“Rebecca is calling”
*Stares at vibrating phone like it’s about to birth an alien
Why is she calling me? Can’t she just text? It must be an emergency… but if it is she can just message me. OMG stop calling Rebecca.
Back in the 80’s before you could text your mate, drop your location or Snapchat a photo of your cat, people actually had to have legitimate phone calls with people (ew). If you wanted to discuss your day with your mate, you had to say it with your actual voice in complete sentences and if someone liked you, they wouldn’t send you a random photo of… well, you know… they’d call you and ask to take you on a date. (WTF is a date these days?)
The progression of society, the shift in social norms and the transition from face to face communication to online is great, but it’s got a massive downside. As people are under less pressure to have actual conversations with actual human beings, people are slowly losing the ability to do so and in turn, when they are confronted with a situation in which they have to be sociable, panic can often set in. So it’s not surprising then, that according to statistics, the third highest mental health care problem is now social anxiety.
Social anxiety, at its root, is a fear of interacting with others. It can cause you to feel self-conscious and wary of being negatively judged by others which all in turn causes you to feel inadequate, humiliated and really low.
Most people experience social anxiety on some level, whether it’s nervousness when public speaking, butterflies before socialising in groups (or sometimes with individuals), eating in public or blushing. In fact, very few people don’t experience this to some degree, so if you go bright red when someone stops you on the street and asks you for directions, then you’re not alone.
Being ‘sociable’ can be pretty daunting. If you’re starting a new job, starting university or giving a presentation at work it can make you nervous. It can be frustrating when you’re struggling to overcome it and some idiot points out ‘how red you’ve gone’ or asks why you’re sweating so much. (If you’re the idiot who does this, please stop. You’re making everyone feel uncomfortable and no one is laughing. Simple.)
There are some things that could be making it worse though...
- Unhelpful thoughts- telling yourself you’re really boring
- Predicting how the situation will unfold- assuming no one will want to talk to you
- Avoiding situations- declining social invites
- Safety blankets- such as staying quiet in conversations or having a bev to calm your nerves
- Excessive self-focus- concentrating too much on your own physical response for example ‘oh ffs why am I sweating?’ or ‘I’m soooo red OMG!’
When any of the above things occur, what you actually do is convince yourself that you are not able to cope in social situations. But look, you definitely can.
So how do you go about combating this?
Challenge your thoughts
How do you know that no one will talk to you? How do you know people will dislike you? Where is the evidence, Sherlock? Ohh that’s right, there isn’t any. You can’t predict what people think and feel anymore than you can change it, so just don’t bother trying. The first 5 minutes of a social interaction might be cringey as fuck, but force yourself to stay and embrace it.
Change your perspective
Instead of working yourself up about how awful going out to the pub for your mates birthday will be, consider it an opportunity to meet new people. Instead of stressing over a presentation, see it as a chance to show everyone how brilliant you are. Instead of worrying about a job interview, get determined to get your dream job. They say that your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, actions become habits and those habits become your character. So as soon as those negative thoughts enter your mind, tell yourself you can do this, and you will do it.
Ask yourself the big question
So, you’ve been asked to go to a meal with this new group of mates you’ve met at uni/ work and you’re shitting yourself. You’re going to have to make small talk with at least the people on either side of you and then eat in front of them but you’re such a messy eater and what if they want to get a drink after it? Then you stop and you ask yourself- ‘will any of this matter in a year’s time?’ The answer, is most likely no. No one will care if you spat your food out when you laughed, no one will remember the awkward silences and no one will dislike you for oversharing after you’ve had one drink too many. It could be worse, right?
It will take practise but don’t say no to opportunities, and when it goes tits up, just laugh about it. Social anxiety is hard, but you can beat it. And you fucking will.