Regardless of whether you’re shy, quiet, reserved, introverted, or suffering from social anxiety, here’s something you must know:
You’re not weird.
You’re not a freak.
You’re not mentally weak.
And you’re not a loser.
What others think about you doesn’t matter, even though it may often feel like there’s nothing in the world worse than another person’s disapproval.
It’s important to know that the adversity you’ve faced for months and years won’t last forever, even if it feels like it’s already lasted a lifetime.
And it’s important to know that, although your anxiety pertaining to social situations may feel like it’s robbing you of your freedom and excitement for life, it’s something you can overcome.
But before you can defeat something, you have to know what it is, right?
So here are 21 of the biggest signs and symptoms I feel best indicate whether shyness or social anxiety is truly robbing you of true happiness.
1) You can’t shake negative thoughts:
Negative thoughts are ugly soul snatchers.
They suck up all your positive energy.
They kill your dreams.
They hurt your ability to seek answers, move forward, and find joy in ANYTHING.
And what you’ll notice is that, everything seems spirals into a cycle of negativity, doesn’t it? You find yourself trapped inside a “Matrix” of negative thoughts that’s impossible to “unplug” from.
What you probably have noticed with this particular symptom, too, is that one negative experience will trigger all of your prior negative experiences to come rushing to the forefront of your mind.
And it leaves you mentally paralyzed and physically drained.
So if you just embarrassed yourself in front of a large group of your peers, you’re reminded of all the times you ever suffered public embarrassment.
And you’re plugged back into the negative “Matrix.”
If you stumble over your words in giving a presentation or while talking to a co-worker, you’re reminded of all the times you were ashamed for not sounding articulate.
And you’re plugged right back into that negative “Matrix.”
A very famous quote by Henry Ford goes something like this: “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t–you’re right.”
What does that mean? That negative thoughts become a self-fulfilling prophecy after a while.
If you think you can do something, chances are you can do it. But if you think you can’t, you’ve already lost the race before the starting gun has fired.
2) You get sweaty palms:
If you you’re shy or anxious, there’s a good chance that the thought of socializing with other people causes you to get sweaty palms.
Maybe the mention of going to a party causes your body to perspire. Maybe it’s the idea of being a bridesmaid at your best friend’s wedding that gets your hands clammy. Or the fact that you’re expected to give a short speech in school or an oral presentation at your job.
Whatever the case may be, sweaty palms can be a direct symptom of your fear of speaking to other people.
3) You get dry mouth:
Have you ever been called on in class by your teacher, or asked a question in a large work meeting by your boss, and felt like you just couldn’t get enough water?
If so, that’s because the anxiety you feel in social situations may have robbed your mouth of saliva.
Of course, symptoms differ from person to person, but if you find that social situations (or the mere idea of even BEING in social situations) cause your mouth to suddenly go dry–as if you’ve been stranded in the desert for 24 hours–you just might be someone who’s afraid of socializing, despite the fact that deep down you’d love to be around other people.
4) You can’t hold eye contact:
This is a big one because, at the end of the day, it’s kind of hard to go through life not looking people in the eye, right?
Those that are shy, quiet, or have social anxiety may have a tough time holding eye contact with others, as doing so can feel uncomfortable, awkward and even downright scary.
You might feel like you’re not good enough. Or handsome enough. Or have the sexiest figure.
You might feel “ugly” or feel like nobody cares what you have to say. Or maybe, you feel like you just can’t relate to anyone.
Maybe you feel like an outcast, or maybe you’re not confident in your small talk skills.
If you feel worried or anxious when talking to people, chances are that holding eye contact with someone may make you feel vulnerable and insecure.
5) Your heart begins to race:
Have you ever been called on in class, and the minute you hear your name come out of your professor’s mouth, your heart skips a beat? Have you ever seen a pretty girl in the hallway, or been approached by an attractive man at the mall, and felt your heart race even faster?
Whether it’s a simple heart flutter (similar to the feeling of “butterflies in the stomach” for those with performance anxiety), to your heart feeling like it’s increasing in speed whenever you’re involved in a social situation, this is a definite symptom that you may have social phobia.
6) You get tongue-tied:
You enter an elevator and you’re alone.
Suddenly, at the last moment, your co-worker enters. And it’s just you and that person for the next 15 seconds.
And it’s the LONGEST 15 seconds of your LIFE.
Your co-worker turns to you and asks something pretty innocuous, like, “What do you have planned for the weekend?”
And that’s when you begin to trip over your words, and you feel the person next to you is starting to perceive you as a bumbling fool.
As a freak show.
As someone who just learned the English language yesterday or someone so strange they wish they had never asked the question to begin with.
