Well first of all, social anxiety shows differently for everyone. Some struggle in certain areas of life when others thrive in it. For example, I am uncomfortable walking alone but can easily eat in public where another socially anxious person might be able to walk without any anxiety but not eat. Yup social anxiety is very specific about its own fears.
😍 Please share in the comments your examples and which areas of your life it has impacted <3
=> This is my top 3 in ascending order…
I am pretty comfortable asking questions and smiling at people that I don’t know, aka small talk, however the moment I have to talk about myself is another story (yes writing about myself is apparently no problemo lol).
When I have to talk about myself, I easily lose my words, thoughts and confidence. I can get awkward : thinking too much about being cool, interesting, funny, rather than just being…me. That translates into me trying too hard to fill in the blanks, to people please, to react very fast, to doubting if what I said was too much or too little, or being overly polite.
It also means my battery runs out after 2-3 hours because I have just been putting energy in judging myself while I talk and while trying to be someone else.
☀️ Everyday life
Grocery shopping alone ? yuk my nightmare. First of all, on bad mental health days (..I see you periods), It can take me from 30 minutes to hours before I decide to get out on my own but I know some people with social anxiety or agoraphobia can’t go outside at all. Once I’m outside, walking around in the shop, my posture, my movement, I make myself small and hurry up, I will often look at my phone or have my shoulders rounded.. The more I am surrounded by people, the more alert my body is (because I can’t see everyone thus I feel less in control). For instance, I will start sweating, blushing, looking for space or an exit. If I am in a big line waiting, my rational thinking is already gone, bye-bye, back at home, chilling on the couch. Then it is only me and my irrational thoughts doing a party : “If you don’t hurry up, someone will shout at you, you will be in trouble” “the cashier will laugh at your pads” “Everyone here has their life together, you’re the outsider and a loser, look at yourself, you’re ugly and afraid”. Like I said, the fear and the thoughts are really sticky and with someone not having an anxiety disorder, those are just thoughts and they will move on, probably even responding to the thoughts like “wow I need some rest”. With this disorder, the thoughts feel real, it is not easy to contradict them and the part of our brain that control the fear emotion, the amygdala, is on fire.
But if I am grocery shopping with someone I know, the whole experience changes. I feel safe, I don’t need to hide, my nervous system is on rest-digest mode. I will still feel very conscious and compare myself to others but I won’t fear being judged or ridiculed.
Phone calls ? Don’t even bother. I don’t reply to phone calls. I am the nightmare of unknown commercial numbers trying to get the hang out of me. My nervous system is on alert that something bad will get out of this call, that the person on the other side will be aggressive or judgy (yup thanking my anxious brain for making up scenarios that never or rarely happen), therefore my body gets very uncomfortable (extremely cold extremities, high heart rate, confusion, all of the funny feelings) and I just avoid the calls all together.
Walking around alone ? Luckily I am a woman so walking around I have already been gracefully commented ‘you are a slut’ or been catcalled on a very normal day. I have also been grabbed by the arm and surrounded by young adults or a classmate touching my thigh while I told him not to while in public transportation. Let’s just say I have had my fair share of public unpleasant experiences like most women and I don’t understand why public spaces are still not safe for everyone. Back to my thread, walking alone as someone experimenting social anxiety is a time spent with a lot of anxious thoughts, quite scared, and feeling embarrassed, the same experience as being in the shop. Obviously that is all happening on the inside while I try to maintain a normal face expression and breathe.
For the anecdote, this is how I started to become aware of my inner anxious dialogue and that it wasn’t really healthy to be that much preoccupied while walking around. I remember saying hi to a friend in the street but I surprised her, so it went like :
- me : “ah sorry I scared you ?”
- her : “a bit but I was in my own thoughts”.
- me : “your thoughts ?”
- her : “well yes, my to-do-list, what will I eat, the stuff I want to do,..”.
This is where it clicked in me, that I don’t have a to-do-list in mind or food preoccupation, but rather the preoccupation of “will I have a panic attack outside or not”.
Probably the one where I have been struggling the most. It has been difficult to find my place in a career as someone experimenting social anxiety. To be frank, I didn’t make it easy for myself. As soon as I was done with high school, I enrolled in a business school to become someone who sells, puts herself out there and tries to negotiate… But the tricky part started after business school.
During the interview when they asked if I would be able to make cold calls, I would put the biggest fakest smile and say that I love cold calls. After a few interviews, my voice started to shake (yup my body was like, enough with the lies). One time, the interviewer asked me if I had just finished running. The next time, I said in the interview – sorry I just got back from running errands – as a lie and excuse to why my voice was shaking.
I have tried a couple office jobs (sales assistant, service client department, administrative work, web designer). Personally, office jobs and I, haven’t been a good match. The anxiety just gets louder in closed environment with meetings and public speaking. On the bright side, I have noticed that if I feel comfortable with the people I work with, the anxious thoughts lessen and let’s not forget that teleworking happened which has helped tremendously.
These are just examples and there are plenty of other situations that trigger social anxiety. ALSO every people might experience a little of social anxiety in certain situations like interview, it is absolutely normal to be a bit anxious for an interview or an exam. Social anxiety becomes a disorder when it disrupt the things you want or need to do.
Today I am doing much much better than 10 years ago, and a year from now, I know I will do even better. Social anxiety disorder is not easy but it is definitely something that can be worked and improved 🌅 .
I will share the tips, tricks and tools that have helped me overcoming social anxiety in the next article 🗞.