Dear Society, Don’t Judge Anyone’s “Social Anxiety”
Let’s procrastinate pretension and accept a simple fact: We all fear something or the other thing in our life.
But, social anxiety is something that has been vociferously normalized and willfully sidelined. To add woes, mental health issue or a discourse on the topic continues to blatantly fall in the category of ‘taboo’ despite the brouhaha of the 21st century’s ‘modernity’.
The society (a consciousness of the collective entities like you and me) is consciously and subconsciously responsible (and accountable) for the production and dissemination of ‘social anxiety’. Social anxiety is ‘rarely talked about’ because ‘culture’ has not permitted us to free our own mind from the matrix of ‘thinking about others’. You know, in India, there goes a famous saying “Log kya kahengey?” (What would people say?)
Social anxiety (social phobia) is a psychological disorder. Usually, starts at home. Thanks to the parenting skills and their social skills. Later on, the destruction is carried forward in the school and neighborhood. And, nevertheless, the ads on TV, newspaper and elsewhere are ‘fair’ enough to tell us what’s ‘lovely’. Nonetheless, we can’t forget our auntypreneurs (the gossiping aunties whose job is to interfere in your privacy and life).
My student Salooni Kesaria studying Mass Media under my guidance explains, “Social anxiety is the fear of going out in public and interacting with people or being scared to even do something as simple as striking a conversation. It is a common illness seen in people of all ages, nowadays, and affects the way you look at the world. For people with social anxiety disorder, everyday’s social interactions can cause irrational anxiety, fear, self-consciousness and embarrassment. In certain scenarios, a lack of confidence in oneself or the thought of public reaction may lead to extreme nervousness and induce a fear of facing them.”
Her comrade Asmi Suvarna, during a general discussion in our classroom, responded, “Social anxiety is the third largest mental disorder in the world, at any point in time about 7% of the world’s population is affected with it. The anxiety arises from closely being watched, or criticized, judged and evaluated negatively by other people, leading to feelings of inadequacy, embarrassment, humiliation, and depression and is capable of wreaking havoc on the victim’s life. Indeed, the disorder goes beyond normal shyness.”
In my view, I find it perfectly OK if one is introvert or shy by nature. Let’s accept and respect individuality, without painting the whole wall with the same brush. I find it perfectly OK if one is concerned about his/her own dating skills. I find it perfectly OK if one is least concerned about judgments. I find it perfectly OK if your scores are less in your school, compared to Sharmaji’s son. But what I have not comprehended is what would people gain from judging and scaring each other?
Just like this premise “the society prepares the crime and the criminal commits it”, I ratiocinate that “people create social anxiety and ‘the people’ suffer”. As long as we fail to take up collective onus, we will fail each other more. Lao Tzu, founder of Taoism school, hits the nail “Care about what other people think and you will always be their prison”.
If one is low, talk to him. If one is fearing judgments, guide him. If one is anxious, listen to him. If one is lacking social skills, teach him. Otherwise, we fail our society’s mind. In my case, mindfulness has helped me in overcoming anxiety-related issues. A regular practice of ‘mindful’ exercises can help us fight the ‘mindless’ actions like depression, anxiety, craving, etc. It’s all in the amygdala that stores our anxiety. Buddha, in his Dhammapada verses, stated: “If, when other people say harsh things to you and you don’t reverberate — like a cracked gong — that’s a sign that you’ve attained true peace of mind.”
A Buddhist Monk Thanissaro Bhikkhu in his essay (September 2005) on ‘Social Anxiety’ makes a splendid case on imbibing the axioms of mindfulness to overcome social anxiety:
“The mind is very sensitive to this issue. We learn very early in our lives that our happiness is going to depend on how other people treat us. As children, we’re surrounded by people a lot more powerful than we are, so there’s always a sense of fear built into our relationships to the people around us. We become sensitive to other people’s moods, sensitive to what they might do, what they might say. As a result, our center of gravity is placed outside because we’re afraid of them, and we try to put up a wall outside ourselves to protect ourselves from them. What this means is that our psychic center of gravity gets moved outside the body. If you’ve ever taken any martial arts classes, you know that if your center of gravity is outside your body you’re in bad shape. You’re in a weak position. Now the Buddha doesn’t say to ignore other people and just be very selfish. He says there’s a different way to approach the whole issue of happiness. In other words, you find a source for happiness that doesn’t take anything away from anyone else, so you don’t have to be afraid of other people. When you’re not afraid of them, you find that you can actually be more compassionate to them. So developing and maintaining this center inside is not a selfish thing. The Buddha’s not teaching you to be insensitive. He’s just saying to put yourself in a stronger position and to trust that you’re stronger by not trying to go outside and fix up people’s moods and all the other things that we think we can do with other people when we’re dealing with them. Just stay inside and have a sense of confidence that you’re strong inside. After all, your source of happiness lies inside. Because it’s not taking anything away from anybody else, you don’t have to be afraid of them.”