Social Anxiety and What (Not) to Do About It

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When I go out I feel uneasy. A host of invisible eyes seem to be creeping on me. Making eye contact with other people requires a conscious effort, but by now it’s become a discipline, a little act of courage. On good days I even smile.

When I go out, the more clothes I wear, the more comfortable I feel, which usually means I’m overdressed. Hence the hat. Nobody has seen me walking on the street in short sleeves since my schoolboy times.

When I was a little boy, I was afraid to go out and play with other children. I played alone. I enjoyed it. I did not feel lonely.

It was during highschool that something that could be called “social anxiety” held me in its grip. Being around so many people for so many hours every day seemed to compress the air around me. It was one of the reasons I dropped out. I don’t regret that now, because I know I can resume standard education once I’m done educating myself.

I never had a panic attack, but I’ve felt many times that I’m in the spotlight on a stage, before an audience who has come to see a comic play whose protagonist was none other than myself.

There was a time when I was too afraid to go out. I spent about a year indoors. That was not right, and it saddens me to think that there was nobody to help me out of it. But then I think I hid it well — we anxious types are so good at hiding things.

In time I learned to help myself. I listened to my body, to the world outside it craved. I opposed less and less resistance. Now I can’t conceive of not going out every day, at least for a walk.

What I’ve learned so many times and what I keep on learning each time I make myself go somewhere is that once I push myself forward and leave the force-field of my anxiety, the going gets good, and I feel not only better, but even a little courageous.

What some call “social anxiety” isn’t something I suffer from — it’s just the way I am and have always been. I’m not sure that there are any meds or therapists who can help those like me. The best cure for social anxiety is to stay away from the bustle of the world. You can live a good life without it.

We will never be the soul of the party, but then we don’t have to be. We don’t even have to clap our hands before someone else’s performance. Being there is enough, even if a shadow hides us from view, because every one of us is in himself his own performance, one that happens day by day, hour by hour, thought by thought.

If all of us anxious types will try to fill out all the good social roles, we will fail pathetically, and we will suffer. But life has enough roles even for us. We can turn social anxiety into a compass that can guide us through life. “Don’t go there, stay here,” our mind will tell us. And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that. Not doing something is sometimes the right thing to do.

***

Have you ever experienced social anxiety? What did you do about it?

 

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25 thoughts on “Social Anxiety and What (Not) to Do About It

  1. I was once afraid to go out too. I think I still am on some level, but for different reasons. It’s because I feel like I have no real purpose in life. For example, millions of people get up early everyday to go to work. I don’t know have that bc I haven’t got a job. I already feel bad for not having my own money, but nowadays I find myself overthinking about money if I do go out. I start feeling bad for using my metrocard, or if I have to spend a meager $5 for lunch. I think I also have anxiety about wanting to be focused on activities outside of home but worrying about what to plan or if I can even follow through with the plans if my social anxiety is always there.

  2. I used to have absolutely none and then I started having full-blown panic attacks when I was 15ish which flipped my world upside down. It’s a constant battle but certain wars tell me that one day it will end. I hope you can find things that can help, they’re definitely out there; nobody’s willing to show the path when everyone who has been helped doesn’t go back to help others normally.

  3. I have social anxiety but it’s mostly to do with fear of failure at my attempts at socialising, something I love to do but do not so as often as I would like. It is enlightening to read this, Vincent. I fear my brother might be suffering what you describe. Especially the part where you mention that you have become adept at hiding your anxiety. Sometimes people feel this pressure to always DO and BE and FOLLOW and BECOME. Recently I watched a man sitting by a window at an establishment, and while the world rushed past him he seemed to be clouded in a halo of serene calm, just watching something out the window. When I went to see what he was looking at, I was met with a delicate view of pointed treetops, growing hazy in the distance. And it was such a calming sight, that I forgot my task at hand. Sometimes, it is good to do nothing. You are right. One needn’t always be taken up in the flow of the world. How well you phrased this piece, it is a good reminder to worry less about what you are doing. I wish you all the best.

  4. I wrote a long comment, but it’s too personal!
    I am very out-going, but don’t always feel comfortable either. I’m happier with small groups. We are all wired differently, so it’s wonderful that you realize and accept that at an early age! I’m still discovering things about myself. 🙂

  5. When I know I’m going to be out in a crowd, I always look for the exits in case I need to make a quick get away. I also try to stick to the outside perimeter so I don’t end up being the center of attention. Thanks for the great read and encouragement!

  6. Reblogged this on Foreign Love Web and commented:
    I wrote a blog post similar to this. It is called “How You Can Overcome Shyness”. What makes it different from other blog posts/articles is that I discussed that a shy, inexperienced, or socially awkward man should go overseas for good reasons. Go read it and give me feedback if you wish.