Feeling inarticulate or tongue-tied is a manifestation of your social anxiety. You’re concerned about what others think.
Concerned about coming off perfect.
In fact, you’re so concerned that you will be judged or belittled, it causes a bit of a disconnect between your brain and your mouth.
You’re so worried about getting it all right to prevent embarrassment and failure that you end up getting it all wrong.
7) You suffer a panic attack:
Have you been forced into a social situation that felt so scary, you thought you might die?
Your heart was racing. You felt nauseous. Your palms got sweaty and you began to tremble. You became numb in certain areas of your body or you felt you might faint.
Panic attacks can be serious and quite alarming for those that have anxiety. Everyone’s panic attack can feel a little different. One person may become dizzy while another hyperventilates.
Some do both.
If you suffer from panic attacks when you’re engaged in social situations, you often get them because your primal reaction is to flee the event. Or the party. Or the classroom.
Your mind is telling you to run away, and when you can’t, your body reacts negatively.
Sometimes, panic attacks may happen even before the social event occurs, too, simply because you’ve worried about it so much.
8) You say “no thanks” a lot:
Here’s a popular phrase I bet you’ve repeated quite often: “No thanks.”
It’s become automatic, hasn’t it? It’s not even necessarily a voluntary response—it almost feels involuntary, similar to blinking your eyes or breathing air.
“Hey, do you want to join me for lunch?”
“Are you interested in coming to my birthday party?”
“Aren’t you excited about applying for that new job opening at work?”
Ask yourself this question—do I turn down a lot of opportunities that come my way?
And if opportunities aren’t coming your way, and one day they suddenly did, would you take advantage of them? Or is your mind telling you that there’s something to fear—something about that social situation that just makes you want to give an impotent reply of “no thanks?”
9) You feel no one is trustworthy:
Do you find that it’s hard to trust people? Or rely on them?
Do you feel that, part of what holds you back is the fact that you don’t want to share personal things about yourself? That you’re worried that people will gossip about it, or maybe that they’ll use it against you in an argument?
Maybe, you feel people are spiteful, and that once they get to know you, they’ll use your information or your personal weaknesses to do you harm—be it verbal harm, harm via public embarrassment, or harm via a damaged reputation.
Because we isolate from others so much, oftentimes, we build up a wild, monstrous image of them. Sometimes, it may be warranted—maybe that jerk at school really is a bully, or maybe Janice in accounting really is an office snitch.
Other times, though, your fear of being judged manifests itself around the idea that no one can be trusted. But instead of assuming those are just the vocal minority, you see them as the majority.
10) You make excuses:
Are there things you’d like to try, but are convinced will be a waste of time?
Sure, hanging out after school with a few of my peers could be fun—but then again, Jenny seems like a jerk and I heard weird things about Kevin.
Sure, joining that club could bring new opportunities into my life—then again, it takes an hour to get there on the train, so it probably won’t be worth it.
Sure, asking my co-worker to lunch could present the possibility of making a new friend—but then again, I don’t think I’ll relate to him that much and it’ll be awkward.
When we have anxiety—when we fear the outside world—we tend to invent reasons why situations will turn out negatively. But these reasons are inventions of the mind, not reality.
Because unless you’re Doc Brown and have a DeLorean, you have no way of knowing how future opportunities will unfold unless you actually pursue them.
11) You become a boldface liar:
One byproduct of being socially scared is that you’re sometimes forced to become a liar. And a pretty good one, at that.
You convince other people that you’re totally fine hanging out by yourself on a Friday night, even when you’d love nothing more than some companionship.
Or you say that you don’t want to meet your co-workers for beers after work because you don’t drink…even though you chug Sam Adams every weekend.
Or you claim that you can’t meet your peers after class because you have to go take “karate lessons”…even though you couldn’t describe the meaningful difference between a white and black belt to save your life.
Your fear of interacting with people can ultimately unleash your inner Walter White. You become so used to lying as a way to cover up your nervousness and anxiety, it’s now second nature.
But when you think about it, after all the excuses—aren’t you really just lying to yourself?
12) You become disinterested:
You might say to yourself something like the following: “Who cares if I have social anxiety. I’m not very interested in doing anything social, anyway.”
Or, maybe you’ve said something to yourself like, “Well, I’m not a big people person anyways. So shyness is not really affecting me.”
But the truth is that we are all social animals. That’s how we’re hardwired.
You can’t walk through life alone. And even if you could, what fun would that be?
What’s more than likely happening, instead, is that your worried nature is zapping all the joy out of your life. And you’ve become disinterested.
And now, you begin to make excuses for your continued disinterest.
