Let me start this post off with a disclaimer: I am not a mental health professional. Any advice that I give should be taken with a grain of salt, and what works for me may not work for you. If you feel you need a mental health professional, then I recommend contacting your local hospital for recommendations.
Anxiety is a bitch.
I don't mean that anxiety is that pesky thing that lurks at the back of my head. Or rather, I do! But sometimes it's really quiet and manifests as "Hey, if you take that last donut you'll make someone else mad about not getting a donut. And do you need that donut?"
Other times its "OH SHIT OH SHIT THESE GUYS ARE GONNA GET SO MAD AT ME THEY WON'T INVITE ME TO THEIR DONUT PARTY AND THEN I'LL LOSE MY JOB SOMEHOW BECAUSE ONE OF THEM IS A WIZARD!"
Ha ha ha, yeah, I never think that way...
...OK, I do. There have been times where I've walked into a room and realized I didn't know anybody there, and felt like turning around and hiding in the restroom until the party was over would be more preferable than risking making an ass of myself in public.
There are numerous reasons for why people get anxiety. For some, it's genetic. Their genes contain faulty or strange genes that make them feel intense feelings of panic and disarray in certain situations. For others, it's psychological; they have been through enough traumatic events in their life that they react badly when put in uncomfortable situations. For some, it's both, and that's just Hell on earth.
And when it comes to gaming, my friends, anxiety is a bitch because it's supposed to be a leisurely activity meant to RELAX you, and not amp up your heart beat and make you feel horrible. That can be a shitty situation to find yourself in, because anxious people generally don't look for shitty situations to be in (unless you are a cop or rescue services personnel, and then I salute you.)
Case in point: It's a Saturday night, and I get invited by a friend of mine to go play in a Sabbat Larp. I thought I would check it out, but upon arriving there I realize that with the exception of a few people I know it's mainly people I don't know. I don't know what their larp styles are, I don't know who they are, and I was generally feeling very anxious because of the horrible week I had just been through. For the first hour, I stayed next to my friends and people watched because the idea of actually getting involved in the story seemed like a huge hurdle.
So I fell back on an old stand-by for situations like that: I made my anxiety work for me.
In larping (or LARPing, LARPING, or however you fucking spell it) you assume the role of someone else. You take on the part of an improvisational play, and you become that character. So I decided that when I entered that mind set, that my character wouldn't be as anxious as I was. And so Darridan was born.
Darridan is not a nice man, and is a hitman who works with his pack. His personality is blustery and a bit of a jerk, which provided me with a cushion to work with. The character felt the same fears that I did, but he wasn't there to make friends (which was the opposite of me.) So being able to use the nervous energy built up that night and channel it into crafting a character that didn't feel the effects of that energy helped.
It works on the principle of stepping out of your safe zone. John didn't know people there, and felt worried by that. Darridan didn't care who the fuck they were, and therefore could talk to them at his leisure.
It's not a perfect exercise. If I had done something dumb like said "Ha, you're an ugly fat tramp" to someone and made them burst into real tears, then that's not helpful at all! That's me being an ass, and that's not helping me work through it at all. That approach may work for genuine sadists out there, but I'm not out to hurt people's feelings in real life. That's just jackassery of the highest level and if that's how you cope with your anxiety, that's just fucked up.
I should also add it's OK to sit back and relax if your anxiety makes you unable to play. Forcing someone to play when their anxiety is at its peak can just make it worse, and so if you want to chill at a game, feel free to chill.
Other ways I've used this technique to help with anxiety comes with meeting new gamers for the first time. Sometimes, it's worrying to me how I might be perceived. Even the most resolute tough guy will still care how people look at them, and so sometimes it can make people act weird at parties or group functions. That's why for me, I try to use a little checklist to see how much I want to interact with the group.
1. Do I think these people will judge me? A valid concern, cause at least in America we're a reaaaaally judgy society. But I ask myself "Am I talking to a bunch of potential friends, or a jury in a court room?" More often than not, it's potential friends, and if I feel like I"m just going to get judged by people I leave.
2. Do I honestly care if I get these people to be my friends? Don't kid yourself, we all do this. I, more often than not, do care. But even if you don't care, that can help with anxiety as well. If you truly care to meet new people and potentially new friends and acquaintances, just relax and ease into talking with them. If you don't, then I say fuck it! If you don't care about adding more people to your friends group, then behave as you would.
3. What common interests do we have? I once calmed myself down from a panic attack by finding the guy at a party who was wearing a Star Trek shirt and talked to him about Star Trek for an hour. Clearly, the guy loved Star Trek, and so it was easy to just chill out and talk about something we both loved. I was then able to branch out to other people at the party, calmed by the fact that there were clearly other nerds there.
Now for those of you who read this and go "Ha! I am the toughest SOB on the planet! I do what I want, and those with anxiety are horrible people!" then consider yourself pretty fortunate, my friend. It's not easy for those to go through life with anxiety, and if you don't feel it, then conga rats! *blows a kazoo*
But try to remember that when you were at your lowest point in your life, you hated how you felt then, and perhaps show some compassion towards others. And I've known more than a few Internet Tough Guys who turn out to sulk over whether someone called their favorite superhero dumb, or who went on week long bouts of depression because something unfortunate happened to them and they didn't know how to deal with it.
Life is tough, and we all got to get through it. So lets show some compassion to our friends, families, and yes, even those strangers out there. Cause even if you do what you want and say what you want, remember that if you are a horrible asshole to someone at a party, remember that the first thing people will talk about when you leave is how you acted and why people didn't like you for it.
Now I must finish up some work, and then finish ordering Christmas presents. I hope you are all having a very Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Happy Holidays, and Wing-Wang-Wozzle December.