I have social anxiety.
It’s been an “issue” pretty much my entire life but I remember a specific trigger in my early adolescence where I had a two-day long episode of losing my voice over anxiety of an event. Odds are though, if you know me, unless we’ve had this conversation, you’re probably surprised to discover my affliction. I hold a normal job, I have friends (few, but I have them), I’m not a total hermit, I occasionally make it out to public events, but what most people don’t realize is what a struggle those things are. If you know me, you have probably also experienced me canceling plans for unknown reasons or made up excuses at the last minute (sorry!). But, unfortunately it’s a pretty common thing, no matter how much I’m looking forward to the event, sometimes the anxiousness overcomes the excitement of plans.
One of the most common questions I get is about work. For the better part of the last decade I’ve been a server/bartender -a job which obviously requires A LOT of social interaction. My whole job is to walk up to a table, talk to them and make them happy enough to give me money after paying the establishment. But, that’s my JOB. I don’t know how I’m able to put the mask on and do it, but it works for me. Now, get me after work hours and tell me to do the same thing- walk up to a table of strangers and talk to them- and the mere thought of it is debilitating.
One of my biggest hopes with traveling is that it will get me to open up more and better deal with the social anxiety and be able to talk to people. They say if you travel alone you’ll be forced to meet people, but I’m afraid I’ll just be alone (which is not a terrible thing). Which brings me to the next portion of the post…
I’m also an introvert. I want to point out that social anxiety and introversion are two entirely different characteristics– I just happen to have both. As an introvert, I prefer quiet, mellow settings versus loud, crowded ones. As Psychology Today states, “Introverts are drained by social encounters and energized by solitary.” I need “me” days when I’ve had a busy few weeks. Those days of keeping to myself and avoiding large crowds and social settings helps me recharge and recenter myself.
So, between the anxiety, the shyness and the introversion it is a wonder I’m not a total hermit. My mom jokes that the whole cause of this is because she taught me “Stranger Danger” too well. It very well may be the cause and my whole life would be entirely different if she’d only just not been so worried about me being abducted by some guy with a windowless van. Ahh, mom!
Back on point… social anxiety, traveling, talking to total strangers, yes… we’re on point now.
People with social anxiety (roughly 7-8% of the population) normally acknowledge that their fears are irrational and unjustified. I understand that if I walk up to someone and say, “hello,” 99.9999% of the time their response is not going to be, “Bugger off!” Nonetheless, I worry it will be and that slight .0001% chance they could respond that way keeps me from saying hello at all. I can’t count how many people have said to me, “What’s the worst that could happen, they say they don’t want to talk to you?” Well, in fact, in my mind that is the worst that could happen and it’s terrifying to think about.
As I said, one of my biggest hopes is that travelling will force me to open up and be more social. I struggle, because as much as I pine to be a social butterfly and have heaps of friends and love going out, it all seems so foreign, so wrong.
That’s where the happy medium comes in. My biggest challenge on this adventure is going to be accepting that I will never be that social butterfly that goes out and lets totally lose and hasn’t a care in the world, but I also don’t have to be a solo traveler sitting alone in my room every night. Being shy, I take a while to warm up to people/groups but once I do it’s like a totally different person.
Social anxiety causes a stir of negative emotions that cycle and cycle and seem to never get better… I’m going to attempt to put a wrench the the peg of the negative cycle wheel.
I do want to recommend a great book that has helped me be “ok” and accept that being an introvert doesn’t always have to be a social death sentence and that it’s alright if sometimes I’d rather stay in and watch a movie than go out with a group.
Susan spoke at TED Talks last year and I was so lucky to come across the video last fall:
So now I ask for your help. Are you an introvert or do you have social anxiety? What are some of your coping tips or ways that you deal with social settings and talking to strangers? Comment below, e-mail me, tweet me, facebook… let me know your secrets or advice. 🙂
There’s so much more I could write on this topic or other experiences I could share, but I felt I’ve rambled enough… maybe in another post.