As soon as I started blogging, I wanted to address social anxiety. It’s apparently one of the most common mental disorders, but like for a majority of mental illnesses, it is often misunderstood. Many people think social anxiety is just another term for ‘shyness’, but there’s so much more to it than just feeling a little uncomfortable in social situations.
It’s difficult to explain what it really is, and for people who don’t experience it to fully understand, because in some cases the thoughts that go through our head aren’t rational. What may seem like the easiest thing for you, is actually extremely difficult for us. Everyone experiences social anxiety differently; a situation that makes me very anxious can be easy to deal with for someone else, and vice versa.
There are two main situations I struggle the most with. The first one is cooking or eating in public. It’s not exactly that I’m afraid I’ll make a fool of myself if I stain my shirt or spill my drink; I feel ashamed of being hungry and wanting food. I am embarrassed of one of the most natural things that literally everyone does. Buffets are an absolute nightmare; I can sometimes manage to get some food if I am surrounded by friends and family I’m comfortable with, but I could not go get food on my own, even if I am starving. Cooking is another problem, as I often feel judged by others. By living in university accommodation or by sharing a house with friends, there aren’t many opportunities where I can breathe and cook on my own in a stress-free environment. I feel like others examine what I am cooking, and that they are mocking me for not necessarily knowing what I am doing or for the food I am eating. I feel judged if my meal is not very healthy, but also if it’s too healthy. It’s difficult to find balance, and I find myself trying to figure out what I could eat that can please others in order to avoid being judged, instead of focusing on what my body needs.
Being vegan has actually really helped me. It was surprising at first since usually people stare at your food more and ask you many questions about it. I guess it is a way of controlling what I eat, without it being an unhealthy or dangerous habit. I am also very proud of being vegan, so I think that helps a lot too.
The second difficult situation is in relation to small talk. I often find myself terrified of bumping into someone I know, because I am afraid I won’t find appropriate conversation and that I’ll come across as being too talkative, or not talkative enough and therefore having awkward silences. An awkward silence is the absolute worst, and they must be avoided at all cost. For example if I spot someone from afar, I’ll cross the street to avoid them seeing me. I’ll stare down at my phone and pretend that I am texting so that I have an excuse for not noticing them (even though I did). I have to be able to observe everyone around me, and at the same time seem occupied in case I do see someone I know. It’s exhausting to constantly be on alert, and it’s very draining. I often leave the house with a mental list of questions or sentences I could say in case I do meet someone, to avoid the silences and to seem friendly. It’s not exactly enjoyable to live like this. I feel like I’m not able to do little things that seem so easy for other people.
Going grocery shopping, asking for help in the street, or making a phone call to set an appointment are all very stressful situations. I’ve never managed to go see a professional and ask for help, but I believe that it could be extremely helpful if they are able to help find the root of the problem. If my anxiety starts dominating my life again, I’ll try and go seek help, but hopefully it won’t come to that.
I know this post might seem a little confusing and not well organised, but it’s very difficult to put feelings into words; especially into comprehensible words. I guess my overall message is to tell people who feel the same way as I do, that you are not alone. You are most certainly not alone. And for the ones reading this who don’t suffer from it, I ask you to be understanding and to reach out to the people who are struggling. Try and be a good friend by supporting them and not making them feel isolated. If they cancel plans regularly because of their anxiety, communicate with them to identify the problem instead of shutting them out, which unfortunately happens too often. We are too quick to judge other people without trying to understand that there might be a bigger problem underneath.
Lots of love,
P.S: I have had the opportunity to work with Consumer Health Digest and write an article for them concerning social anxiety, giving further details and tips. You can find the article HERE