Everyone at one time or another has been nervous or uncomfortable in social situations. Some have gotten unexplained shy when introduced to someone new, or become nervous when required to give a presentation, and others have experienced a sense of panic in a dense crowd. While all of the aforementioned moments can be very unsettling, most people get over them and move on.
However, if you have social anxiety the stress from these situations can be so overwhelming you may begin to avoid all social interactions. The fear of intimacy at the group level is devastatingly uncomfortable. In a room full of strangers you feel like you’re being judged or even talked about. It’s so bad you say you are no longer going to participate in anxiety provoking social engagements. Then that certain “must go to party” pops up on your calendar and you HAVE to attend.
So… How Do You Show Up At The Party?
1. The Wallflower: You know who you are. You’re the one that stands in the corner all alone with your “introverted personality” distancing yourself from the gathering and avoiding the limelight. You really want to be able talk to somebody, or maybe you really want someone to be able to talk to you, but you’re too afraid of rejection and scared of intimacy to make that happen. You watch everybody else carry on conversations and make new friends and wonder how the hell they get out there in front of everyone seemingly without a care in the world. You press your back against the wall, untouched drink in hand, and stare at the carpet hoping they will all just magically disappear. Afterwards you’ll be upset for not being able to engage, but silently vow to never attend a public gathering again. This will leave you sad and in fear of being socially awkward for the rest of your life.
2. The Drinker: Just the thought of talking to that hot guy at the party makes you nauseous. Instead you b-line straight for the bar and down several drinks in quick succession. You tell yourself you need the social lubricant in order to deal with that horrid small talk. But really it’s to deaden your anxious nerves and to not feel the internal panic that you do. Three drinks and a couple of shots later your anxiety is all but forgotten and you’re half naked and dancing with wild abandon. The next morning you’ll wake up in fear with no recollection of what transpired the night before, wondering what terrible things you might have done, and even more stressed out and anxious.
3. The Gossiper: You feel so bad about yourself and your inability to socialize that you negatively focus on everyone else. Instead of getting out there and mingling, you’ll find another equally unhappy person and together you’ll awkwardly commiserate about all the terribly dressed losers that the host has invited. You’ll talk smack about a person until they say, “Hi.” Then you’ll look the other way, afraid to make eye contact. The reality is you judge yourself just as much, if not more, than you judge everyone else. Your anxiety causes you to have a negative outlook towards other people and that outlook is causing you more and more anxiety. Your snarkiness is your dysfunctional social buffer, but when the party is over there you are. All alone, still talking that talk, and endlessly judging yourself.
4. The Quiet One: Social anxiety takes shy to a whole other level. Like the wallflower you want to be able talk to someone but your anxiety isn’t letting you. Eye contact is painful. Some drunk is dancing half naked and his sloppy aggressive behavior is making you even more introverted. You are so wishing you hadn’t come, but you’re here. You look at your watch. You’ll stay another 10 minutes and then leave unfashionably early. On the way home you’ll regret having ever gone. An hour later you’ll scold yourself for having screwed up another opportunity to have a decent social interaction or meet someone new.
5. The Worrier: For you one of the worst parts about your social anxiety is the fear that your anxiety is noticeable. At the party you get so nervous that your avoidance behaviors are showing your hands shake, your damn palms become sweaty, you get short of breath, and your face is flushed. You go to the bathroom and stare at yourself in the mirror convinced that everyone knows you’re anxious. You spend at least fifteen minutes analyzing your every awkward social interaction since childhood. You replay every conversation over and over again in your head scrutinizing what you said that was wrong. Someone knocks on the door and you panic. You leave the safety of the small locked bathroom with your head down, avoiding all the judgmental eye contact, and quietly exit the party.
Social anxiety is the third largest psychological problem in the United States and it is considered chronic because it doesn’t just go away on its own. However, social anxiety is a treatable condition. Psychotherapy, antidepressants, and cognitive behavioral therapy are the most widely used treatments for social anxiety. If you think you may have social anxiety, talk to your doctor, therapist, or psychiatrist. Left untreated your anxieties may end up dominating your life, interfering with relationships, work, school, and your overall general happiness. Asking for the help you need is the first step toward living a less anxious life.