When My Anxiety Makes Me Come Across as 'Unfriendly'

Having dealt with anxiety for nearly my entire life, there are many things that I have come to accept because of it. For example, I can accept that I can’t handle being in loud crowds for a long period of time, or that I will have problems sleeping the night before a big exam or presentation. One thing that has been hard for me to accept with my anxiety, however, is that I often feel like I’m unfriendly when interacting with others.

I’ve always been an extreme introvert and my severe social anxiety definitely contributes to this. However, I do love people. I’m a very compassionate person and my biggest goal in life is to make a difference in the lives of others. But because of my anxiety, it’s difficult for me to interact with others the way I would like to or the way I see others interacting. When I’m about to have a conversation or interaction with someone, I always plan out in my head exactly what I’m going to say. When I’m in the moment, my anxiety makes me forget what I was going to say. It makes me start worrying excessively about if what I will say will be sufficient or if it will make others dislike me. So, oftentimes, I don’t say anything. This is extremely frustrating because there are things I want to say, but I worry so much about if what I will say will be adequate, so in my head I believe that it’s best not to say anything.

This issue happens to me when interacting with many different people, including teachers, bosses, friends, family and strangers. I recently got a job at a retail clothing store, which is my first job interacting with customers. I see my co-workers and managers interacting with each other and with customers like it comes so naturally. For me, I plan in my head what I’m going to say and how I’m going to say it before each customer comes up, and many times, I still end up saying nothing because I’m too nervous and anxious to even interact with them.

A customer recently complained to my manager about me, saying that I acted “unfriendly” when checking out her purchases. My manager told me to, “Try interacting more with customers.” At the time, I nodded and apologized, but right after my shift, I came home and cried. Since I had gotten the job, I had been pushing myself to interact with others, so hearing someone say this was very upsetting for me. It is always a top priority of mine to try to be friendly with everyone, but with my anxiety, this has become increasingly difficult. I’m constantly having to push myself to carry out even a simple interaction with someone. Trying to act friendly and personable is very difficult.

I do believe that introverts have many skills and talents that others might not, and I do believe that I can still positively influence others despite, and actually because of, my introverted and anxious tendencies. However, it is still very difficult not to get frustrated or upset when I see friends interacting with others in a way that I wish I could. Feeling unfriendly or having difficulties interacting with others is a symptom of anxiety I think we don’t talk enough about because for me, it is one of the most difficult symptoms to handle.

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