When you have social anxiety, little, everyday things that wouldn’t bother a ‘normal’ person, can take on a life of their own and seem like a really big deal.
Yes, I know that they may seem inconsequential to you, if you’ve never had to live with chronic anxiety. But that’s the point.
These are 14 of the most silly, random things that can be a big deal for someone who has social anxiety
1. Having to talk when you’re in a large group
Give me a quiet, one-on-one conversation any day, but the more eyes on me, the less likely I am to say anything.
2. Having to maintain eye contact with whoever you’re talking to
Sure, it’s easier to chat one-on-one, but that doesn’t mean I’m comfortable enough to look you in the eye. While we’re talking, I’m also constantly checking myself, and having an internal battle over how much eye contact is appropriate. The last thing I want to do is make you feel uncomfortable or like I’m eyeballing you too much.
3. Ordering at a restaurant
When I’m at a restaurant, I’ll avoid ordering anything I don’t know how to pronounce, and even though I just want fish and chips, I’ll practise saying my order over and over in my head before the wait staff come over. No matter how loud I try to speak, I’m inevitably asked to repeat my order, which makes me want to melt into a puddle on the floor.
It’s almost enough to put me off going out to dinner.
4. Loud background noise when you’re trying to have a conversation
My worst nightmare when I’m out and about in public, trying to socialise, is when you’re expected to speak over music, the chatter and laughter from other tables, plates and cutlery clattering AND the thoughts in your head.
I’d rather just keep quiet, thanks.
5. Eating in front of other people
‘What does my face look like when I chew?’
‘What noises am I making?’
The amount of time I spend thinking about these things probably has a lot to do with the fact that by the time I’m finished eating, everyone around me has moved on to dessert, or has got up from the table and on with the rest of the day.
6. Calling people on the phone
Or answering the phone… anything involving a phone basically, if it involves having to speak.
If you try to call me, you better hope I have your number saved, because I never, ever, answer a call from an unknown number.
7. Someone doesn’t respond to your text
If you don’t reply to my text within a short timeframe, my thoughts will vary between ‘Why do they hate me?’ to ‘Are they dead? Something terrible must have happened!’ My mind will automatically jump to the most extremely awful conclusion, which usually involves car crashes, terrorist attacks and always, untimely death.
8. Having several people to respond to via text or social media
Even though we’re not face-to-face, each text, tweet or Facebook message constitutes an element of social interaction that I have to carefully consider my response to. I can deal with one at a time, but once the notifications start to add up, I feel completely overwhelmed, and will just give up.
9. Asking someone for help
Asking for help means you’re showing vulnerability. The worst things I fear as someone who has social anxiety is that people around me will think I’m stupid, uneducated, a snob, a bitch, ugly… Asking for help is basically an admission not only that I am some of these things, but advertising it to the world equals ultimate shame.
10. Making small talk at the grocery store check out
Thank god for self-serve checkouts! #lifesaver.
11. Being in an elevator with one other person and feeling like you should make small talk
Let’s be honest… just small talk in general! It’s always awkward trying to figure out how much to say, what to say, how to respond, where to look, when you know nothing about the person in front of you.
12. Walking past people collecting donations for charity
The eternal conundrum: I know that if I make eye contact, I’ll have to give them money because I can’t say no… but I don’t want them to think I’m a bad person… but I really don’t want to spend money on whatever it is they’re raising funds for…
(Thank goodness for the ability to make online donations).
13. Making decisions
There’s no such thing as an easy decision. For every decision I have to make, the list of pros and cons I make in my head are endless. So much so that it becomes nearly impossible to decide which way to go and I become paralysed with uncertainty and self-doubt.
14. Showing up
If I show up, I will have won in the fight against my internal demons. Other times, I’m not so lucky and my social anxiety wins. It’s not that I don’t want to do things and see people, but sometimes the fact that I can’t predict what will happen when I turn up, what people will think of me, or how my anxiety will make me feel causes me so much distress I’ll turn up somewhere, only to drive away again without having set foot outside my car.
Logically, I know the situations I’ve described are silly and shouldn’t cause such concern, but that’s kind of the point. When the anxiety kicks in, logic goes out the window.
While recognising my anxious thoughts as unwarranted and seeing the humorous side of their effect on me helps me to cope with them, in all seriousness, mental health issues can be completely debilitating for many people.
I hope that sharing some of the random things that can seem like a big deal to someone who lives with social anxiety has helped you gain insight into the everyday reality of living with this mental health condition.
For more relatable insight into what it’s like living with social anxiety, check out this blog were I reveal what it was like to grow up with this mental health condition.