What a guy with social anxiety wants you to know about inviting him to a party.

Here’s what helps (and what doesn’t) when going out.

Dear friends,

First of all, let me explain what it feels like to be me, a guy with social anxiety.

Picture a scene that fills you with gut-clenching dread. A dark alley at night maybe. The edge of a windy cliff with no railing. A deep ocean, too dark to see what’s beneath you.


Photo via iStock.

Think about how those scenes make you feel. That’s the same feeling I get in social situations.

Having social anxiety disorder means I experience intense, oppressive feelings of dread — sometimes even panic — just about every time we meet up with our friends or go out to a restaurant. It occasionally even happens when you come over, too.

None of that is your fault, obviously. There’s nothing rational about these feelings. I can take steps to fight the dread — and I’m fighting hard to do that, all the time, even when I’m exhausted — but in the moment of panic, I have no more direct control over my social anxiety than you have over your allergies.

Telling me "Everybody here loves you!" doesn’t get rid of my dread or panic any more than telling you "My cat loves you!" clears up your feline allergy. I wish it were that easy. Believe me, I do.

Having social anxiety isn't the same as being an introvert. It's also not the same as having low self-esteem or being shy or no fun.

Unlike social anxiety, introversion isn’t a clinical disorder; it’s a personality type. An introvert is a person who's "predominantly concerned with their own mental life." That doesn’t describe me. I care about you, and the rest of our friends, very deeply.

But I’m not an extrovert either. Neither of those terms fits me.

Photo via iStock.

For me, a fun night out with cool people is every bit as energizing as a good movie at home. It’s just much easier for me to put on a movie than it is to fight my social anxiety for hours until I finally relax enough to have fun.

You know me, so you know I’ve got a healthy sense of self-esteem.

I’m not shy at all when we’re alone together, talking for hours on end about our favorite songs and stories and characters. We’ve laughed so hard we couldn’t breathe. We’ve made up inside jokes that can’t be explained.

I can be the fun friend sometimes, too. Photo via iStock.

"Well, of course," you may be thinking, "I love all those things about you! Why can’t you bring that side of you along when we go out?"

Imagine if every time you wanted to go meet up with friends, you had to hike to the top of a mountain. No matter how much you loved your friends, you’d have to spend time and energy gearing yourself up for each trip — and you’d arrive exhausted. If you huffed and puffed your way to the top of the mountain only to find that everyone else had decided to meet atop a different mountain at the last minute … well, you’d be pretty annoyed, wouldn’t you?

This is basically what I go through every time I decide to go out socially.

My "night out" actually starts days in advance, when I first hear about the plans you’re making.

Right away, a mental alarm goes off: "DON’T GO," flashing in all caps. Once I’ve managed to deactivate that alarm, then the spiral of anxious thoughts kicks in — not just anxiety about what to wear, but over every possible outcome, every person who might potentially show up, every question or joke or come-on to which I might need to reply. Obviously this makes no logical sense.

I know. I keep repeating that to myself. I shout at myself: "This makes no logical sense! I’m fed up with this!"

By the time we go out, I’m waging all-out war against an army of vague and specific fears.

I'm battling uphill, taking heavy losses with every step toward the front door.

This is the feeling I get when I'm preparing to go out. Photo via iStock.

But at last, fighting furiously, I manage to gain the upper hand! I know where we’ll be going, who’s going to be there, which side(s) of myself I’m going to put on display, and which interesting things I can mention when the conversation converges on me. Every time the anxiety mounts a new attack, I’ve got an answer ready. I sit by the door, waiting for your text…

And I wait and wait and wait some more, continuing to fend off fresh waves of dread every 30 seconds or so, until you text an hour later to say we’ve ditched the old plans. Now we’re meeting up with some people we haven’t talked to in years, and instead of a quiet bar, we’re headed to the fairground for an outdoor food fair.

At the very least, I’ve got to lie down and regroup before I can fight my way to the top of a completely different mountain.

The thing is, I love having adventures with you! I love seeing new places. I love catching up with people I haven’t talked to in years.

It’s not like I sit at home and think, "How dare they change plans on me?" Exactly the opposite. I scroll through the photos you’re tweeting, and I think, "How dare I be such a burden? I’ve got no right to ask you to structure your plans around my anxiety." At least, I've been told all my life that I don’t have that right.

