms. I don’t know why, but it’s just a thing. I remember being a non-parent hanging out with a parent friend and wondering, “Oh man, how could she let him do that?” or, “I would never do that if that were my kid.”
I know that when I hang out, some folks are doing that to me as well, even if they don’t say it. It sucks, and being conscious of the possibility kicks my social anxiety into high gear. It, well, blows.
Sometimes We Need To Step Outside During Social Interactions
Everyone needs a breath of fresh air, and mothers with social anxiety are no exception. We might disappear during a gathering for a few moments, take a moment to breathe or even meditate, but we’ll always come back (and we’ll usually let you know ahead of time).
We Still Want You To Invite Us Along For Social Events
It sucks when folks stop inviting you to things, especially if it’s your partner. Sure, we might say no, but that doesn’t mean we won’t ever want to come along. Especially if it’s something fun. Please give us the option.
We Really Appreciate When You Support Us At Gatherings
Supporting us in social situations means making us feel welcomed and included, especially if you are more familiar with the folks present than we are. Little things like introducing us to everyone, or finding common talking points so we can participate in conversation are nice. Checking in with us, staying close (especially if we ask you to), and being OK with leaving early are also great ways to support us.