Life is hard. I know it, and you know it.
But it can be even harder when it feels like you’re walking through life alone, unable to make friends, connect with co-workers, rely on family, or create and maintain a romantic relationship.
And life gets even harder when you start believing that relationships are flat out impossible to come by. That maybe you’re just not good enough, pretty enough, smart enough, or cool enough to connect with other people.
Eventually, you fall into a rut–a negative downward spiral brought on by the fact that you’re shy, introverted, quiet, or have social anxiety.
It feels like people begin to categorize you as “weird” or “different,” and worse off, that’s how you begin to feel about yourself.
And suddenly, you find that you’re stuck in a negative mental space. Feeling lost. Feeling hopeless.
Feeling socially scared.
Well, I’m here to say that I understand what it’s like to be at that low point. I know what it’s like to feel like you don’t fit in, or that your peers are passing you by while you sit on the sidelines too afraid to put yourself in the game.
But I’m here to show you that the impossible is possible. That you can change your life via a positive mindset and persistent effort. And that you can transform yourself from someone who has little to no relationships to a person who no longer second guesses him or herself.
A person who feels more comfortable in their own skin, and not only expands their social circle, but is capable of finally enjoying everything that life has to offer.
What is social anxiety?
If you’re wondering what social anxiety is (and other things that can fall under this umbrella, like social awkwardness, being quiet, feeling uncomfortable in your own skin, low self-esteem, and being introverted), let’s first start with a few basics.
First, social anxiety disorder is the third most common mental disorder in America. In fact, in ranks below only depression and alcoholism.
So what is this “disorder,” exactly? How do you describe it, or how do you know if you have it?
Social anxiety, at least in terms of an “official” description, means you have an excessive or irrational fear of social situations. In other words, for those that are forced to interact with others or are even voluntarily placed into situations in which they have to engage with a person or a crowd of people, a person who is battling social anxiety might become increasingly nervous, worried, and extremely self-conscious.
Social anxiety can be a bit different from someone who is just shy or quiet or introverted, although a person who has any of these “issues” still likely deals with the same exact problem: finding it difficult to be comfortable enough to meet and engage with people and be comfortable in one’s own skin.
To be brief, a person who is shy or quiet doesn’t have the extreme and irrational fear that someone who has social anxiety deals with. So for example, if you’re invited to an office party that’s scheduled for next week, a person who is shy or quiet may feel a bit uncomfortable or reserved in that very public setting.
But they genuinely want to meet and get to know new people. Their personality is just atypical to the “norm,” as they’re not as loud or bombastic or socially free-spirited, and that makes someone who is shy or quiet feel like they don’t fit in with their peers. It makes them feel a bit ostracized, and makes them doubt themselves and their ability to connect with others.
People with social anxiety, however, may fear going to the office party a full week before it even is scheduled to begin. They may worry about what they’ll say at the party. They’ll worry about being judged at the party. They’ll agonize over what to wear or how they’ll look for the party. And worst of all, the worry causes you to go into “comparison mode,” meaning you remember how uncomfortable your previous three office parties were, so you fill yourself with dread a week before this one, assuming this experience will be just as bad or worse.
You die a thousand deaths. You become a big bag of nerves and worry. And it gets to the point where you likely try to figure out a way to get out of the party all together, be it a sick day or even using a vacation day to make sure you’re out of the office entirely.
The fear becomes that heightened and, sadly, that irrational.
A lot of times, too, those that have anxiety feel that someone is judging them. Whether you’re worried about someone making negative assumptions about your physical appearance, or you feel that you’re not smart or witty enough to carry a conversation, or you feel you might bore or annoy someone, those suffering from anxiety in social situations tend to believe that they’ll humiliate themselves in the presence of others.
Symptoms of social anxiety and awkwardness
Those that are dealing with anxiety tend to exhibit some or all of the following symptoms:
- Sweaty palms
- Heart racing
- Difficulty holding eye contact with people
- Tongue-tied, inarticulate around others
- Avoidance of public spaces
- Stomach Aches
Where does the fear and worry come from?
So where does all the worry come from, exactly? Why are some people suffering so strongly from these issues?
Some in medicine believe that it can be biological, and that there may be a chemical imbalance in the brain the causes social phobia. Still, probably the most common and most logical reason for the constant worry and over analysis and fear is due to past negative experiences.
Oftentimes, if you have a fear of socializing with people, that’s because you have had bad experiences doing so in the past. Maybe you suffered horrible embarrassment in social situations as a child.
Maybe you were teased a lot for the way you looked or dressed. Maybe you were picked on because of where you lived, who your parents were, your race, religion, or sexual orientation.
Whatever the case may be, there is usually a degree of self-shame in those that find it extremely difficult to be social with other people. You may have low self-esteem due to your past experiences, and you then walk into every future social experience with massive dread.
In short, you expect social interaction to go so horribly wrong that you avoid meeting new people as much as possible, even though deep down, you’d love to have a bigger social circle.
Social anxiety disorder treatment
If you’ve talked to your physician and been diagnosed with social anxiety disorder, there are several treatment routes that are available to you.
For one, you can choose to see a therapist. In doing this, you might be able to confront your anxiety by way of a treatment that’s called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
With CBT, the therapist acts as a guide to turn your negative, irrational thoughts into a more helpful, rational direction. In doing so, the goal is to help the patient react differently to social situations, and condition the mind to stop always wanting to flee parties, meetings, events, and other social gatherings.
Your doctor or therapist may also prescribe medicine to help ease your anxiety and make you more comfortable with people.
If those options aren’t realistic to you (maybe because you refuse to take medicine for a prolonged amount of time or you don’t have health insurance), it’s possible to slowly chip away at your fears by reading inspirational books, bookmarking helpful articles, and joining online forums or groups filled with people who are attempting to make the same journey you are in overcoming social anxiety.
Is there a cure for anxiety, awkwardness or shyness?
Here’s the bad news: there’s no cure for social anxiety.
Now here’s the good news: there doesn’t need to be a cure, because worry, fear, and anxiety is not a disease. Although to be fair, it can sometimes manifest itself physically in extreme situations (headaches, fatigue, rashes, etc).
Often, social anxiety will not just magically go away on its own. Still, with a good attitude, positive thinking, and some hard work, you can seriously lessen your symptoms and even crush social anxiety completely by confronting your fears.
It all starts in the mind. If you think you can do it, you CAN do it.
Image courtesy of Theeradech Sanin / FreeDigitalPhotos.net