Working through crippling social anxiety is one of my on-going New Year’s Resolutions and definitely a huge road block from friendship, live streaming, and presentations. It’s fairly common artists and introverts struggle with overcoming social anxiety. I can safely say it’s been a work in progress for a decade, and every year I look back and I’m surprised with myself.
My social anxiety used to be such a force to reckon with I would sit at home with an empty fridge to avoid making eye contact with a cashier (this is ages ago, when I was single and no one else could go fill the fridge for me). I pitched a film script to a jury in my second year of university, and that put me so far over the edge — I blacked out in the bathroom. Like a lot of anxious people, I’ve also drank myself to oblivion at every social event and greatly embarrassed myself in the process while attempting to find comfort…it’s very common and bad advice to drink to “take the edge off” a social situation. For me, it rarely helps, if not makes things worse. Any good therapist will try coach you away from relying on a drug response to cope with situations, especially if it’s away from alcoholism.
I guess I’ve been wanting to write something on this for a long time, but I never felt like I was quite there. It’s been a decade and I feel I’ve read “all that’s out there” for social anxiety advice. I’ve gone from having anxiety attacks everyday to being very calm, and I’m starting to notice a marked difference between myself and other people with anxiety. Some people even mistake me for being outgoing!
After 10 years of social anxiety, what have I observed?
I think social anxiety is a symptom of a low self-esteem + a higher-than-normal fear of rejection and failure + being an asshole to yourself. Yes, you are an asshole to yourself.
Think of an average person in high school breaking through that initial awkwardness of having feelings for people, coming out about those feelings, ultimately getting a Yes or No response, or being ridiculed for their actions. Eventually by repeating that experience enough, the average person builds up a tougher skin, learns how to gracefully ask someone out, and things turn out okay. They make friends, have relationships, they get along with people at work.
For people with social anxiety, it’s like that experience x1000 applied to every single social interaction in their life, with the added wall of paralysis on many occasions. It turns paying for groceries into a confrontational, emotionally intense, and very uncomfortable experience. But why does it matter if a cashier thinks you’re awkward? Are they even paying that much attention, or are they zoned out, don’t care because you’re not the first person to mess up saying “Good morning” or to drop your credit card in the universe?