It’s a condition that is difficult to understand and one that can have much a more serious impact on a sufferer’s life than many realise. Social anxiety is a strain on more than just a social life and not something that goes away just by avoiding parties.
There’s so much more to it than not liking crowded social situations – simple things such as the doorbell ringing, a meeting at work or an unexpected phone call can be terrifying if it catches your social anxiety on a bad day.
Some days it bearable and others overwhelming. And some days you can skip merrily out of the house and smile at every person you walk past while others you won’t even emerge from your safe duvet cocoon.
Here are just a few of the things everyone with social anxiety can relate to:
You’d love to be able to enjoy nights out
Being scared of nights out or parties doesn’t mean that you can’t see the appeal of them. Social anxiety isn’t a choice so while it always comes as a relief to avoid a crowded situation, you will spend a long time afterwards wishing that you were able to take part more and get to know people with more ease. The fear of missing out can be just as much of a torment as the thought of going along and it’s a conflict that you find yourself in the midst of on an almost daily basis.
You will dread social events for days
If you do find yourself trapped into something you have to attend such as a gathering, a wedding, a work event or something with your partner, the dread of it will gnaw at you for days until it’s just around the corner. Then it’s just downright terrifying.
The doorbell is your enemy
Never do you find yourself sitting more still with a frozen expression of horror on your face than when the doorbell buzzes, making you jump out of your skin. And even after the intrusive stranger walks away, you will spend the remainder of your day panicking over who it was and what they wanted. It can only be bad news, right?
Well, no it was probably a charity collector or the postman but your brain won’t let you indulge in logic, that would be insane.
And so is a withheld number
If ever you were to smash your phone up with a hammer, then this would be the moment. Go away anonymous caller, you are not wanted here.
You will never make a phone call when you can email
Making a phone call is even more daunting than receiving one and if you can avoid it, you will. Thank heavens for email and messenger services which cuts out all necessity of human interaction.
If your bank tells you that you need to phone up to order a new card, you would just rather not have a card ever again. FYI, I haven’t owned one for eight years.
Being trolled online can be traumatic
For many, having fierce arguments online is all part and parcel of the ‘fun’ of social media but if you have social anxiety, even one nasty tweet or passive aggressive Facebook comment can make you want to delete everything and crawl into a dark hole never to emerge again.
You overthink everything you say
Because of your terror of conflict or of being negatively judged, you will overthink absolutely everything. Once you hit send on an email, you will re-read it several times and convince yourself you sounded bad. If you say something anyone else would consider casual chat to a friend, you will wonder if you sounded stupid or caused offence. Your brain never gives you time to breathe.
You only have a very small handful of friends – and that’s all you want
There are two or three people who you are absolutely comfortable with and when you are with them, nobody would be able to guess that you have any trouble interacting whatsoever. You don’t want the pressure or having more than that and these pals completely get you and wouldn’t change you.
They won’t put any pressure on you.
Social anxiety comes and goes
Social anxiety doesn’t necessarily mean that you can never leave the house or can never talk to anybody. Sometimes, you will have the confidence to interact with ease which are also the bold days when you will accept social invitations (spoiler: these will later be cancelled).
It’s a confusing condition, often without triggers, so you won’t be able to predict day to day which area of the social anxiety spectrum you will wake up on. Which obviously adds to the fun.
You avoid eye contact with people you recognise
‘Is that Mary from work coming towards me on the street? Shit, deploy emergency procedures IMMEDIATELY.’ Headphones in, fake phone call, avoid eye contact, cross the road if you must. So long as you don’t have to *shudder* strike up a conversation.
You will react badly on the spot
Oh good, someone has addressed me directly while I am still getting my bearings in this situation that is well out of my comfort zone, said no anxiety sufferer ever. Cue babbling, redness in the face and excessive sweating. Luckily, someone will most definitely point out that you have gone red just to put you in the focus even more.
You rely too much on dutch courage
It’s a bad vice to have but if you have to be forced out to a party, you just know you won’t be able to cope unless you have calmed your nerves with a glass of wine or ten. It’s not uncommon for anyone to need a pre-drink before that awkward first half hour of a party where everyone is sober and striking up the worst small talk but with social anxiety it feels even more necessary.
People think you’re rude
And maybe you do come across that way – but it’s not something that you can help and it’s rarely the impression that you are trying to convey. By not speaking, keeping yourself to yourself and responding to questions with blunt answers, you just know that people are judging you as a bit rude. And it doesn’t feel nice at all.
People also think you’re a terrible friend or weird
Being the quiet, slightly odd one of a group whether at a social gathering, in a group of friends, at work or at school leaves you with this label of being weird. You’re often silent, you avoid eye contact, you spend a large amount of time with your headphones in to avoid interaction and, again, some people think you’re rude.
Your existing (and less close) friends think you’re a rubbish pal because you never go to anything. And you worry that those you aren’t friends with are thinking that they will never want to get to know you.
You are known as the one who always cancels
You get a reputation of always pulling out of events and it can annoy people and make them stop asking you along. You become known as the canceler and it’s usually in a jokey or affectionate way, but you can’t shift the thought that people resent you for it.
What many don’t realise is that cancelling can be your biggest relief and your safety net that is keeping you from anxiety attacks.
You look for escape routes
Once you are at a party or on a night out, your immediate priority is finding a way or means of getting out with as little fuss as possible. You look for gaps in conversation, you assess the best route to the exit, you wait until others are at the toilet so you have less people to explain your departure to and you may also look at your phone and pretend that you need to get home for whatever reason.
You worry that people are looking at you or talking about you
They’re generally not but that feeling that everyone is judging how you look, what you’re saying or how you’re coming across is part and parcel of a night out social anxiety style. Am I too quiet? Did I just make a tit of myself? Do I seem rude? Why did I just say that? Where do I put my hands? Are those two talking about me? Am I even wanted here?
These are just some of the questions that regularly spin through your brain.
It’s impossible to explain
Telling people that you have social anxiety can almost feel a bit pathetic – you worry that people either won’t know what it is or that they won’t believe it’s serious or that it even exists. Because talking to people is one of the biggest difficulties of social anxiety, explaining why you are like you are is even harder.
How do you tell people that the thought of being trapped in social situations gives you palpitations and triggers panic attacks? How do you explain that it isn’t that you don’t like people, it’s more that you lack confidence and fear being judged and overthink everything? How do you get across that it is way more than being shy, it actually fills you with genuine fear sometimes?
You want to say that you’re not weird, unfriendly or rude and you want people to understand that it is a genuine condition that you don’t have through choice and you’d do just about anything to be able to attend and enjoy all of the things you are invited to.
For those suffering with social anxiety, be kinder to yourself and don’t be so hard on your own behaviour – way less people are judging you than you think and those who do notice probably only ask about it because they care. Your condition is legitimate even if your fears are illogical.