What Does Social Anxiety Mean to You?

Someone asked me what social anxiety was, and it dawned on me that not everyone understands social anxiety. I asked a few people, some who have social anxiety and some who do not, what social anxiety means to them. I am going to share 10 answers, social anxiety memes, and a story of my social anxiety at work.

A: It’s not being able to breathe while talking to people.

M: It’s different for everyone I think. Some people have it worse than others. Kinda like a feeling of being out of place or uncomfortable being around or engaging with others, even people you know.

J: A few different things actually. Not just in a social setting, but maybe even being anxious about leaving the house.

M: Being in a group of people and being terrified to say something stupid, or just not being able to leave the house because being around people is too exhausting.

B: Possibly being overwhelmed by many comments/conversations, negative and positive. 

B: Socializing in general, like when going to a school function for my children because I know I will be put in situations where there will be people I have to actually talk to- and that triggers my anxiety. It’s being in a crowd or small group of people and feeling like your heart is going to pound out of your chest, sweating to death, and thinking ‘please don’t let them talk to me,’ but at the same time- you are dying for someone to talk to you… because standing there alone is more awkward and unnerving than actually socializing.

C: To me, it’s an overwhelming feeling when being around people in a more public place or an unfamiliar place. When you are forced or expected to be talkative or engage in something uncomfortable. I think the anxiety leads to embarrassment of just being there, and maybe affects self-esteem. It could even happen just at a gas station. 

S: I have always thought about it as anxiety either caused by or increasing by being in social situations. Almost like a fear someone is going to judge you or look at you in a certain way. A nervousness being around other people. There will be different triggers for different people.

S: To me, it’s the feeling of taking on sole responsibility for the outcome of every social interaction that you encounter. As though the weight of the entire experience rests firmly on your shoulders, while holding the expectations of other high above your own enjoyment- with a fear of disgrace from inconveniencing or disappointment of those around you. It’s holding your own enjoyment hostage for the price of satisfaction from the social group, no matter how small and eventual emotional burn-out that come with it, despite rationally telling yourself that you can’t control the social group’s perception of others.

D: Being alone in public scares me because I know there’s a higher chance I’ll have to talk to someone vs when someone is with me (so I can stand in the background more & try to be invisible). I’m terrified to talk to people in general. When I do get the courage to talk, I don’t talk loud enough for people to know what I am saying… and then I get talked over- which makes me feel invisible when I do not want to be invisible. Large crowds is a big no for me. If I feel too uncomfortable I’ll start shaking & have to use everything in me not to cry. I make plans to do things all the time, get excited about them, but when the time comes- I just lay in bed. I complain all the time that I have no friends, but in reality I am just too scared to have friends because I can’t socialize- even though I want to. 

Meme’s (from https://me.me/ )

My Social Anxiety at Work

When I first started experiencing social anxiety at work, it was awful. My manager was not there one day, and I had to talk to someone because I could not function that day. I ended up talking to a manager in another department, and I cried- at work. Like a big baby, in front of this manager that knew nothing but my name. Before I went into work that day, I sat in the car until the very last minute… and it felt like suuuuch a long walk to my desk. It felt like everyone was staring at me that day. I had missed a lot of work lately because I couldn’t make myself get out of bed, and I was stressing myself out because of that- causing my depression, IBS, and migraines to flare up something awful.

That day, this manager showed me compassion unlike any manager had before. She did not react negatively when I began crying or when I told her what I was going through. She suggested I speak to our time away from work group about leave options, which I did (after putting myself through another month of ‘trying’ to be okay and missing a lot of work). I never got the courage to tell that manager how much of a difference she made in my life, but if it weren’t for her compassion, I would have never made the step to take many of the changes I needed to. It is scary to open up, and I would not open up in some of my previous environments- but I am glad I opened up that day.

I have since moved onto a different workplace from the experience I shared above, and I hope that I have managers who are understanding in the future.

According to the Mayo Clinic (2017), possible causes of social anxiety can stem from inherited traits, brain structure, or an environment. These are not the only causes of social anxiety, but I believe that understanding where your social anxiety comes from can help you cope. For me, social anxiety has stemmed from an environment I was exposed to. I have always kept to myself somewhat (as an introvert), but I have never been scared to put myself in the limelight until recently. I felt mistreated in an environment a few years ago and began withdrawing. I have not figured out how to fully recover from that yet, but that has been part of my journey.

What Does Social Anxiety Mean to Me?

To me, social anxiety means a lot of the things mentioned above. It means me making plans and cancelling them at the last minute because I just don’t want to try to ‘fit in’ anywhere. It’s feeling like the Michelin Man, like every cell of my body is injected with air, and I am suffocating from the inside. It’s like having duct tape taped to my lips when there is something I really want to say, but being scared to say it because the words just don’t come out right. I will email someone at work before I have to make a physical interaction because I can express myself better with written words. Social anxiety means so many things to me that I cannot express them here, but I hope that this posts helps anyone struggling with social anxiety to learn that they are not alone. I also hope this posts helps those who do not understand social anxiety completely, to understand that it is different for everyone. Just be patient with us when we fumble with our words, or just look at you like a deer in the headlights because we have no words to say.