How Social Anxiety Affects Me, and How I Deal With it

Growing up with social anxiety was more challenging than many people would ever understand. Every day, my “wins” (or in many cases, losses) were things most people would never even think about. I would do — or endure — almost anything to avoid a social situation.

There were times — i.e. almost every day — in college I would take back-alley sidewalks to class just so I wouldn’t be seen in the open courtyard. I couldn’t bear the thought of anyone looking at me.

There were times at work when I forgot a utensil for my lunch and felt so stressed about asking to borrow one that I skipped lunch altogether.

There were times my goal for the day was to go to Subway before a nighttime class — just to prove I could do it. And each night, I’d sit in class hungry, because the challenge was just too difficult.

Even 20 years later, even the smallest social exchange can be incredibly challenging. At 40 years old, the following are still things that feel like legit “goals” to me when I get up in the morning:

1. Ordering coffee at Starbucks — alone.
2. Meeting a friend for dinner in an unfamiliar restaurant.
3. Inviting another mom out for dinner or a playdate.
4. Introducing myself to a fellow parent at a school event.
5. Walking across a crowded restaurant to order food.
6. Sitting alone at a restaurant while waiting for a friend to meet me.
7. Answering the phone.

Indeed, no matter how far I’ve come in my fight against social anxiety, day-to-day life is a constant struggle. But there are a few things that can help those of us battling this invisible illness.

1. Set easy goals.

No one ever improved without wanting more for themselves. But that doesn’t mean you must set outlandish goals to do it. Instead, set small doable goals every day to keep you motivated. Yes, there might be some fails, but the wins will help you gain confidence and allow you to keep moving forward.

2. Go easy on yourself.

You might not reach your goal every day. That is OK. I have failed countless times myself, but the most important thing is that I keep. On. Trying.

3. Tell people.

Help people understand your struggle by being open about it. Chances are good they will encourage you, giving you the confidence to get out there and be social, on whatever terms you need. Worst case scenario, they understand you have a real reason for constantly ditching your plans with them — and that it isn’t personal.

4. Take your time.

Healthy habits — and mental health — are not built in a day. Give yourself the grace and time to keep trying. You deserve it.

For those who were born with extroverted social genes, the concept of social anxiety may seem ridiculous. But the truth is: it can be one of the most debilitating illnesses on the planet. No matter how uncomfortable the thought might make you, you aren’t alone in your struggle.

A version of this article was originally published on Humble Warrior.

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