(This panel has no border and just features a cartoon version of me.)
Me: Hi, I’m Jo! Today I’m gonna share…
Text: (stylized title font) 4 Major Ways to Cope With Social Anxiety!
(Cartoon Me is flanked by symptom lists, GAD on one side and Panic Disorder on the other, and rubbing her chin thoughtfully.)
Caption: My medical chart says I have “Generalized Anxiety Disorder/Panic Disorder,” and judging from the symptoms, I’m inclined to agree.
(A black woman and a Latino man laughing together at a party.)
Caption: Before I dive in, I want to clarify that experiencing anxiety doesn’t necessarily mean you have a mental illness. As a general rule, illness or disorder describes a system of behavior or thinking that persists for at least 6 months and seriously gets in the way of someone living their life.
Latino Man: (Thought bubble) She is so hot. I can’t believe I told such a boring story. Oh god, she’s probably pretending to laugh. I blew it.
Black Woman: (Thought bubble) So many people. Just smile, Maika. Oh god, I can’t breathe. Should I call an ambulance?
Caption: Most people enter into a situation at some point in their lives where they might feel more nervous, apprehensive, or unwelcome than usual. Here I’ll be dealing with anxiety that results from interacting or sharing space with others regardless of whether you know them or like them.
(Cartoon Me as a teenager looking awkward and scared at school.)
Caption: I have been struggling with disruptive social anxiety and panic for at least 12 years now. These are the coping skills that have withstood the test of time for me.
Text: Step 1: Acceptance
Caption: Real talk: there are days when absolutely nothing on this list will help at all, and there’s no way around it. I believe those days are when we show our true strength as people: the ability to fall down, all the way down, trusting that we’ll get back up.
(An Asian girl on her bed in the fetal position, burying her face in a pillow to scream.)
Caption: Be anxious. Panic. Scream. Weep. Sit with it. Pace with it. Cancel. Leave. But whatever you do, don’t punish yourself for what you can’t control. You may have to deal with social anxiety your whole life. Then again, you may not. Tomorrow is the only way to find out, so let’s be as kind to ourselves as we can be.
Text: Step 2: Unlearning
Caption: Social anxiety, like many other not-so-fun behavior patterns, often results from abuse and trauma that lead to a deeply rooted notion inside us that we are worthless or that we are always in danger. Here’s the thing, though: nobody is worthless; and while many of us are actually in daily danger because of things like street harassment, sexual violence, domestic abuse, police brutality, and hate criminals, misidentifying where the danger is coming from can cut us off from vitally supportive friends, family, and community in our attempt to stay safe.
(Brown therapist and black client sitting in a cute office.)
Caption: Thankfully, the false things we learn can be challenged if not unlearned altogether.
Therapist: (Smiling at their happy client.) My goal as we work together is to become a mirror that can reflect your authentic self.
Caption: Seeing a therapist can be a powerful place to start. A good mental health provider is a professional who will meet you where you’re at on whatever path you want to go down, whether that’s analyzing your childhood, developing strategies to feel more calm and assured on a daily basis, or finding the right medication or lifestyle changes to ease your symptoms (such as getting more sunlight, the right amount of sleep, and reducing overstimulation).
(Black boi sitting at their laptop desk with a notebook in hand.)
Caption: Journaling about your anxiety can also help you deconstruct what makes you anxious. Try writing down any upsetting or negative thoughts you have in your journal for thirty days straight. Make note of where you were and who you were with when you had those thoughts. At the end of the the month, review your notes. See if any patterns emerge.
Black Boi: Do I seriously think like that every time I see Nathan? I need to think about this.
(Non-binary person standing on a patio while everyone inside parties. NB person looks tranquil, eyes closed.)
Caption: Ever heard the saying, “Fake it ‘til you make it?” It’s actually all about rewriting the script in our minds, which is usually jam-packed with self-defeating logic (and flat out lies our abusers told us) for those of us dealing with social anxiety. Try challenging rote thoughts with experiences you know to be true.
NB: (Thought bubble.) Nobody wants you around.
NB: (Speech balloon.) I was invited.
NB: (Thought bubble.) Your friends only pretend to like you.
NB: (Speech balloon.) Unlikely. Too much work.
NB: (Thought bubble.) Well you look terrible in that dress!
NB: (Speech balloon.) Multiple strangers complimented me. Give up already.
(Montage of someone on their couch eating ice cream, someone playing video games on the bus, and someone laughing at cat videos.)
Text: Step 3: White Noise
Caption: Sometimes, a short-term strategy is needed just to get from point A to point B. While healing from past pain is priceless, it’s totally valid to just tune out things that trigger you for while. Take a break from reading articles about war, death, and oppression. Wear headphones on the bus to cancel out strangers’ voices. Stay home more often than you think is socially acceptable, if that’s what you need for a while. You are allowed to prioritize your mental peace without apologies!
(A pile of government forms.)
Text: Step 4: Help
Caption: This step is scary because it involves directly facing the very thing social anxiety makes us fear: other people and their judgement. There are a good deal of social services out there that can make our lives easier… if we can muster the wherewithal to apply for them and sit through the interviews. Food assistance, Medicaid, and disability benefits are indispensable resources for those of us with anxiety so extreme we cannot leave home regularly enough to work (at that point anxiety is referred to as agoraphobia, or a fear of open spaces).
(A Pacific Islander woman and a white woman are grocery shopping together.)
Caption: Whether you need to apply for benefits with the state or you’d just prefer not to go to crowded malls alone, the buddy system is a great tool to bring back from our childhood! Why face something alone if there’s a friend or partner available and willing to accompany you?
PI Woman: Thanks for coming with me! I was out of food but too anxious to come alone…
White Woman: No worries! I missed you anyway!
Text: And speaking of our friends, partners, and family, it’s time to recognize that there is something that exists between you, them, and everyone else in the world called a social contract. A social contract in its most basic form is a set of unwritten but mutually understood rules that guide the behavior within a community, whether it’s as big as a nation or as small as you and one other person. Like any contract, it can be renegotiated through dialogue.
(Two brown roommates talking in the kitchen.)
Caption: Often it’s our contracts that “disable” people more than any actual physical or cognitive differences between us.
Brown Roommate 1: Hey, I know this is your house, too, and you can invite your friends over any time… but can we agree on a rule that says you have to let me know in advance before someone shows up? I get really triggered otherwise, and it ruins all my plans.
Brown Roommate 2: Oh god, I had no idea! Of course! Is a text message okay? How far in advance?
(Cartoon version of me standing in the middle of a happy group, group consists of other characters from the comic, those in the front are holding up big letters: W, A, H, and U.)
Me: Again, the steps are White Noise, Acceptance, Help, and Unlearning. Not the order I presented them in, but this way they make a cool acronym! I hope the tools I’ve used to take care of myself can help you take care of you, too!