Social anxiety is a term that is becoming more and more common these days, but what exactly does that mean? Social anxiety is the marked fear of social environments and situations. So if you become self-conscious in front of others or if you avoid public places because there are too many people, you may have social anxiety.
I want to go ahead and state that I am not a doctor, but I do have plenty of experience with this disorder. I’m writing this post to help educate those who may not know about it. I’m sharing a little of my journey in hopes that it reaches another who may just be starting theirs.
I’ve always had a harder time than others when it came to making friends. Throughout grade school I moved around quite often, so I got used to being on my own. I’d find maybe one friend and that’d be it. I thought it would get easier as I got older. It didn’t. Actually, it got harder! I always wanted to be that girl who had loads of friends, but once I was in high school, I thought about everything too much for that to happen. I would plan out something funny to say to strike up a conversation, but then I’d immediately think, “what if it’s not funny” and the conversation would be dead before it even began.
Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t eating lunch in the bathroom, but I wasn’t quite homecoming queen material. People liked me, they just weren’t my friends. So you can imagine that I was elated when I made the dance team! I magically had 50 new friends that I’d always have something to talk about with! Thank heavens for that.
But it was more than just my hard time making friends that lead me to believe something was wrong. Being on the dance team meant having a lot of eyes on you, and I liked it. I enjoyed putting on a show and having people clap and cheer for our performances. I could handle that, but walking in to class late struck a fear in my heart so deep that if I was more than a minute late, I just wouldn’t go. I don’t recommend skipping class to anyone in school, but the thought of opening the door, walking all the way to my desk with all eyes on me, people wondering why I’m late, it paralyzed me. I knew that wasn’t normal because students were late to class all the time and didn’t care. I just couldn’t understand why I was like this.
Whatever this was, it was now screwing with my grades and that was a no!
I started doing some research and discovered that it was similar to symptoms of anxiety. I eventually discussed it with my doctor and that was when he introduced me to the term social anxiety. I was relieved that I finally knew what to call it, but also plagued with questions. Is this forever? How do I deal with this? Do I need medicines? Does this make me weird?
That was 6 years ago now. In the beginning, I relied heavily on my prescriptions from the doctor to socialize with others, but I weened myself off of them. I started reminding myself, whenever I needed to, that people were most likely not paying attention to me. I worked as a waitress to help me get over my fear of talking to others. I started driving with my windows down more often to get used to being seen by people who I don’t necessarily see myself. Because yes, I was afraid of people seeing me in my car, too.
I still fight daily battles. I still get nervous going out to places with large amounts of people. I still am terrible at starting conversations. I still don’t like entering quiet rooms. I still don’t like standing in line at the grocery store. The difference now is that I don’t let my fears stop me. I refuse to allow my social anxiety to dictate my life. I am a strong woman and having a mental disorder does not make me weak. Taking small steps such as just going to the grocery store when I’m really not feeling it or going to have lunch with my boyfriend at Panera can really help to quiet that anxiety. I’m taking time to show myself that there is little to fear.
You have to take control, and once you do that, no fear will stand a chance against you. If you think you’re suffering from social anxiety talk to your doctor and discuss the right options for you with the people you love.
If any of my story has resonated with you feel free to reach out to me! I’d love to hear some of the things you may struggle with or the specs of your social anxiety. We need to be here for each other because it isn’t always easy.
I just want to quickly mention that today is World Mental Health Day. Whether you are reading this as soon as I post it or months later, your mental health is important everyday. Even in times that you feel alone, know that you are not. Check in with yourself often. Remember to nurture your own soul before you give your all to others. Be kind, to others, but most importantly to you.