As you may know, I have had social anxiety (clinically diagnosed) for about 7 years now. I think it started as soon as I started secondary school, but I was only diagnosed when I was about 16 years old. And the weird thing is, I still don’t truly understand it. It still gets me pretty hard even now after I feel a lot better than I used to be. It crops up in unexpected situations. And it hurts me more than I thought it still could.
And how can I expect people to understand a disorder that I understand very little for myself? It’s only recently that I’ve truly thought about how much social anxiety affects my life. It’s not just having trouble talking to new people. It’s not being afraid of socialising.
It’s way more than that…
Individuals with social anxiety are likely to be isolated people, especially if they suffer quite badly with it, and especially if they don’t know they have it or have no one around them who understands.
Think about it, “social” is anything involving other people. So, if we have social anxiety, we will be anxious around other people and often want to stop that feeling, thus isolating ourselves without realising it.
We can also be isolated due to others not liking or understanding us. I know that I don’t have many friends, and I believe that my social anxiety has contributed to my losing touch with school friends. There’s only so many times that a friend can handle you cancelling on them.
Not being yourself
In social situations, you can trust that you will be stuttering, forgetting things, fidgeting, not maintaining eye contact, sweating, shaking, wanting it to end, and avoiding conversation.
I’m such a friendly, bubbly person in truth. I’m also not dumb! But in some social situations, I’m just not myself. I don’t give full answers. I fidget and feel aware of myself. I lose my intellect and come off as stupid (there’s so many times when people have said “you’re a writer and you don’t know words” just because I just can’t speak well).
Rehearsing and reviewing
A big thing that we often do is think about what people will say and what we’ll say, too, beforehand. We run scenarios in our heads without meaning to. It’s like trying to predict the events so that we can handle them better.
And it’s not only that, we review what happened for a time afterwards, too. “I can’t believe I said that” or “they must have thought this or that when I said that” or “they laughed at that, maybe I wasn’t so bad” and so on. We try to better ourselves, subconsciously, by “preparing” and “reviewing”.
Trouble in public places
Again, social is anything involving other people. It is big in public places for this reason. I knew someone with social anxiety who couldn’t go to the shop because of the crowds and having to speak to a customer service assistant in the store.
Yes, this one is a very sad one for me as someone who does like to travel. Going abroad means constantly being out and about around people. If you spent the whole time in your room, it wouldn’t make any sense to bother going abroad! And so, you must go out. You eat out in very busy restaurants. You are around packed squares of sightseers. You struggle twice as much with the language barrier because you’re also anxious in general about talking to people or dealing with new situations in the presence of others.
This also extends to simply travelling around the country, or just going on the bus or train, too.
Going for meals
As I said, restaurants are a big one. You’re sat eating in front of people, being surrounded by people, talking to the people you’re with, and even ordering food to your tastes, too. It can be so awful to just be in that space.
Meals have been a massive one for me for a long time. I would cancel on friends the day before because my anxiety got so bad. Or I’d go, but feel so nauseous due to the anxiety that I didn’t even talk much and I didn’t finish my food. I feel so sad when remembering the number of times I’ve cried in restaurant toilets, gagging because I felt so sick, and just wishing to go home.
Parties and clubs
Being a young person with social anxiety was awful because what do youngsters like to do? Drink and party! Even my introverted friends still liked social gatherings where drinking was involved, and I hated it. Not only was it just not me, but it was also a big trigger for my anxiety. As soon as someone said, “hey, I’m having a party next week” or “hey, let’s go out next Saturday” I felt sick to my stomach. I would panic all week and usually cancel.
Activities with people
Any general activities with people are hard, too. And yes, even people I know and love! I’ve been invited to bowling, golf, film nights, football games, friends’ houses, and god knows what else but the anxiety has crept in as soon as the invite was given. It’s much easier for me to do activities, as I don’t have to worry as much about talking or anything, but I still feel it. And sometimes, it’s enough to make me not go.
It’s not just public speaking, though, it’s also private. I get socially anxious even when recording my podcast and when I used to do my YouTube videos. I think it’s the mere fact that I know people will listen to it or see it that I get nervous. I worry about what I’m saying, how it will be perceived, and if it is worth anyone’s time. This is why I speak so fast on my podcast at times, and it’s only when I realise it that I’m able to slow down a bit.
Not everyone who has social anxiety is also (or completely) agoraphobic. I’m not, but some are. I do, however, have some trouble in crowds and places where there is a lot going on. I feel suffocated, on edge, highly aware of myself, and drained of energy.
People hardly consider this one, but people with social anxiety will often have a hard time in education. This is because, in schools or universities, you are constantly surrounded by people. You are constantly needing to talk to classmates and teachers. You eat surrounded by people. You study with others. You’re asked questions by the teacher and feel pressured to answer correctly.
It’s social chaos!
It can be really hard, tiring, scary, and overwhelming. People with social anxiety need time to breathe, and in schools, they often don’t get to.
Meeting up with friends
As I’ve said, just seeing friends can be hard. I still get anxious as soon as my friends or even my boyfriend arranges for us to do something together. Even if it is the simplest of things. This can be so hard because, on the one hand, you want to see people you like and do things to have fun and break up your week, but on the other hand, you know how horrid you’re going to feel inside whilst doing them.
Advanced plans/ events
And I think the worst comes when it is a planned thing in advance. Spontaneous plans means I have less time to let the anxiety build up. But with plans made in advance, I have plenty of time to drive myself crazy by thinking about what will happen, how I’ll feel, who will say what, what it will mean, if it will be good, and so much more.
This is just my list, and my experiences, but I think my social anxiety is a lot more prevalent in my life than I often realise. It’s probably a reason why I like being self-employed, why I like to be alone, why I don’t do much, why I get nervous when people I like organise things, why I just feel overwhelmed whenever someone organises something or is in my space. It can make you seem rude, or anti-social, or friendless.
And it’s frickin’ tough.
Remember the social pressures that we all face: Will I be liked? Will I be accepted? Will I be understood? Am I funny enough? Smart enough? Interesting enough? – and then times that by like ten for someone with social anxiety…it’s not a nice feeling to deal with regularly.
I hope this further explains the experiences of people with social anxiety.
If you need any help in bettering your mental health, or better coping with anxiety, depression, and stress, then my book “You’re As Mad As I Am” may be for you. Check it out here, and download a free sample to see what it’s all about.
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