As a child, I loved to be the center of attention. I wasn’t afraid to introduce myself or speak up, but now there are days when I find it difficult just to look someone in the eye. It was frustrating to watch my peers build relationships with ease while I struggled just to make a connection at all. For years I blamed shyness and a lack of self-esteem for these changes, but it wasn’t until college that I truly learned about social anxiety.
Just as with any mental illness, social anxiety affects everyone differently. For me, it even changes moment to moment. Sometimes my nervousness reveals itself in stuttering or repetitive speech; other times I freeze. I’ve learned a myriad of coping mechanisms––some more helpful than others–– and techniques to understand the root of my anxiety, but none have been more beneficial than therapy. Finding communities such as Psych2Go, where I have a voice as well as a support system to reach out and relate to, also helped me practice using my voice with confidence, even when I feel so fragile I could shatter. It’s ok if you don’t feel ready to join a community or speak up about your experiences, but the team at Psych2Go wants you to know that we are here.
Here are 7 things only people with social anxiety will understand:
1. Being Social Can Be Oh-So Draining
While not everyone with social anxiety is an introvert, many feel exhausted after a social event––not because of the people, but because of the anxiety. Worrying is tiring to the mind, whether you’re on the phone or at an important event. For me, simply putting on an “I’m not anxious” face for one conversation can be enough to leave me alone on the couch for the rest of the day. Wherever your limits are is perfectly ok, but be sure to know your boundaries and respect them. Pushing yourself too far may end in even more anxiety than you began with, and it’s super important to take care of yourself and your needs first. If your couch is calling, answer!
2. Please Text Me, Don’t Call
Since opening up about my own social anxiety and talking with others about theirs, I’m surprised to find how many people absolutely dread phone calls. Some fear that by calling they will bother the other person, or they may not know what to say when they pick up the phone. Calls can be sudden, disruptive, and unpredictable; you never know what the other person is going to tell you. More often than not, I’ll let calls go to voicemail unless I’m already expecting them, but I’m much more comfortable with texting.
3. I’m Anxious Even When We Aren’t Interacting
Recently, I’ve noticed that I’ll stop whatever I’m doing if I feel like I’m being watched. Most of the time, though, no one is watching me, but I’m still not comfortable doing some things if someone is nearby at all. My worry is that they’ll see what I’m doing and see that I’m doing it wrong, or they’ll judge me for doing it. It’s frustrating not being able to do small things like making lunch without intense worry, so I often push myself to do them anyways. More often than not I find that no one is concerned with what I’m doing, but the hesitation still rears its ugly head every now and again.
4. When It Comes To Friends, Quality Is Greater Than Quantity
Not everyone’s idea of fun includes a huge group of people. It can be intimidating to be around a lot of people I only somewhat know, so I would much rather spend time with one or two close friends. The beauty of life is that no two experiences are the same, so there really is a friend for everyone out there. Not everyone understands social anxiety, and it’s taken a lot of trial and error to find out who is who, but I’ve met some patient and caring people who have had such a positive impact on my life. These people make socializing that much easier for me, so I’ll be careful to keep them around and be a good friend.
5. It’s Not All In My Head
It’s in my body too. Social anxiety manifests as physical sensations for a lot of people, myself included. A lot of these symptoms are similar to feeling embarrassed––sweaty hands, blushing, hyperventilating––but might be more intense or last for a lot longer. In fact, facing social situations can lead to full-blown panic attacks in some people, while others feel physically ill or faint. These physical symptoms may be scary, even further anxiety-inducing, but they rarely are threatening to one’s immediate health. Over time, though, anxiety can lead to an increased risk of heart attacks, strokes, and suicidal thoughts, so it’s best not to leave any symptoms unmanaged.
6. I Worry That Everyone’s Judging Me…
When I say that my anxiety never turns off, that really is not an exaggeration. Over time, one can become so accustomed to anxious and analytical thoughts that they become basically normal. The feeling of being under a magnifying glass has made me monitor my every move, but just because I am overly conscious of myself doesn’t mean that everyone else is, too. In reality no one pays as much attention to me as I do. I forget that everyone is too busy worrying about their own actions (or at least they should be).
7. But I’m My Harshest Judge
Honestly, I’m pretty tough on myself about my anxious behaviors. I find it difficult not to compare myself to my peers or to social media. On the surface, it seems like everyone around me makes connections (or at least has conversations!) with ease, so I sometimes feel like that’s how it should be for me, too. It’s embarrassing to leave parties early or for someone to point out “you’re so quiet!” when all I want is to socialize like everyone else. The truth is, though, there is no “normal” when it comes to being social, and I should try to remind myself of this more often. There is nothing wrong with leaving early or spending another night at home with my dog.
Cuncic, A. (n.d.). How to Overcome Your Fear of Making Phone Calls. Retrieved July 10, 2020, from https://www.verywellmind.com/afraid-making-phone-calls-tips-3024317
Hendriksen, S. (2016, October 19). Am I Introverted or Socially Anxious? Retrieved July 10, 2020, from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/am-i-introverted-or-socially-anxious/
The National Health Service. (2020, March 13). Social anxiety (social phobia). Retrieved July 10, 2020, from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/social-anxiety/
Thompson, A. (2019, November 08). Can stress kill you? Retrieved July 10, 2020, from https://www.stress.org/can-stress-kill-you