Let’s talk about social anxiety. Let’s talk about the very real and intimidating feelings of panic that social anxiety can produce.
We can do that.
But before we do, let’s talk about the very normal, very common feelings of nervousness that meeting new people can produce.
Because I want to make sure that we differentiate these two things.
We’ve really done a good job of mixing them up together, but they are different, and I think that needs to be acknowledged here before we move on.
Meeting new people is scary. It means that you’re putting yourself out there in a social situation that is uncomfortable, and opening yourself (and possibly your kids, or your family) to the also-very-scary feeling of rejection.
For introverts (and I speak as one, so this is close to my heart as well), not only is meeting new people nerve-wracking, but also can be very draining of your social energy. Putting yourself out there, and then additionally being “on” for any amount of time can feel unnatural for introverts, in a way that makes us question why on earth we did this to ourselves in the first place.
This is especially true of group meetups or gatherings, where many introverts end up being wallflowers just because piercing the group (especially if the group has a lot of extroverts in it) is entirely too overwhelming.
However, social anxiety is quite different.
Social anxiety is a learned anxiousness. You may be predisposed to anxiety genetically, but much about anxiety is learned behavior over time. Social anxiety is (generally speaking) our way of agreeing with the idea that we don’t measure up. That we will be rejected – that we aren’t good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, or interesting enough to be a part of the group.
And every time we avoid the group and don’t give ourselves the chance to prove those thoughts wrong, we reinforce the idea that it wouldn’t have been a good situation for us anyway.
Over time, when left unchecked, that anxiety can build into more severe symptoms.
The reality of social anxiety can be as critical as having panic attacks in public gatherings – in the middle of a festival, or the grocery store – because of an inability to control these thoughts.
The reality of social anxiety can be isolating yourself in your home for fear of even going outside and being forced to smile at a stranger.
In extroverts, this could look a little bit different.
Extroverts may enter social situations and have their anxiety kick up afterwards, and review and regret social choices that they made. They may have a constant desire to go places and enter social situations, but believe that others involved don’t like them or want them there.
The underlying issue beyond social anxiety is the loss of social connection and the loneliness that can ensue from there. But social anxiety, just like other forms of anxiety – can be treated through therapy.
I know what you’re thinking – if I’m already anxious, why would I want to expose someone to that? I don’t need any more judgement or rejection – we just said that’s what I’m already afraid of.
But the truth is that anxiety – even social anxiety – are really common issues. And the earlier you begin work to change some of these thought patterns within your brain, the less work it will be.
Therapists treat anxiety every day, and no matter what you tell yourself about yours, it isn’t any more severe or less important than anyone else’s.
The question then becomes – is it easier for me to get the tools to fight this anxiety, or is it easier to live my life isolated from people that could add value and joy to my experience here?
So if you’re looking for some new friends, but aren’t ready for a group gathering, maybe a 1:1 relationship with a therapist is your next step, to work through the fears that keep you isolated to begin with.
Need more support than what a blog post will give you? Want to learn more about how you can get rid of those lonely feelings and dig deeper in your relationships? Contact me here to learn more about my services.
Brooke Williams, MA, LPC, is a licensed professional counselor serving South Carolina. She provides relationship and identity counseling online for busy moms and professionals. You can read more about her here.