On the issue of social anxiety

jdhendricks

Puritan Board Freshman
Hi everyone,

My name is Joel. This is my first post to the Puritan Board, and hopefully it doesn't digress too far from what this forum is mostly intended for. I have really enjoyed perusing through many different threads from you guys on here, ranging from all sorts of different topics, though, I have yet to participate in these discussions and leave comments. The topic that I want to bring to your attention today is social anxiety. Just to provide some brief context to this, I will start by saying that I have personally struggled with this issue for much of my life (I'm a 21-year-old student in college). I grew up in a Christian home, went to a Reformed Baptist church, and had a Christian education through Bob Jones University's homeschooling curriculum. Eventually, my parents stopped homeschooling for various reasons, and I started going to a public high school instead. My social anxiety was especially bad during that time. I would be so stressed out and anxious sometimes that I would skip classes and stay in the library to avoid the discomfort. My missed attendances landed me in detention a few times, but I never told anyone that I struggled with this, because I felt so embarrassed by it. I feared that others would see my anxiety and that they would dislike me or disesteem me for it. As I have grown older, much of this anxiety has thankfully subsided, but it is nevertheless still there, albeit less severe. I currently take medications for it and for another condition that I was diagnosed with at the tail end of my senior year in high school. There may be other relevant details to this that I have forgotten to mention, so if you need any clarifications, feel free to ask. My question to you guys is whether I should look at this issue of social anxiety as being a spiritual problem, or solely a physical problem, or a combination of both. Also, is social anxiety the same as/related to the fear of man? And what practical things would you guys recommend that I do about it? Thanks!
 
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Stephen L Smith

Administrator
Staff member
Friend, firstly would you include a signature per the Puritan Board requirements. Thank you.

Secondly, many on the PB struggle with anxiety, myself included. I believe it can be medical and spiritual. Do not discount the medical. Do get wise medical and pastoral care. It may be helpful to work through a good book on this such as "Running scared" by Ed Welch. There is an excellent study guide to go with it "When I am afraid". These resources are Biblically based and practical.

It is also good to read the Psalms. Also get a good Psalter and sing them. The Psalms talk a lot about God being a refuge and strength and advice to trust God when afraid.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
Nice to meet you Joel.

There is a danger if you focus on anxiety being a spiritual problem. Some folks might say that anxiety is caused by you not trusting the Lord. But certain medical conditions or past trauma, or even simple make-up of your personality may impact your level of anxiety. Some disease even causes anxiety. I had high mercury in my blood and a spot in my brain and it caused me to have a ceaseless restlessness so that I would have to walk until totally exhausted to sleep.

If you focus mainly on social anxiety being the ungodly fear of man (which it might be) you might only heap more feelings of guilt upon yourself and further your anxiety. I know that this happened to me as folks told me that I was not properly trusting the Lord and that was the reason. The righteous are at peace, after all, and the wicked are like the troubled sea....

Give yourself social "homework". Your assignment this week might simply be to smile and warmly greet folks you know. Or go to lunch in a setting with a friend. Then work up from there. Just like any muscle, I believe we have a "social muscle" that might get weaker as it is underused. So isolating yourself leads to more isolating yourself and more anxiety.

Also, consider your physical health. Caffeine intake? Any heavy metals in your blood? Brain injury or trauma?

I am a registered nurse, trained further in the army and also a counselor on a psych ward for a few years.

I never had anxiety, until I got parasites and mercury in my blood. Then it suddenly became severe. If you want to talk privately just private message me. I will pray for you dear brother.
 
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Jerusalem Blade

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Welcome to PB, Joel – and to the family of us here! Some of us who are Christ's have to deal with fear – one aspect of which is social fear – and a great antidote to this is our Lord Himself, "For he is our peace" (Eph 2:14). Sorry if this seems simplistic – but it is also profound – it is our awareness of His presence that calms our fears and anxieties. See also John 14:27; 16:33. Something I wrote 53 or so years ago,

Lord Jesus

They say You’re invisible,​
but You’re not invisible at all,​
for my heart is not blinded​
by physical walls.​
You’re more real​
than anything here,​
and it’s Your close presence​
that keeps me from fear.​

Will be praying for you, Joel!​
 
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jdhendricks

Puritan Board Freshman
Thank you guys for your excellent replies thus far. Proverbs 11:14 definitely comes to mind. I will try to make as much use of what has been said thus far as I can. And thank you so so much for your prayers brothers. That is so kind. "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." James 5:16b
 