If you’re wondering whether or not you really have social anxiety or even a severe problem with shyness or being introverted, ask yourself the following question out loud:
Do I really have no interest in going to [fill in the blank social event], or has my interest and excitement been stolen by my fears?
13) You fall into misery and self-loathing:
You might find yourself feeling like you brought on your own problems.
That people don’t like you because of who you are.
That you’re not good at social situations because you’re not born with the “charming” gene, or endowed with the “gift of gab.”
So you internalize everything, and you blame yourself. Everything becomes your fault, and you’re destined to a life of solitude.
You begin to spiral downward mentally. And that causes you to fall into the ugly trap of misery and self-loathing.
14) You become depressed:
A lack of quality relationships in life can lead to depression.
Remember, as mentioned earlier, human beings are social animals. We crave attention. We want to belong. We need to be loved and feel like other people love us back.
And when you don’t get that—when you don’t feel that—it’s easy to become jaded and depressed. That negativity then takes you to the dark recesses of the mind, where no amount of light, hope, or even faith seems to be able to reach you.
But while general depression can sometimes be temporary—your car got stolen, you lost your job, you didn’t get into the school of your choosing—social anxiety is a long-term mental health issue. And because you struggle with the idea of feeling comfortable around people, you might have an on-going battle with depression, as well.
Again, this becomes a toxic mix in which you feel, mentally and spiritually, like you’re caught between a rock and a hard place.
15) You feel hopeless:
Misery. Despair. Depression.
They sadly all go together, don’t they?
When relationships are non-existent in life, it’s easy to feel that all hope is lost.
As if hope flew out the window and violently slammed that window shut on its way out.
A big problem for some suffering from shyness or social anxiety is that they not only have a tendency to blame themselves, but they self-exile themselves from others (even if they’re physically around other people at a social function, they can be mentally withdrawn from the conversation).
And over time, what happens is your mind starts to convince you that your lack of social engagement with others is what you deserve.
It’s your rightful punishment, for lack of a better word.
Being socially scared is like being locked inside a prison, isn’t it? The anxiety is a mental barrier that you can’t get past.
You sort of feel caged in, right?
Well, if you’ve met any prisoners or ever heard them speak in an interview, those serving life sentences feel hopeless. Some (not all, but certainly some) feel there’s nothing left to live for. This is their fate. And it’s sealed.
This is their rightful punishment.
You’ve battled worry and anxiety for so long that you’ve become numb. You’ve succumbed to the mental beatings from your own mind and the verbal judgments by others.
You’re worn down. You’ve thrown in the towel. You have given up.
All hope is lost.
And you begin to believe that “this is my rightful punishment.”
16) You adopt “eventually” as your new motto:
Here’s the thing—you’ve known for a long time that you were “different.” I don’t use “different” to suggest something is wrong with you. I use the word “different” because that’s how some people might perceive you, rightfully or wrongfully.
Some people may call you different.
Some say you’re too shy.
And you’ve probably been called “quiet” so many times in your life, you wish you could trademark the word and turn a profit on it.
And so in your moments of solitude, you realize that you’re not connecting with people. Maybe you once did, and now you’re not. Maybe you never did at all.
But something feels a bit off. Something feels, well, “different.”
But if you don’t know what you’re dealing with, you might be inclined to think it’s something you’ll just grow out of.
That you’ll get past it.
That it will get better in time.
And that becomes your motto—eventually.
“I’m not really clicking with people in school,” you think to yourself. “But it’ll get better.”
“I’m afraid to go outside to the grocery store, or to be in public in a movie theater. But it’ll get better.”
“I don’t want to engage with people at work right now, but one day, I’ll feel more comfortable.”
The problem with “eventually” is that it suggests an automated change in YOU. It implies that, similar to going through puberty or maturing as an adult, that one day you’ll just miraculously wake up and naturally find yourself in the PERFECT situation.
A situation where no one will be judgmental. Where the world won’t be quite as intimidating. Where you’ll find yourself brimming with confidence and sporting thicker skin.
That it will slowly just get better on it’s own.
17) You fear you’ll bore or annoy people:
Nobody wants to be the guy or girl who annoys everybody. And on the other hand, no one wants to be that person who bores everyone to tears, either.
When you have problems connecting with other people, sometimes it’s not just a fear of people or a fear of embarrassment. Sometimes, it’s a fear that you, as a person, won’t be seen as “adequate enough.”
You begin to feel that you don’t do enough things in your spare time to carry a conversation. Or that you don’t live an exciting enough life that warrants discussion.
Jamal is talking about backpacking through Europe again? Ugh, I can’t relate to that—I stayed in my pajamas all weekend and watched reruns of “The Cosby Show.”
