What Social Anxiety Feels Like

Those of us who have or have had social anxiety know that your day is filled with an extreme fear of being judged, rejected, or negatively evaluated. We fear and avoid anything that will trigger our social anxiety – it drains the life out of you. We find it easier to simply avoid social interactions rather than having to deal with all the emotions that may arise leading up to, during, and after a social event.

The Lead Up to an Event

For me, the lead up to a big social interaction was the worst. Day to day social activities made me anxious, but really big events crushed me. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. What if I said something stupid or uninteresting or had nothing to say at all? I was afraid of other’s disapproval, not fitting in, anxious to join in conversations, and extremely scared that someone would notice my social anxiety. That last one was the worst! All this anticipatory anxiety just sucked! The days and weeks leading up to a social event beat me down.

The Event

During the big social interaction was no picnic either. I would feel sick, my heart would beat through my chest, I would blush, shake, and sometimes sweat. It was horrible! I would feel like I was going to pass out. The words wouldn’t come out properly and it felt like the whole room was spinning. I would just try my best to get through it.

After Effects

After the event I would over analyze and over think everything. Did I say something dumb? Did they notice I was anxious? I couldn’t stop replaying this dreadful track. It took over my whole life. Replaying it with the negative thoughts only reinforced my anxiety more and more.¬†This is what’s known as the anxiety trick. The reinforcement would ensure I never broke free from it. This is what it is like living with social anxiety disorder. Not many people understand it, but those of us who have it or who had it know what I’m talking about. It takes over your life.

Most Don’t Seek Help

The sad part about SAD is that most people who have it never really seek out help for it because that would require social interaction! It’s so damn ironic, isn’t it? I want to fix this fear of social situations but that would require me to confront the anxiety head on and go to the doctor. Luckily in today’s world we have the internet, so we can research this and get the help we need without having to see anyone face to face… Woohoo! Even with that in mind, out of the 15 million American adults with social anxiety, only about 5% seek help within the first year of onset and more than 1/3 wait 10 years or more before seeking any kind of help.

Another unfortunate thing about SAD is that we try so hard to hide this social anxiety disorder from everyone we know, but that is the thing that is hurting us. We are hiding this secret which in turn creates more social anxiety because we are not being true to ourselves – we are hiding. If you open up to a family member, loved one, or true friend, they will not think less of you or think of you differently for having this disorder, they will see your courage and respect you for it.

Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is the 3rd largest psychological problem in the US today. It’s not just a US problem, it’s a worldwide problem. Millions of people suffer because they believe there is no way out… they believe there is no hope for them to get better (or they don’t know where to start because they are overwhelmed). Many people with social anxiety believe that they are alone and no else knows what it’s like. You are not alone and I believe that social anxiety is only going to increase in the coming years due to social media.

To add fuel to the fire, many health professionals don’t really understand social anxiety. Many people are just labeled as shy or they are completely misdiagnosed as manic depressive, panic disordered, schizophrenic, and many others.

I didn’t know I had social anxiety until I read about the symptoms online. Knowing that what I was feeling was a type of disorder was a huge relief because now I could identify it and begin to find treatment for it. Many people are in the same boat I was because there isn’t a lot of education, awareness, knowledge on social anxiety.

Social Anxiety is Experienced in Different Ways

Some people don’t like walking down the street as someone else approaches because they don’t want to say hello. They try to avoid eye contact as they approach so that they won’t have to interact.

Other people hate being in line at the grocery store. They believe that people are watching and judging them as they shop and they even dread checking out because they will have to talk to the cashier. Thank goodness for those self-check outs, huh?

Some people with social anxiety don’t want to pick up the phone to make a call. They will sit and look at the phone, feeling frozen and tortured. They don’t want to make difficult phone calls and some can’t even call people they don’t know. It could be because they don’t want to inconvenience them, or they don’t want to be rejected, or a host of other things.

Some individuals fear work meetings most of all. For me, this was my biggest problem. If a meeting was coming up in the next few days or weeks, I would think about it endlessly. The anticipatory anxiety that is felt the days and sometimes weeks (or even months) is extreme. Even after the meeting, I would ruminate on what I did or said. I simply couldn’t let it go.

Some of us fear introductions (in class or a new job) because it’s a first impression and we don’t want to come across as anxious or scared. We want to hide the very thing we fear and that is very difficult to do (it doesn’t work most of the time!). We fear it so much that it can’t help but surface… that’s why anxiety is so tricky. We tend to do the opposite thing that is needed to correct the social anxiety. Also, when you have anxiety, you won’t be able to think clearly, at all!¬† This because you’re not thinking about the topic of discussion, you’re thinking about anxiety.

Some of us do not like meeting with authority figures. I have been in this position so many times. The amount of anxiety I would feel around authority figures was unreal. A lot of people have social anxiety issues around their boss because they put a higher value on them than themselves. When we see someone as a higher value, we are putting them on a pedestal and we will never be ourselves in this situation. We will never show our full potential if we let the anxiety control us. There is so much pressure to perform, especially around the boss, that we just break.

Social anxiety can be experienced in a myriad of way. There are many other examples, such as job interviews, parties, etc.

Social Anxiety Holds You Back

Some of us are extremely lonely due to this condition, but we still have that deep need for human connection. We want to make connections, but at the same time, we are terrified to meet new people. You can’t win, you think to yourself. Will I just be alone and spend all my time in my house (the only place I feel comfortable)? We want to break out of our comfort zone, but it’s too overwhelming that we end up avoiding social situations.

It’s clear that social anxiety is holding many of us back from living our lives as they were meant to be lived. Social anxiety is just a bug that needs to be fixed. It’s something that just needs to be overcome. It’s totally treatable, as long as you put in the effort. If you do take a stand to do something about this debilitating condition, you will feel liberated. I speak from experience!

Feeling overwhelmed around other people, feeling like you’re being judged and watched all the time, evaluated and criticized, and feeling rejected and unaccepted is a very difficult spot to be in. Being a person with social anxiety isn’t easy. People who don’t understand social anxiety may say something like, “just relax” or “take it easy”, but it’s just not that simple. We are so focused on the anxiety that we simply can’t let go. We have spiraled out of control and we need to do a lot more work to dig ourselves out of this hole.

How to Overcome Social Anxiety – CBT

Most people with social anxiety know that their assumptions about people looking at them, laughing behind their back, etc. are ridiculous, but they can’t seem to get rid of the feeling. They know their thoughts are irrational, but they just can’t seem to change their tune. Again, social anxiety is treatable – it doesn’t have to be a life long struggle.

You need to change your mind-set. You need to rewire your brain – challenge and change these automatic feelings and thoughts that you are experiencing in the social situations that set you off.

The best treatment to date is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). I believe it is good to think about why you are anxious (self-observance), but to ruminate and complain about it constantly isn’t helpful. CBT is very successful as long as you actually do the anti-anxiety exercises/strategies at home.

1 thought on “What Social Anxiety Feels Like”

  1. Pingback: Shyness vs Social Anxiety – Wisdom For Life

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *