Social Stress and Anxiety
Thoughts on a personal struggle
I tend to rush into situations, conversations, and scenarios unprepared and stressed. I have a tendency of pushing my feelings below the surface and it’s almost as if there’s a two-hour delay on when I am able to process that those feelings were actually there. In the moment, I don’t honour my feelings because I don’t fully realise that they are there. Perhaps a coping mechanism designed, developed and finetuned to thrive in environments where expressing real emotion, expressing any vulnerability was a huge risk. But who knows? And this tendency comes from an intense eagerness, ambition, and need to live up to commitments that I have made. It is a double-edged sword.
When I find myself in such situations, perhaps even with a good friend or an uncle, I might feel crap and hungover but all I will let show is a smile and a laugh. And what scares me most of all is that, sometimes, perhaps if I am particularly fatigued, I can sense that the other person sees through all the bullshit, that they can tell that I am, in fact, acting.
And I don’t do it intentionally, out of an act of commission. Rather, and perhaps more interestingly, I do it out of an act of omission: a lack of action towards preparation and calm. For when I am calm, in tune with myself, I may let others see ‘undesirable’ sides of me — that I am actually very hungry, tired, or fed up with taking so long to do things. When I am calm, it feels as if I can honour my emotions because I can realise that they are there — I can process them in real-time, rather than suppressing them into the depths. On the contrary, when I am shattered and stressed and in a state of fight or flight, the answer to questions quickly become generic, safe, preset. They become what I think the other person wants to hear. I, like everyone else, plays off the body language and emotions of others. But, and perhaps more dangerously, I have a tendency, particularly when I am tired, to wholly play off the actions, emotions, or body language of others.
What frustrates me too is that in such stressed, anxious and unprepared states, I let myself essentially be a yesman — it seems like I suddenly have no thoughts of my own. I don’t honour my feelings. I let myself be willing to do anything anyone says: “Shall we go out at this time?” “Do you mind…?”
I think that one origin of such a tendency is that so much of my personality is linked to a happy, smiley version of myself — one version which complies, says yes, obliges, doesn’t cause or make a fuss. This is compounded by a dislike of showing negative emotions and potentially letting other people down. And sometimes, because this tendency and pattern of behaviour has been repeated again and again and again, I feel that to start being, I guess, more honest to myself and others, might suddenly seem out of character. They are suddenly seeing a fuller (not flawed, but human) version of myself, with both my strengths and my weaknesses. What was seen before was just one side of the story.
But I underestimate others — perhaps it will be a relief for others to suddenly see a version of myself actually vulnerable, actually open, without such a complex and draining mask.
And perhaps another origin of said mask is indeed self-help — my intense desire to achieve perfection, to be stoic and in control of my actions in every circumstance. I mean acting not in accordance with our feelings is sometimes very necessary, such as the exhibition of anger in a socially acceptable and constructive way. However, when I, willingly or not, suppress said emotions, it necessarily ends up being destructive.
So what can I do? How can I escape these frustrating and draining patterns of behaviour?
I can take time to process what has been asked and instead of launching into a preset answer.
I can take a deep breath.
I can take steps to become more aware of my patterns — recognise when they occur and what I can do to break the cycle.
I can realise that showing my full self is not ‘undesirable’, that I am not wrong to experience negative emotions but rather just human.