  7. I am still shy and quiet. So, I guess that I still experience social anxiety especially at my job. It is not an easy feeling. But, I do what I have to do. If I feel it, I just do not care.

    I think that not caring that you are shy or what other people think of you can make you come out of your shell. Shyness/social anxiety/social awkwardness are just mental qualities. They really do not reflect who you are.

  8. I just realized that I am not alone in this world. I just came back from my GP to ask about my social anxiety that I have. What a coincidence!

    It might be true that I am just another anxious type of person. I think it is about where do you put your perspective and how well we are being trained. If we don’t train ourselves, then the suffer will be greater.

    I always feel that I couldn’t function well in socializing because I am not brave enough to say hi to stranger in an occasion and getting into a naturally flowing conversations. On the other hand I practically locked myself most of the time inside my studio, so how am I going to socialize? I cannot remove the fear! It become my social paradox and I am in the learning process to not denying that. It all starts with accepting, then being aware, and finally you will know how to correspond this, in a more rational way.

  9. I feel what you are feeling. I have been there. Sometimes, you have to step back rethink the situation. In my case, I served the USMC for 10 years. I was a Recon Marine. I had many engagements, battles, and “police actions” that left me so sick of people and society that I could not function in a social setting. I had inherited 49 acres of heavily wooded land. I purchased another 92 acres all around it. I found the remnants of an old 1900’s home in the heart of the property and repaired it enough to be livable. I stocked up Water, food, supplies, etc. Basic Solar power. I because a hermit for 14 month. One day, a car came down my drive and stopped at the gate 100 meters from the house. It was my VA Psychologist/ Re-adjustment Therapist. We talked for two hours and it was nice. He was the first person I had spoken with in 14 months. Agoraphobia had set in and I isolated myself away from the world as a self-protect mechanism. Don’t let that happen to you.

  10. i have too, when i wake up in the morning i always feeling insecure for having to go out minutes later. i always overthinking of what i will be ended up. will my day shine bright or just drown in sorrow? i worry. a lot. and it happens everyday. its much like i dont want to wake up and lock myself in my home instead.

  11. In answer to the question: all the time. If you try to change it, you will lose something precious, which is the ability of the writer to step back and make dispassionate judgements. So never question it, is my opinion and advice

  12. “You can live a good life without it,” is so true. Almost every kind of personality can see themselves as flawed, or perhaps not as “normal” as others who seem to have not a care in the world. Most people are striving or they have given up. Your post is filled with wisdom. Live it!

  13. I am a shy introvert as well. And I don’t really like it but I think that is because society tells us that it’s not ok to be sensitive and quiet. These days everyone has to be loud and obnoxious to get their voice heard. To be part of the rest of the world one has to be an extrovert because that is considered the “norm” these days. If you are quiet or shy it is looked at like a weakness and looked down upon, which is totally unfortunate. Just because we are ultra-sensitive people does not mean we are any less special than anyone else. In fact I think ultra-sensitive people are more special than other people we are considerate, emotional, thoughtful and kind. If you would follow me or check out my blog I would greatly appreciate it. Either way thank you for your inspirational writings. -bel

  14. Love how you mentioned layering in clothing to protect yourself -it really does feel like a shield! I found having a service dog really helped for my social anxiety. Everyone looks at the dog and not at you-you kind of become invisible! Its like magic lol, very cute magic. Nicely written price, very touching and humane. It’s nice to hear that you overcame it and can now go outside.

  15. I totally can sympathize with you. I have only slight problems with social anxiety. I can go out and such and I do ok but if a stranger comes up to me, I totally freak. I get so nervous and I don’t know what to say. I’m totally embarrassed by the end of the conversation. I also have trouble with getting up in front of people to read or talk or sing. It’s awful. This fear practically rules my life. I would love to rid myself of it. Any helpful tips you have would be so awesome. Thanks! ~Anne

    1. Thanks for your comment, Anne. I don’t think that people like us can get rid of such fears. In a way, these fears protect us and help us understand our true character. Not all of us have to talk or sing in front of others. With strangers it gets a bit easier in time.

  16. This is so beautiful. I understand what you mean about embracing who you are.

    Because I’m not very good with people, we adopted 2 wonderful dogs from a shelter. Because I can’t have a “normal” job and have to stay in the house, I can give an amazing life to these 2 beautiful girls.

  17. Social anxiety can be quite debilitating because of the physical sensations you feel (fight/flight effect) when you are in new social situations. I think social anxiety affects your self esteem as you may worry for e.g., what if I have a panic attack or make a fool of my self in front of others. Most people don’t understand this and think people with social anxiety are snobs or too shy. I think planning ahead by learning to relax and having short breaks from the place will help you to slow down your thinking and physical sensations. Mindshift is a great app you can use to learn about anxiety, shifting your thinking and using different relaxation techniques to decrease social anxiety. Your blogs are great group therapy!

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