Can Social Anxiety Strike After the Fact, Not Before?
Social anxiety is very much like a germ. It strikes when it wants to, even after we've endured a social situation or event. As a germ, social anxiety can make us feel unwell. If you've experienced social anxiety, you might be accustomed to it striking as you anticipate an interaction and flaring during the situation. This is a typical pattern that social anxiety follows; however, it's not the only pattern. Sometimes, we don't become anxious until after the socializing is over. It's frustrating when you've successfully navigated an experience with other people and then bam! Social anxiety strikes after the fact. The germ has entered the body.
Why Social Anxiety Can Strike After an Event, Not Before
I recently had a speaking engagement. I was excited about it because I would be speaking about anxiety and how we can prevent anxiety from stopping us. I speak about anxiety and other mental health topics frequently, so this particular engagement was natural and enjoyable. It went well. Why, then did social anxiety kick in when I was driving home after an engagement that went well?
Social anxiety strikes when it does for a reason. If we are nervous and worried before an event, it's because we're anticipating the worst. During an event, we're often stuck in our head, thrashing against the automatic negative thoughts of anxiety. When we become anxious after the fact, other things are going on. These are some of the reasons why social anxiety hits us when something, even something successful and fun, is behind us.
- Past worries and worst-case scenarios surface, overriding reality (the present). After an event with others, endorphins, dopamine, and other feel-good hormones begin to fade. With your positive defenses down, social anxiety can take over your thoughts and emotions. Anything from the event that is triggering will cause past anxieties to surface as your brain and body neutralize after an activity.
- Post-event anxiety is the mind's way of being a perfectionist. Perfectionism and anxiety go hand in hand. When an event is over, it's normal to remember things that happened. The brain's innate negativity bias kicks in, and anxiety takes over. What if we said this wrong? What if we laughed too loudly? What if . . .? Although we didn't worry about it earlier, now social anxiety makes us think that we were judged and didn't measure up.
- The social event aligns with goals. When we do something that has value and aligns with the goals we have for ourselves and our lives, that thing becomes pretty important. Anxiety makes us review the situation with a critical lens, and we might experience a panicked feeling or a sense of doom. The more important something is to us, the more we look back and worry that we screwed it up.
The Situation is Over, So Silence Social Anxiety
You've enjoyed a nice time, but the germ is invading your mind and body and causing uncomfortable symptoms. We're exposed to real germs all the time. If our immune system is down, the germs move in, grow, and make us miserable. If, however, our immune system is strong, it kicks into high gear and eradicates the germs. We don't become sick.
We can use this principle with social anxiety that sneaks in after the fact. Strengthen your sense of your true self so that social anxiety can't take hold and make you sick. Reflect on these questions in a journal or dedicated notebook:
- What strengths did you draw on to make it through the event?
- What kept social anxiety away before the event? During?
- Describe the enjoyable things that happened at the event.
- Why was it okay that you (and others) weren't perfect?
- List the reasons why you don't need to feel anxious now.
Yes, social anxiety can strike after the fact. You are living now, also after the fact. Remind yourself of that, and you'll eradicate it like the germ that it is.
NCC, T. (2019, March 7). Can Social Anxiety Strike After the Fact, Not Before? , HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, June 25 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2019/3/can-social-anxiety-strike-after-the-fact-not-before
Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC
Thank you for adding your thoughts! People often think of anxiety as happening before and during a situation and can feel blindsided when it hits afterward instead. By knowing that anxiety can and does strike later, people can be better equipped to deal with it. The more we know!