7 Things People With Social Anxiety Want You To Know
Mingling in large groups may be awkward for some, but for people with social anxiety, it’s terrifying. Some might have to leave the situation immediately, while others may simply stand there, unable to say anything.
It’s not known exactly how many people in the UK live with social anxiety – also known as social phobia – however it’s one of the most common anxiety disorders, according to NICE.
Social anxiety is characterised as an intense fear that doesn’t go away and can affect everyday activities, self-confidence, relationships and work or school life. Sufferers are likely to withdraw from social circles and can end up feeling isolated.
There are a lot of misconceptions around social anxiety – many believe it’s “just shyness”, or that someone is being flakey if they cancel on events or rude if they don’t speak when in attendance. To try and raise awareness, we asked people who live with the disorder to share what they want others to know about it.
It’s so much more than shyness. Andrea Murphy has struggled with social anxiety since childhood. Now in her thirties, she says many people equate it to shyness – but it’s far from it. “I promise you that having social anxiety disorder is different to being shy, introverted or nervous,” she writes in a blog post on HuffPost UK. “It’s much more than feeling a little jittery before an interview or having a fear of public speaking.” Rather, Murphy says: “It paralyses you, it robs you of your personality, and it prevents some people from ever achieving their full potential.”
We’re not being rude, we’re just scared. People with social anxiety often worry others find them unfriendly. Fiona Thomas, 32, from Birmingham, says she becomes so tense she can’t move or speak. “It makes me appear incredibly rude,” says the author of Depression In A Digital Age. “Sometimes I can’t speak, hold a conversation or look someone in the eye and it makes me feel really guilty. Quite often I have to message someone afterwards and apologise for my behaviour.”
Tom Dunning, 27, from Lincoln, says in social situations his mind will go blank. When that happens, things will spiral out of control and he’ll get lost down a mental rabbit hole of: “What would have happened if I’d said this?” By the time he thinks of something to say, the moment is gone, he explains. “And people just look at you like: ‘Oh, ok.’”
There is no ‘off’ switch. 19-year-old Ellie Pool, from Cheshire, says social anxiety can happen at any time and once it strikes, there’s no turning it off. Often, she has to leave social situations because of it. “Once it starts flaring up, it can’t be stopped,” she explains. “I used to struggle to explain to those close to me that I wasn’t choosing to avoid a situation because it made me anxious, I physically didn’t have a choice.”
It can be physically debilitating. The physical effects of social anxiety can be just as bad as the mental. “Social anxiety portrays itself with the shortness of breath, dizziness, disorientation, tears and heightening of senses,” explains Ellie. “When a social situation is making your anxiety flare up, you’re not making the choice to leave, you simply have to in order to help your body calm down.” Physical symptoms can include feeling sick, sweating, trembling or a pounding heartbeat. It might even prompt a panic attack.
Preparing for social events can be just as exhausting. “Social anxiety doesn’t just last for the duration of any social engagement,” says Chris Smith, from Kells, Ireland. “You stress about it beforehand. You try to think of ways to make it as quick and easy as possible. You’ll find yourself thinking of ways to get out of having to do it at all, and if you do manage this, you’ll worry what people think about you constantly cancelling or refusing invitations.”
You’ll find yourself thinking of ways to get out of having to do it at all, and if you do manage this, you’ll worry what people think about you constantly cancelling or refusing invitations.”
Alison, from Tipperary, Ireland, who preferred not to share her surname, says it often take three or four days to prepare herself for a night out – which means plenty of sleepless nights. The 36-year-old says this is often followed by restless evenings where she will over-analyse every conversation she had, trying to figure out if someone misinterpreted what she told them or felt offended by it. “When people ask why you don’t go out and why you can’t just come down for one drink, they have no idea the fear it puts in you,” she adds. Read more