The other day a friend of mine told me that she was secretly glad when her social plans with friends fall through. When they text the cancellation, she responds with a sad face emoji, but inside, quietly breathes a sigh of relief.
One may think it odd that people don’t actually enjoy spending time with others. Given a choice, there are many who would prefer a night at home in their pyjamas, over a night mingling. We also live in an age where we don’t have to go out for socialising if we don’t want to. With Netflixing and gaming at our fingertips we can keep ourselves entertained at home for hours on end, seemingly fine, but at the same time unaware that what we’re doing is ‘getting used’ to not being around real humans.
But many people who experience the social-avoidance type behaviours are suffering from social anxiety. Like many mental health issues, it’s quite common. Given we are pack animals, and don’t do well with social isolation, it’s interesting that so many people experience it.
For those that do experience it, it’s a feeling of dread that may come over them at the thought of going to anything that involves actual people. For some people I know, the dread has been so intense, that they don’t get it anymore because they have avoided all social situations since then. They don’t ‘do’ people now, and that's that.
I think most of us have felt nervous in social situations where we’re the focus of attention, particularly when we’re about to be judged. There’s nothing like the lead up to a speech or job interview for the nerves to have a freak out, and the toilet to be getting a few visits.
But anxiety rises within us whenever we perceive ourselves to be under threat. For people with social anxiety they may fear judgement, criticism, or even being humiliated in front of others. They may have evidence of this happening in the past, or perhaps that has never actually happened. It’s just the thought of it that invokes fear. So any situation that involves people is a bit of a problem, whether it be a meeting at work, dinner at a restaurant, or a get together at a mate’s house None of it feels comfortable, and some will do anything to get out of it.
For most people with social anxiety, they actually do enjoy being around people, it just feels like they don’t. The good news is that something can be done about it, if you put some work into it.
The first thing is to try and identify where it all came about in the first place. For some people, it might have been an embarrassing moment in a meeting, or stammering during a speech when they forgot what they were going to say (been there). For others, their social anxiety seemed to creep up on them over time, because they just haven’t been around people in a while.
But the more we keep avoiding people, the more we will keep avoiding people. So the best way to deal with it is to work towards, you guessed it, being around people again. This means easing back into social situations very slowly with as much support as we can get.
We also need to remember that most people are self-absorbed, and I don’t mean that in the bad way. We all walk around with our own thoughts chattering away in our heads, and wonder what other people are thinking about us. But from my experience of working with thousands of people, it’s more likely that others are wondering what we’re wondering about them.
Social anxiety not only stops us from wanting to be around people, but it also might stop us from making new friends, finding love, getting the job we want, or chasing some crazy dream that we might have. It limits our lives in so many ways, when if we just looked at things a little differently, we could be enjoying the world and the people in it.
So next time a friend takes a rain check, instead of quietly being relieved, make sure you make another date, and make a commitment to go. It’s highly likely you won’t regret it.
P.S. Interested in learning how to manage your own anxiety?Contact me.