hello sunflower. i hope you’re doing well. if you’re reading this, that means you’d like to know more about social anxiety. and that’s great!! i’m glad you’re here. so let’s just jump right in to definitions and all that good stuff.
below is my personal (and hopefully easy to understand) definition of social anxiety.
social anxiety is feeling like everything is SO LOUD and that those pesky ‘nerves’ are turned all the way up in volume. social anxiety is constantly being worried that people are judging you just by the way you act, walk, breathe, blink, read, and speak. (pretty much everything you do). you become overly aware of what other people are thinking. when you have social anxiety, it’s easy to want to lose your individuality. you just want to be like everyone else, you just want to fit in, and most of all: you just want to be invisible. social anxiety is not knowing what to do with yourself in large crowds. it’s being willing not to eat or drink simply because you’re too scared to order or to sit down alone or to eat in front of people. social anxiety is like a filter or a box around you. everything you do and everything you see, is first masked by social anxiety. everything you experience has to go through it, involve it, and sometimes even be taken over by it.
before you start reading this long post, i want you to know that i myself struggle with social anxiety. and that is nothing to be ashamed of. which introduces me to my first topic:
1) society’s standards
when you’re growing up, society has a lot to do with your thought process. i’m not here to blame society for everything wrong like the angsty teen i am.. no, i’m just saying, people expect things of you. like when you go to school for the first time. everyone makes sure you know that you should make friends. that’s always the advice they give you as you trot out the door of your home. and oftentimes, when you’re a kid who struggles with being social, that’s.. kind of a problem. they expect that it’s easy, or at least, that it’s natural. or maybe they just don’t understand how big of a problem it is. because when you have SAD, it’s not just being quiet or introverted. it’s more.
now, it can be for some people- like my sister for instance. i remember having talks while sitting in her old car- she’d ask me questions about friends and i would always say that there’s drama (you know- the regular elementary drama regarding recess and friend groups, etc). and she’d ask me why i don’t get new friends. i would always respond that i can’t. and when she asked me why it was so hard, i said “i don’t know. it just is.” some people are like my sister, where they don’t quite understand why it’s so difficult. and some people are like me, where we know how irrational it is, yet, that doesn’t change the fact that it is difficult.
now, of course i don’t hate my sister or blame her for asking me questions. at the time, i was just frustrated with myself. how come i don’t know why it’s difficult? how come i can’t just make friends like everybody else? how come i have trouble speaking to people? how come i’m so alone? how come i’m so strange? nothing really made sense. and on top of that, society pushed this view onto you. one that makes you feel broken, just because you struggle with something nobody else seems to. it makes you feel even ten times more alone than you already are.
2) feeling disconnected
social anxiety isn’t only the feelings you get on a daily basis.. it’s also how you respond to those feelings, and how you’re forced to live your life. so many times i have compromised what i wanted to do for what i felt i needed to.
and yes, sometimes i don’t regret my decisions. but sometimes? it really sucks to feel weak inside- like you can’t do things you wish you could.
here are a few examples of what i mean:
going to that school that’s far away, getting a job, participating in clubs and sports, going to school parties and dances, getting involved with your school.. there’s so many opportunities you miss out on.
it gets worse when the people around you are aware of your differences and begin to question it. i’ve been asked if i ever talk. and that was four years ago! those kind of experiences stay with you. you start feeling like there’s definitely something wrong with you. that there’s something everyone else has, that you don’t. it makes you feel disconnected from the world, the life you could have, and people around you.
3) being weak
i think one of the worst things about social anxiety is how it impacts your self-esteem. i can’t tell you how much social anxiety has played a role in how i view myself. because it’s not just a part of you- it takes over you. the amount of times i’ve hid in the bathroom and hated myself all 40 minutes of it- those were wastes of my energy. yet, it happened. because at the time, it seemed like a better option than walking into that lunchroom alone and finding a place to sit.
it’s so easy to feel weak when you don’t feel comfortable doing simple tasks. i’m rarely able to order things at restaurants and cafes. 90% of the time my phone rings, i don’t answer it. when i absolutely have to call someone, it takes me five minutes to gather the courage to, and often i’ll write down what i need to say so i can just read off a paper. so many times i’ve missed a family member, or wanted to tell someone something. i couldn’t, and maybe that’s because we aren’t as close as we could be. but when you have social anxiety, it just makes the situation worse.
4) not being able to breathe
the situations everybody goes through are a lot worse when you struggle with social anxiety. all the speeches you have to make in school and meeting-new-people activities in groups are just a couple examples.
it’s so difficult to manage your emotions (and body) when those situations occur. focusing on breathing can help, but what about your shaking hands? on top of you physically suffering, most of social anxiety is actually emotionally and mentally suffering.
a shaking voice or pinkness in the face or unsteady hands just points out to other people how difficult it is for you. and that, of course, makes it worse.
5) defining social anxiety disorder
after reading this post, you may realize that you can relate and identify with some of these struggles. in case you’d like more information, you can click here. if you’d like to know social anxiety symptoms, you can click here. please know that social anxiety is treatable. if you’re concerned or would like to reach out for help, i encourage you to talk to your doctor or see a psychiatrist.
6) what social anxiety isn’t
a good thing to know is what social anxiety is not. social anxiety does not equal any of the following:
– being nervous to give speech/presentation
– anti-social personality disorder
– being a quiet individual
– having general fear or being insecure while meeting new people
now, you might be confused. after rereading what i’ve written in this post, i didn’t quite make clear what social anxiety actually feels like. i just described common difficulties (often everybody) has.
basically, social anxiety is like a cold or a bad flu. all the things i struggle with that i listed? they all might be very difficult for people who are shy, introverted, or insecure too. so take all those problems, all those difficult situations, and add a bad flu to it. what a pain, right? you have to constantly blow your nose or cough. you’re insecure and you’re having a bad time, and you aren’t even able to enjoy it anyways because you’re constantly thinking about your flu.
now, the difference between that analogy and real life with social anxiety, is that having social anxiety and a flu is literally the worst combination ever. having a cold or sickness is just one more thing to worry about. how can you cough without drawing attention to yourself? you can’t even breathe properly with anxiety. how will having a physical illness make that better? the answer is that it makes it worse.
if you don’t quite understand what social anxiety is, or you can’t grasp how crippling it can be, i’m not sure how else to explain it.
good luck, treat everyone with kindness, and seek help if you struggle with SAD.