According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 12 percent of adults contend with social anxiety disorder some time in their life. Social anxiety is a type of mental illness that presents itself as the fear of social situations that involve interaction with other people. These social interactions cause a great amount of stress for the person who is anxious.
The stress comes from the dominate fear or anxiety that the person will be negatively judged by other people. Once social anxiety gets its hold on a person, the fear bleeds into all areas of a person’s life.
In this blog post, I will discuss ways you can use humor to make an unpleasant situation more bearable.
Stress can equal Social Anxiety
Stress in life is as common as a two-year-old and tantrums. Even for the most stiff upper lip person you know, stress can leave it’s mark. On the other hand, someone with social anxiety may have the exact same amount of stress as stiff lip, but when the anxiety presents itself, it is so much more tense and overwhelming that it is difficult to just brush it off.
Although stress and the byproduct, anxiety is pretty crappy to go through, I have learned to use humor to help cope with it. A situation will arise and I find something funny (not offensive) and throw out a zinger. The laughs that I get help decrease the power of the social anxiety over me.
How about some Funny-Side-Up Eggs?
As I get older, the more I realize how much I love, enjoy, and desperately need humor in my life. I enjoy watching old sitcoms like Friends or M*A*S*H and laughing my head off. It is a great way to let off steam as well as reducing anxiety.
Also, my husband has a degree in pulling pranks and making me laugh. I love it even though I might jump out of my skin. LOL! Laughter is truly good medicine.
What I have found is that when I use humor in a stressful situation, the change in focus from me to the funny statement allows me to 1. stop avoiding people, 2. embrace uncertainty, and 3. encourages me out of my shell. Let’s look at these three steps which could eventually free us from social anxiety.
Humor is a way to Break the Cycle of Avoidance
When I experience social anxiety, I am afraid of being around people. It could be one person or 5,000 people. I believe they are going to judge me, not accept me, I will have nothing good to say, I will stutter, or I will lose words in my sentences. These types of lies that I believe are only going to set me up for a cycle of avoidance.
I attend one of the 5 largest churches in America. Talk about your anxiety. Walking through hallways that are bigger than my townhouse, is a bit intimidating for me at times. What has happened is, I have conditioned myself to believe that church is an anxiety-producing place which translates to church + fear + anxiety = avoidance.
Picture this: it is Saturday night, 4:00 pm EST and my husband and I are going to church. The service begins at 5 o’cock. We park the car and walk 50 yards to get to a door that leads us to the Worship Center. Walking through the hallway that surrounds the WC, I peer into the windows There are thousands of seats waiting to be filled. I take a deep breath and know James and I are going to a place that for me, is low on anxiety.
The hallway opens into the Atrium and we head toward Cafe 920 for two Diet Cokes and a cookie as big as your head. By then, James and I have chuckled 20-some-odd times which blots out the anxiety I have when going to church.
Then, out of the blue comes a lady I know. Our eyes meet as we draw closer to each other. She passes me and smiles. Am I going to avoid this social contact? I could quickly look the other way or smile and say ‘hello’. I do the latter.
Humor can work! It works even for me who is not joke-a-minute person. If I find something funny, therefore it is funny, I laugh, and it takes the edge off the anxiety.
Humor Teaches you to Embrace Uncertainty
To get your “wit on” you need to be on your toes, in the moment. Think mindfulness. The best comical moments are made up on the spot. This may be your worst nightmare if you struggle with anxiety. BUT, it doesn’t have to be.
The key to pulling off the quick-witted humor not to think about what others will say or how they react. You can always practice before being in a social setting. The more you practice, the easier your chuckle-ticklers will roll off the tongue. If you practice your zingers, you will not be as anxious when you actually whip out and zing somebody.
Becca Barish, is the head of the wellness program at The Second City says many people who face social anxiety find relief in humor. She believes [humor] has gotten people out of their comfort zones and helped them get comfortable with thinking on their feet. And thinking on your feet is an excellent skill to have!
Building up to share a joke in a group of people, no matter how large, can be intimidating. We get ourselves so worked up over the moments just before the ripcord is pulled on our best zinger ever that we often bail. “Sometimes, the anticipatory anxiety is worse than the thing (the reaction of your friends to your zinger) itself,” Barish says.
Humor Entices You Out of Your Shell
The dirty secret of social anxiety, is one always isolates themselves. When I use humor, (and I am not good at it at all) I know that it pulls me out of my shell and puts me on display. Although, whenever I go out on a limb and crack a joke, I do feel exposed sometimes.
Coming out of your shell is imperative for good mental health. I have been in my shell for what seems like 12 years. I am now at the point in my treatment that I feel as if I can become a member of society again.
Being funny can be empowering in a way. I say something funny and my small group of friends laugh at what I said. Now the focus is on me. Scary, huh? I know, but this is to help me get out of the shell and live a full life.
Humor no matter the outcome, always takes a person out of their comfort zone and launches them into their uncomfortable zone. Barish says, “You’re going to get more comfortable with being more uncomfortable.” The more you step out and be a Robin Williams, cracking everybody up in a three-mile radius, the easier it will be for you to go to that party, tailgate before the game, or lead that PTA meeting.
If you have a habit of staying to yourself at work or making excuses when the guys ask you to go out, you may be avoiding people. Stop this cycle before it gets any worse. Trust me, it is not fun trying to come out of a shell after 12 years of living in it. Life is full of uncertainty. People with anxiety do not like uncertainty – it scares them. Use humor to help break the ice when you talk with people. Use humor to help in conversations in order to help you feel like you fit it. Nobody wants to live in a cave. Even Batman lived in his parents’ mansion when he wasn’t being batty. (I know, lame. My jokes make me laugh and that is ALL that matters!) 🙂 But, it will be worth looking like a dork knowing the anxiety is HA-HA-HA-ing itself out the door.