Social anxiety is a condition you can't truly understand unless you suffer from it. What some people consider to be a nagging nervousness can be absolutely debilitating, and it can be amplified when you're a parent. So believe me when I say there are cruel things people can, and do, do to a mom suffering from social anxiety... and because people don't understand unless they've been through it these cruel things are often done unintentionally.
My social anxiety can show up seemingly out of nowhere and without warning. If I'm in a crowd, if the air feels too thick, or if it's particularly loud, my lungs seize up and everything around me seems to close in. My social anxiety was difficult to manage before I had a child, and now that I'm a mom it's incredibly difficult to overcome. It can happen in the middle of a conversation with another mom, at a school performance, or on a walk through town. And, for the most part, when my anxiety hits people have no idea how to react or how to help.
Thankfully, my kids are old enough and know me well enough to identify the moments when I'm struggling and can give me either a hug or space. I just wish adults — including other parents — were as empathetic and would educate themselves about the signs of social anxiety. Perhaps, if we all were more cognizant of people's mental health and the challenges we all face, moms with anxiety wouldn't have to endure the following cruel things:
Back Her Into A Corner
If I'm in a room full of people, the worst thing you can do to me is gradually push me into a corner while you're speaking. I know that when this happens it's often unintentional, but my brain can only take it one way: danger. A mom with society anxiety needs to feel like she has space and that her space is always respected.
Continue Talking As If Nothing Is Wrong
While I don't necessarily want my anxiety pointed out in a way that makes me and everyone around me uncomfortable, continuing to talk as if I'm not obviously and visibly struggling isn't helpful, either. So if you see a mom with anxiety struggling to catch her breath, or suddenly sweating, or just exuding body language that screams "I'm uncomfortable," take a second to stop whatever you're doing and just ask her if she's OK and/or if she needs a minute.
Mock Anxiety & People Who Have It
Nothing tells a mom with anxiety that she's not welcome like listening to some unsuspecting person mock, judge, and shame people with anxiety. It's impossible for you to know the silent struggles people around you are going through. If you are making fun of anxiety, chances are someone you know has it and is silently telling themselves, "I'm not welcome, this person won't help me, and I'm completely alone." No mom should ever feel that way.
Follow A Mom Around
Some people are so wrapped up in what they're saying and doing that they simply don't realize how uncomfortable someone else is. So if you see a mom trying to make a quick and polite exit from a conversation, let her. She could very well be in need of some space and some air so she can work through her anxiety in a safe space and on her own terms.
Ask Insensitive & Intrusive Questions
I do my best to educate people about social anxiety and am, for the most part, open to sharing my experiences. But it's not a person with anxiety's job to teach someone who doesn't suffer from anxiety lessons about anxiety in general. You can educate yourself, people, and you should instead of leaning on someone else to do the work for you.
If a mom with anxiety wants to talk about he experiences, that's great. But if she doesn't, don't push it. She doesn't owe you intimate details about her private life.
Ignore The Mom Entirely
I want to go to social functions and actually enjoy them. I want to attend playdates and birthday parties and mom nights. Sometimes I just can't because of my anxiety, but that doesn't mean I don't want to. So, honestly, one of the worst things you could do to a mom with anxiety is stop inviting her to social functions, even if she doesn't always take you up on the invitation. She's not saying "no" because she doesn't want to be social. She's saying "no" because she has social anxiety.