I definitely don’t want to be treated with kid gloves now that you know all this about me. I don’t want to make it weird next time we go out. That’s the absolute last thing I need: even more tension in my social relationships.

You know what would help me most of all? Two things: consistency and low pressure.

As long as I can assure my inner army of dread that I know where we’ll be going and what we’ll be doing and that I’m only going out for one drink and then I can leave — whether that turns out to be true or not — then I can usually keep the worst of my anxiety at bay, maybe so well that no one would even guess I have it.

This could be me; it's what I dream of. Photo via iStock.

That’s what I dream of more than anything else. Just to be able to leave the mental horror movies behind for a night and go out and have fun.

Family

On an old episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in July 1992, Oprah put her audience through a social experiment that puts racism in a new light. Despite being nearly two decades old, it's as relevant today as ever.

She split the audience members into two groups based on their eye color. Those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment by getting to cut the line and given refreshments while they waited to be seated. Those with blue eyes were made to put on a green collar and wait in a crowd for two hours.

Staff were instructed to be extra polite to brown-eyed people and to discriminate against blue-eyed people. Her guest for that day's show was diversity expert Jane Elliott, who helped set up the experiment and played along, explaining that brown-eyed people were smarter than blue-eyed people.

Watch the video to see how this experiment plays out.

Oprah's Social Experiment on Her Audience www.youtube.com

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Cadbury has removed the words from its Dairy Milk chocolate bars in the U.K. to draw attention to a serious issue, senior loneliness.

On September 4, Cadbury released the limited-edition candy bars in supermarkets and for every one sold, the candy giant will donate 30p (37 cents) to Age UK, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for the elderly.

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Young people today are facing what seems to be greater exposure to complex issues like mental health, bullying, and youth violence. As a result, teachers are required to be well-versed in far more than school curriculum to ensure students are prepared to face the world inside and outside of the classroom. Acting as more than teachers, but also mentors, counselors, and cheerleaders, they must be equipped with practical and relevant resources to help their students navigate some of the more complicated social issues – though access to such tools isn't always guaranteed.

Take Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, for example, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years, and as a teacher for seven. Entering the profession, she didn't anticipate how much influence a student's home life could affect her classroom, including "students who lived in foster homes" and "lacked parental support."

Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience, says it can be difficult to create engaging course work that's applicable to the challenges students face. "I think that sometimes, teachers don't know where to begin. Teachers are always looking for ways to make learning in their classrooms more relevant."

So what resources do teachers turn to in an increasingly fractured world? "Joining a professional learning network that supports and challenges thinking is one of the most impactful things that a teacher can do to support their own learning," Anglemyer says.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience.

A new program for teachers that offers this network along with other resources is the WE Teachers Program, an initiative developed by Walgreens in partnership with ME to WE and Mental Health America. WE Teachers provides tools and resources, at no cost to teachers, looking for guidance around the social issues related to poverty, youth violence, mental health, bullying, and diversity and inclusion. Through online modules and trainings as well as a digital community, these resources help them address the critical issues their students face.

Jessica Mauritzen, a high school Spanish teacher, credits a network of support for providing her with new opportunities to enrich the learning experience for her students. "This past year was a year of awakening for me and through support… I realized that I was able to teach in a way that built up our community, our school, and our students, and supported them to become young leaders," she says.

With the new WE Teachers program, teachers can learn to identify the tough issues affecting their students, secure the tools needed to address them in a supportive manner, and help students become more socially-conscious, compassionate, and engaged citizens.

It's a potentially life-saving experience for students, and in turn, "a great gift for teachers," says Dr. Sanderlin.

"I wish I had the WE Teachers program when I was a teacher because it provides the online training and resources teachers need to begin to grapple with these critical social issues that plague our students every day," she adds.

In addition to the WE Teachers curriculum, the program features a WE Teachers Award to honor educators who go above and beyond in their classrooms. At least 500 teachers will be recognized and each will receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. Teachers can be nominated or apply themselves. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, or sign up for access to the teacher resources available through WE Teachers, visit walgreens.com/metowe.

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"Men as well as women tend to establish the worth of individual women primarily by the way their body looks, research shows. We do not do this when we evaluate men," Naomi Ellemers Ph.D. wrote in Psychology Today.

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