Despite being bitter and feeding my anxiety like it’s a superfood, the pandemic turned out to be quite comforting for people like me – people struggling with social anxiety. Imagine constantly having an upset stomach, chest pain, or difficulty breathing when thrown into social situations. And now imagine you’re finally freed from social obligations, and it’s considered normal not to see other people. As asocial as it might sound for all the social butterflies here, I’m sure people with social anxiety understand how liberating it was. Now, with the world coming back to life, my social anxiety is crawling back from where I thought it was forever forgotten.
Being silent in a loud world
When many social situations scare you, you might feel like the modern world just isn’t made for you. To succeed in your education, career, or personal relationships, most often you have to be someone you’re not – the life of the party, a captivating public speaker. You have to sell yourself to get noticed. But what if you’re none of these things? I’m not. It’s challenging for me to impress new people because I can’t find anything interesting to say. Speaking up in class is one of my worst fears. I can’t multitask, and crowds overwhelm me.
I hope one day “it makes me anxious” will be a good enough reason for acting the way I do.
My closest friends and I know that by no means it makes me stupid, incapable, or unfriendly. But other people usually don’t, and it leads to many unfavorable assumptions. Explaining to a more extroverted person that you do certain things because of social anxiety isn’t easy. You often hear things like just relax, don’t worry, they don’t bite. But when you’re being pushed in situations that make you incredibly anxious, you can’t just relax. With this article, I wanted to shed light on some things that people often do/don’t do because of social anxiety. I hope one day “it makes me anxious” will be a good enough reason for acting the way I do.
Avoiding phone calls
It doesn’t mean they don’t care about you. People with social anxiety tend to prefer texting over phone calls no matter how close their relationship with the other person is. Talking on the phone can be overwhelming because you have to know what to say right away. It also limits you in expressing non-verbal cues such as gestures, body language, and eye contact that usually help you communicate in person.
Another reason anxious people might avoid phone (or video) calls is that it makes them the main focus of their interlocutors. In-person conversations allow room for distraction – whether it’s looking away or sipping coffee. Having long pauses in phone conversations, on the other hand, can feel a lot more awkward which induces anxiety.
Canceling meetings last minute
I know, that’s not a great thing to do. But how much easier it would be if we could just say: “Sorry, can’t meet you today, I’m feeling anxious”. Sometimes it’s good to push yourself a little to spend time with people, but other times it can be the last step towards a panic attack. When your friend or acquaintance cancels a meeting with you last minute, you might take it close to heart. Did they cancel because they have better things to do? Or they simply don’t care? Well, if a person struggles with social anxiety, it might be because he/she felt too overwhelmed to leave the house and engage in social activities. If this would be accepted by society as a good enough reason, maybe fewer relationships would be strained because of last-minute cancelations.
I even have to lie to get out of social commitments. Headaches, flues, stomach pains – I’ve used it all. However, lying to someone always makes me feel worse, and I wish I could tell the truth – that going out just feels too much at the moment.
Leaving an event early
When you are not comfortable with social situations, you usually have a very limited capacity of energy to share with other people. Even when you spend time with people you care about the most, it drains you. There is nothing wrong with needing to be alone to recharge. Nevertheless, society seems to always praise those who bring life to every party and stay till the end of it.
I often find myself staying late at a party or a dinner, exhausted and staring into space trying not to fall asleep. Why? Because I’m afraid to appear arrogant or disrespectful for being the first one to leave, when all I care about is finally crawling into my bed with a book. Sometimes I find excuses for leaving early – having to wake up early or feed my dog – but I never tell the truth, that I’m too tired of being around people or it’s starting to overwhelm me.
Why should we normalize talking about social anxiety?
People with social anxiety don’t hate other people. We just want to be able to socialize whenever and however much we feel comfortable.
Just in the US, 31% of adults experience social anxiety at some point in their life. Feeling alone or misunderstood is what makes anxiety so alienating. Life would be so much easier for us if we could hear others talking about issues that we go through every day. You might ask: why do you even care about being understood and accepted if you don’t like being with people? But that’s a stereotype. People with social anxiety don’t hate other people. We just want to be able to socialize whenever and however much we feel comfortable. And only talking about our emotions and sharing our experiences can allow us to do that.
Edited by: Yili Char