Vanessa is bragging about how she got engaged to her fiancé at the top of the Eiffel Tower? Well geez, I just played “Guitar Hero” on Xbox all weekend and only left the house to get the mail.
Because you think you’re boring, you feel your uninspired conversations will annoy people. No one can possibly care what I have to say, you might think, so why try?
In situations like these, you likely tend to think that you’re not very interesting or unique, and because of that, you feel you’ll come across more as a nuisance than anything else.
The truth is, however, that we as people respond to passionate individuals. It doesn’t really matter what that passion is—if YOU really care about it, chances are someone else will care too because they’re experiencing your passion and excitement for The Cosby Show or Guitar Hero through your words and body language.
18) You always react, but never act:
How often do you initiate something with someone? Be it a friend. A co-worker. A family member. A neighbor. Or a complete stranger.
Are you the one who says “hi” first, or do they always have to do it?
Do you ever initiate small talk, or are they always the one who has to ask you “how’s the weather?” or “did you catch the game on Sunday?”
In short, are you ever the one to act first in social situations, or do you merely react?
Nobody ever wants to be the person who feels they always have to initiate. But at the same time, if people perceive you to be someone who only reacts, and never acts, then it’s likely that you’re perceived as extremely quiet, reserved or maybe even a bit mean or rude.
When really, it’s your fears and negative past experiences that’s holding you back.
19) You’re on the Internet…a lot:
Do you find that you surf the web for hours—even if you have nothing specific you’re actually looking for? Do you find that you’ll get easily distracted with cat videos on YouTube, or learning about the latest celebrity wedding on E! News?
Or, do you just hit the refresh button on your email inbox every ten minutes?
When you’re socially scared to engage with others in real life, or at least be willing to step outside your comfort zone, you tend to become complacent. It’s far easier to fall into a rut and enjoy life through the lens of the Internet.
Because online, you can be whoever you want to be. And if you’ve seen “Catfish,” you know exactly what I’m talking about.
The Internet brings the world to your fingertips, so it makes you feel engaged even if you’re experiencing that world passively.
Don’t feel bad if you feel that you’re enjoying online forums a lot, or if you’re playing your favorite PC game for hours. But this symptom can become a serious problem if you’re using the Internet as buffer between you and the real world.
20) You hate that people have an pre-set “image” of you:
Have you gone to the same high school or college for 2 or 3 years, and everyone sort of “knows” you—even if they don’t really know you?
Are you at a internship or job in which you feel that people have a pretty strong perception of who you are—regardless of whether or not it’s accurate?
In a weird way, the more familiar people are with you—in terms of seeing or working with you everyday—the harder it can be to break free from your fear of socializing.
There’s a popular expression that “familiarity breeds contempt.” But when it comes to anxiety, familiarity can sometimes breed even more isolation.
Why? Because people have expectations of you that a normal stranger wouldn’t.
So while you may want to be social, you might be afraid of approaching people you go to school with because they see you as the “quiet guy” or the “shy girl.”
In short, you’re worried about the ramifications of “breaking type.”
If you never leave your cubicle at work, or never accept invitations to go to events, you’re afraid that your attempt to suddenly be more social won’t be received well.
You’re worried that you’ll be seen as a weirdo.
And then, what if it goes wrong? What if you become tongue-tied, suffer a brain fart, or have an embarrassing moment?
You have to see these people the next day.
The next week.
The next month.
The next year.
So instead of being motivated to change your social situation, you continue to play your role.
The role of the “quiet guy” or “shy girl” that rarely talks to anyone. Even if you really want to.
21) You’re always in your own head:
Is your mind constantly moving?
Are thoughts racing in and out of your brain?
Do you find yourself sort of in a daze?
Do you daydream when you’re supposed to be paying attention, or find yourself looking off to the distance—even when someone may be talking to you?
If you’re shy, quiet, or suffer from social phobia, you might feel like you have no one to talk to.
So you talk to yourself.
Maybe once in a while, it’ll even be out loud. But it’s often much more of an internal dialogue, a pervasive mix of being overly analytical, nervous, and cautious.
You think about what you said last week at the water cooler that came off wrong.
You wonder what someone’s wry smile or strange head nod really meant at school.
You contemplate ways to avoid an upcoming social event, or just ruminate about how your life would be impacted if you were a different age, lived in another state, chose a different college to attend, or decided on a different career.
You contemplate. You analyze. You worry.
Over. And over. And over again.
The problem is that you’re never living in the present moment. You’re either always dwelling on the past or afraid of the future.
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- How to Overcome Social Anxiety? Enjoy Your Failures
- Is a Social Anxiety Test Necessary for a Diagnosis?
- Social Anxiety Treatment: Can It Be Cured?