RaderSDG00

Puritan Board Freshman
Hi Joel,
I'm the same age as you and I was also homeschooled from 7th-12th grade, but took in person college courses in high school. I never interacted with anyone else my age during that time, at all, as I was too afraid, struggling badly with a social anxiety that developed early on in my childhood from an abusive environment. In fact, throughout my teenage years I pretty much only talked with one person, and that not very deeply. When I became a Christian at 19, I warmed up a bit towards others, but really only with a select few at church, discussing matters of religion. Things changed for me the most however, when I got my first job. It being both a secular job and a blue collar job, with stereotypical "blue collar" coworkers, my own social anxiety was as it were, thrown into the furnace. Growing up being absolutely paper thin around other people, in regard to what they thought of me, you can imagine my distress when I was plunged into an environment where I was suddenly exposed to almost incessant mockery, cruelty, and insults of the most toxic and pernicious variety. Men who literally delighted to see me fail, which was always the worst symptom of my particular strain of social anxiety, a fear of failure, or an exposing of my incompetencies before others. I initially reacted very poorly but over time, by the grace of God, learned a very important lesson. I learned, that mistakes are the way you learn, but only by reacting to them properly and through the lens of the gospel. This is how I apply it: when I fail before others in some way, either in word or deed, instead of it instantly crushing me with fear, shame, and embarrassment, I regard not the opinions of others first, but God's. I know that I am loved by God in Christ, through a righteousness not my own, and not for any success rate that I may attain to myself, but by a perfect obedience applied to me, and so, if I commit my conscience to God in trying to do right with any given task, I know that it pleases Him, because I am not trying to justify myself, but am moved to try my best out of love. And what I have observed is that the more I respect a given person, the more their opinion matters to me, and the less I deem them, the less their opinion, as it generally is with most people. And since the ruthless judgements of slanderous men are always intended in someway to exalt themselves by putting others down, I see their aim, but far be it from me to try and protect my own honor by lessening the reality of my mistakes, for I am no longer concerned about my own reputation before men, as it does not ultimately matter in end. Through Christ, God is pleased with me, and "who will bring a charge against God's elect?" My problem was that I regarded the opinions of men too highly and God's too little., and that I was trying to justify myself by the opinions that other people had about me, which, I know, may sound strange. Although I am still quite ineloquent and stupid in my speech in front of others, I am less concerned about secluding myself from them because of it. I am free to be honest about my mistakes and inadequacies, without being crushed by criticism, because of God's view of me in Christ. Now I am not sure all the particular aspects of your own social anxiety, and there may also be a physical factor, and other circumstances involved as you said, but, I post this hoping it helps you because I know that at the core of much social anxiety is the fear of mans opinion over and above God's (as you seem to have thought-out somewhat already). Anyway, hope that helps.
 

hLuke

Puritan Board Freshman
Hi Joel,
I pray for the Lord's guiding you as you ponder ways to get more social. Having experienced social anxiety I found great comfort in study of the book of Ecclesiastes. Definitely recommend allowing Solomon's message to sink into your soul, and by God's grace, may help. We are in a fleeting existance. We will die. Live life to the fullest take risks in the fear of the Lord and in the view of His judgment. He gave you freedom in Christ thst means you are no longer condemned.
A second Pergs message of exposure. Make it gentle and gradual. Take a risk to socialise each day. It will be daunting. But with more social exposure your body should get more used to it. From experience you will make mistakes and might even stutter a bit and embarras yourself. But if you feel embarrassed (to apply another helpful strategy) you can remind yourself that the other person you are talking to does not really care that you slip up. Most people don't. In fact, they undoubtedly have their own issues to worry about like us all.
God designedus to be with other people so it is more in his will that we get outside and socialise than isolate.
I think Solomon says that those who isolate themesleve lack all sound judgment. Not sure about the context there. But isolation is probably not recommended.
So to summarise I'd recommend gettingEcclesiates reality that our existence is futile and thus being anxiety is something that prohibits us from making the most of our worldly existence, and that your struggles are many others struggles and that you can enjoy life and do what you want but only God will satisfy and he will judge our conduct.
Second to gradually expose yourself to daunting social situations. Even simply saying hello to someone at the park can boost confidence.
Third remind yourself (I realise now that this has Ecclesiastes like themes) that people don't really care about you in the way your mind may trick you into thinking they do if that makes sense. For example when I feel embarrassed I'm really just making the assumption that my behaviour causes the other person to judge me. But that's likely false thinking.

I hope that can help a bit
 

alexanderjames

Puritan Board Freshman
My social anxiety was not as severe as your own. It hit very strongly at the age of 17. If it’s any encouragement, I have seen gradual but significant improvement in this area from the ages of 20-25.

From my past errors, I would advise not to attempt to combat anxiety with pretending to be someone you are not. And avoid the temptation to harden yourself in indifference, arrogance or pride.

If you are Christ’s then you are most blessed and precious in the eyes of the Lord. All things work together for your good. This is a great source of consolation. And you are God’s for a reason, you have a high calling to follow Christ, loving others and inheriting eternal life.
 
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