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How yoga benefits the socially awkward

I’ve always had issues with social anxiety. After being hit with adrenal fatigue a few years back and slowly climbing my way to rock bottom ever since (kidding, sort of), one of the biggest problems I’ve been having throughout the recovery process is a ridiculously irrational level of social anxiety.

It goes a little something like this: The only time you feel like a fully functioning human being is when you’re alone. When somebody tries to make plans with you, you choose from your index of 7,432 reasons why you’re not available. Phone calls leave you catatonic. When you do finally shove yourself out the door and into the land of (gasp!) people, you have to wear 50 pounds of clinical strength deodorant and four layers of shirts because the only sweat you experience is stress sweat. While most people crave social interaction and putting themselves out there… there I go again, I’m all verklempt.

You accept the fact that socializing will never be your cup of tea, but you’d at least like to tolerate social events (and grocery shopping trips) without having to map out every possible escape route. And considering you can’t even bump into someone in the hallway of your apartment building without needing a nap afterward, you’ll do anything to feel some sense of relief.

A recent study in PLOS ONE found that exercise and relaxation activities literally change the way people perceive the world — for people with mood and anxiety disorders especially, this means viewing your surroundings as less threatening. I was thrilled when I stumbled across this discovery, since anxiety is a vicious cycle: When you’re anxious, you tend to focus on avoiding the things that trigger your anxiety, and ironically you end up making your anxiety worse. This study suggests that yoga and the like can help break the cycle… so naturally, I had to try it for myself.

I’ve done yoga before, but never consistently enough to reap the rewards. For my experiment, I used the Yoga Studio app, and started with taking their 15-minute beginner strength course once a day for the first five days (since it’s been a while). Within the first few days, my mind felt clearer, my body less tense and I found my social interactions didn’t have as much of an impact on me. I didn’t feel invincible, mind you.

There were still twinges of chest constriction and queasiness… and I still pulled a PacMan anytime I was about to bump into someone. You have to understand: My social anxiety is so bad that I can’t even watch television characters who are social — the big-city, career-oriented characters who have plans every, single night — without feeling suffocated. I wish I were joking.

The following week, I stepped up to the 30-minute beginner strength course once a day for five days — and wow… in a good way. Not only was I able to handle my routine social interactions with a lot more ease, but also my stress level in general plummeted. It felt surreal handling things that would normally send me into a stress spiral with barely a hiccup. I was expecting my anxiety to flare up, but it was like my innards were a clean slate. I even took a few phone calls and was able to function afterward.

I still have major hurdles: Going out bothers me to no end, especially to places that are super busy and crowded. I still can’t stand in line anywhere without wanting to rip my skin off — it’s like the cashier or bank teller is working in slow motion. All I know is if I’m able to keep up this yoga thing daily, I’ll save a fortune on clinical strength deodorant — which, to me, is a great start.

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