There is a lot of stigma behind the word anxiety and there is also a lot of misunderstanding around it. As a man who lives with social anxiety, this stigma around it only makes it worse. People who have never truly suffered from anxiety think it is something you can simply "overcome." "If you don't mind, it don't matter!" But, unfortunately, it's not that simple.
The truth is, I can control my anxiety about as much as I can control my bodies need for oxygen, only a little. Allow me to provide you with a metaphor so that you can understand what it feels like to live with social anxiety. When I was young I nearly drowned one summer at baseball camp. I remember jumping down to the bottom of the pool with all of the older kids. We wanted to see who could stay at the bottom the longest and then when we had too much we would shoot back up to the top. I, however, stayed at the bottom for far too long. I also misjudged how deep the pool really was. I still remember the sheer panic as I approached the top of the pool, thinking there was no way I was going to make it. My vision got spotty, my face turned red, and my brain screamed for air. I felt like I was looking death in the face, it laughing back at me. Finally, I reached the top and opened my lungs to be replenishing with as much oxygen as it could hold.
Well, now I get that exact same fearful feeling every time I enter into a crowded room. I feel the oxygen being sucked out of my lungs with each person that enters. My vision gets spotty as the bodies near closer and closer to me, as I attempt to escape into the corner of the room. Death laughs in my face as the roomful of people turn to look at me. And all of a sudden I find myself at the bottom of the pool once more, fearful that this may be the end.
This is the feeling of social anxiety.
A person with social anxiety cannot rewire their brains to be not anxious, in the same way that you cannot rewire your brain to live without oxygen. It is not something that we can control, it is something that we are wired to do.
So, with that being said, we need to provide a world that understands social anxiety and helps those who suffer with it. When a friend of ours has a cold we don't tell them, "Mind over matter," we instead provide them with researches and environments that will allow them to heal. In the same way, we shouldn't tell our friends with social anxiety, "Mind over matter," instead we should provide them with resources and environments that they are most comfortable with, whatever that may be. If we see somebody in a wheelchair, we don't provide them with stairs and tell them, "Get over it!" Rather we supply them with a ramp. But for some reason we only provide those with social anxiety a flight of stairs and tell them to stop complaining. We accept it isn't their choice to be in a wheelchair, so why do we act like it is their choice to be anxious?
People who haven't suffered with anxiety are under the assumption that anxiety is "all in your head" or even that it "isn't real," despite what people who have really suffered with it have said about it. I have never suffered from cancer, but I have heard many tales off people who have. I have many family members who have been affected by it. Just because I personally haven't suffered by it doesn't make me believe that it is "all in your head" or "isn't real." So why do we treat mental illnesses, like social anxiety, in that way?
As one who truly does suffer with this horrible disorder, I can tell you it is real. It is painful. It is difficult. But with solid friends around me and a society that no longer turns their back, but instead accepts and lends a helping hand, the pain can be eased.