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What Social Anxiety Feels Like Physically

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Social anxiety permeates my life.

Like an allergic reaction, its side effects appear as soon as contact occurs. My heart races and my fingers go numb. Whatever business I came to handle seems suddenly insignificant, as the idea of socializing constricts my throat. The feeling is so disorienting. Intoxicated from the attention and smiles, I stumble through my words sloppily and pray I don’t puke. The harder I try to articulate, the less sense I make.

Eventually, I just mirror — you nod your head, so do I. You look concerned, so do I. The more I mimic the more at ease my audience is. They begin to like me, assuming my grins and giggles are genuine. Little do they know my friendly face is a defense mechanism, like the vibrant hue of a poisonous frog. The sight is alluring, beckoning the ignorant, creating a sense of false calm. Make contact, however, and you’ll never reach your hand out again.

None of these things are intentional; I really do long for meaningful friendship. It’s not that I hate the act of socializing, I just hate the side effects.

I used to love peaches as a kid, but once I realized they were giving me hives, I steered clear for my health.

I used to be a social butterfly, overly emotional but lovable nonetheless. Gradually, though, like the slow erode of sandstone as it presses its face to the river, My brilliance dulled and my confidence softened. I learned that socializing was a trigger for me. For my emotional health and stability, I needed to avoid it at all costs.

This is, of course, is impossible if I want to function as an adult, so I found a compromise within myself. I decided this was a trigger I could shrink if I worked on it slowly. I started out socializing with to one or two people at a time. It was still a daunting task, but I could handle it mentally. Eventually this got easier, and I worked my way up to socializing with a larger group of people. Now I can make small talk with co-workers and tutor kids I’ve never met. I still feel my looming anxiety, but I find solace in the fact that I get a little better each day. Like I always say, appreciate your small wins!

When I grew up, I ate a peach just to see the reaction. Nothing happened, and I realized I’d been nervous for no reason. These days, I feel the fear of socializing, but I try it every chance I get. Sometimes I leave with the outcome I expected, but many times I realize the fear was there for nothing.

Unsplash photo via Hust Wilson

Originally published: July 11, 2019
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