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Ask Jono: Dealing With Serious Anxiety

Ask Jono: Dealing With Serious Anxiety

Dear Jono,

Basically I have serious problems with social interaction. I do have friends but it took me a LONG time (through tears, sleepless nights etc.) to get them and even now I still have problems with socializing with them and interacting. It's destroying my life. For my entire life, I have never said a word in classrooms or spoke to teachers unless I was FORCED to. Recently, I was meant to start a new job but because I couldn't get myself to approach members of staff about it and to ask where I should go etc., I ended up running out of the shop in a panic state (to the point where I couldn't breathe) and never returning until now. And on top of that my mom puts it all down to me just 'acting like a baby' and thinking I'm a little child and that I have no problem at all.

I honestly do not know what to do about this problem especially since it hinders me so much and if it doesn't end soon I fear that I'll end up a nobody in life.

Thanks :)


Social anxiety of this magnitude is a serious topic, so I'm not going to start off by making a joke about it. Instead, here is a joke about cookies. Q. Why did the cookie go to the doctor? A. Because he was feeling crummy. Thank you. I'll be here all week.

There's a lot to address here. First of all, I'm sorry you're struggling with this problem, but it's good that you've managed to meet at least some friends. They say that friends are more valuable than gold, although in my experience the guys who work at pawn shops will strongly disagree with this assessment and then call the police on you. The point is that having friends is important, particularly for someone in your situation, because hanging out with friends for a few hours a day is a proven way to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. This only works if you're comfortable with them, though. If you don't socialize much because you're naturally quiet, that's okay, as long as you enjoy their company. If you're constantly on edge because you expect them to call you a nerd and shove you down the stairs, then they are not very helpful.

I also had anxiety issues in high school; mine weren't as bad, but I'm still familiar with other people not understanding your situation. They try to reason you out of your anxiety with logic: "What makes you afraid to talk to people? You think they'll all point and laugh at you and your pants will fall down and a tuba will go WOMP-WOMP?" And you're like "Well, yeah, now I do think that, thanks a lot." So I'm not going to try to logic you out of feeling the way you do, and I'm especially not going to act as though I'm qualified to give psychological or therapeutic advice. The skills that got me this job were "is a boy" and "can type internet words," and I'm barely qualified to defrost a pizza. But I can offer at least a little bit of personal advice before I direct you to someone more credentialed.

When people ask how to approach a guy without blurting out a train wreck sentence and sweating everywhere, I often bring up the importance of curiosity—focusing on one thing about the guy to be genuinely curious about. But the scientific paper I got this from is actually about social anxiety in general, and it goes on to demonstrate that, regardless of how anxious you are, curiosity makes you enjoy social interaction more. Your brain can't go "I'm a big smelly failure don't make me talk to people noooo" because you're keeping it busy with some other puzzle to solve. And check out points 2 and 3 in this article, which also recommends involving and distracting yourself with the things happening around you.

If you're wondering why I'm sending to you an article on panic attacks, it's because I'm pretty sure you described one. You had an episode of intense fear absent any logical reason for it. I'm always reluctant to contradict parents here, but I can't stress this enough: your mom is wrong and you are not "acting like a baby." This would be like feeding peanuts to someone with a peanut allergy, then telling him that his immune system is being a baby as you watch him die of peanuts. Again, I am not a doctor, and what you're experiencing involves Brain Things that are far above my pay grade; I can only tell you that it isn't "no problem at all." I think you should ultimately try talking to a therapist, though I don't know if you can do so without your mom on board; I'm sure you can approach a school counselor (or whatever they call them in the U.K.) or, failing that, call a helpline for advice. I'm positive that you can improve your quality of life over time (I know I did), and a big part of that improvement will be developing a stronger sense of self-worth, but you should do so with someone else's help, not by ignoring this and hoping it goes away.


Post Script

HELLO! This is Jono's editor Emily Winter here! I love Jono's answer, but I MUST weigh in on this too because this exact same thing happened to me! Several years ago, my anxiety got so bad that I was afraid to come to work, HERE, at SparkNotes, where it's wonderful and everyone is nice. Anxiety is not rational. Anyway, even though my parents are against any kind of mood-altering medication, I decided to see a psychiatrist who prescribed anti-anxiety pills. Since starting on the medication, my weird fears and strange ticks (I always thought I was peeing in my pants, for example) have disappeared. Hell, now I do standup comedy. That's like, opposite! Even my parents came around when they saw me improve. Medication isn't the right answer for everyone, but it might be for you. And you aren't being a baby. This is real. Show your mom this post. :) Good luck!!!

Topics: Life, Advice
Tags: advice, anxiety, ask jono, social situations

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