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Anxiety and Stress This forum is for seeking advice on anxiety and stress related issues.

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Question social anxiety ? something else ? - April 24th 2019, 09:53 PM

Hi there, been a while since I've returned to Teenhelp, and I'm turning here now because I am experiencing something problematic and don't know where to turn to or what it is.

By taking this gap year and being out of sync with my closest friends who I rarely get to see, I have realised that I need more human contact than I previously thought. I can no longer pride myself on being solitary, because I now know that it is more about fear and protecting myself than really being truly nurtured by that aloneness.

Above everything else in order to feel good in myself I need to feel productive, and to be productive I need to be around people. But I very often feel alienated around others, expect for a select group of five friends exactly; and even then if we haven't seen each other for a while I can feel anxious. If I am with anyone else, I will most often feel uneasy and at a loss for anything to say. I sit there silently and seldom contribute to the conversation, apart from when someone asks a question specifically directed at me; and then I feel like I child. Like a child being coaxed out of her personal thoughts to interact with others. Like when mum would prompt me with a question like “how about you show them your farm animals” in order to get me to interact with another kid I frankly didn't want to interact with, and I would be overcome by this wave of shame and irritation at the fact that it was so obvious to the other kid that I needed to be assisted by an adult to interact with them, and at the fact that mum would put me in that position without considering the uneasiness it may cause in me.
I am prompted with a simple topic like “so what are your plans for this summer” or “I hear you got into art school” and I think... I know what's going on here. You are all talking and having a nice time, and I'm here in the corner sitting silently, and it's awkward for everyone. Which I don't blame you for. And now you feel responsible for me, you want to cheer me up and make me feel included and so you ask me this very easy generic small-talk question you know I will know how to respond to. The easiest question to answer. And though I am thankful that I will be able to walk home tonight knowing that I said something to someone during this gathering, it makes me deeply despise myself for the way I make others feel responsible for me. For the fact that others can see how awkward I feel. I just hate it. I cannot bear to think about how they must see me.
The number of gatherings I go to where the night plays out this way ! It's unbelievable. Unbelievable that I still convince myself to attend them. And it isn't like they are big parties where I'm mixed with a bunch of complete strangers; more often than not it's a gathering of fellow classmates, or even “friends”; just not my five closest.

I can't seem to find a label to put on it though. I can't call it social anxiety because it doesn't feel extreme enough and I don't exactly clam up or have an anxiety attack. It's just this feeling of being so dumb and uninteresting and self-absorbed for even feeling these things, and once the feeling is there it is inescapable. Like a pop-up add which won't go away no matter how fast I click.

I leave the gathering early because after sitting there for an hour and having spoken only twice, I can't stop feeling these waves of shame and disgust at myself. I can't stop feeling that everyone there would be having such a nicer time if I weren't there; I am like a piece of gum stuck to the insides of a machine.

And when I walk out the door into the streets, I feel such pure relief. I feel a sudden surge of comfort and life. Like I am me but I am no one. Like it doesn't actually matter who I am at all. I am here with my thoughts and I am the only one to witness these thoughts, I am not going to be all that mean to myself so I am safe.

It maybe doesn't seem like a big deal; you could say "just spend time with your five closest friends" but they are in different parts of the country and we seldom get to see each other. And I just don't want to feel this anymore. I don't want things to go from being fine to uneasy with my friends just because one of their friends I'm not as close to are joining us.

Can anyone relate ?

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Re: social anxiety ? something else ? - April 27th 2019, 05:34 AM

I think what you are describing is a form of social anxiety.

I know I get anxious in social gatherings but I also struggle with some of the things you describe. I feel really insecure in social settings and if I don't find someone to talk to I end up leaving the gathering early. I don't feel that my social anxiety is extreme but it does impact me and my interactions with people. For example, I am currently in the process of trying to make more friends but I struggle with going to new settings and not know who is going to be there etc.

I know, for me, there have only been a few things that helped with my experiences. The first one being making myself go to gatherings despite my discomfort and making myself stay despite my discomfort. I've also found that finding one person to interact with and enjoy the event with helps as well. A lot of the time that person ends up being a friend but there have been times when that was not the case.

I don't know that these things will help you but with time you might be able to find things that help you cope.

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Re: social anxiety ? something else ? - April 30th 2019, 03:34 PM

While we can't say for sure that what you are experiencing is social anxiety, it sounds like it could be. It also sounds like it takes a toll on your self-esteem too.

I understand that it must be difficult for you having previously prided yourself on being solitary only to find that you need more human contact than you realised, and yet you feel you struggle with that too.

It also makes sense that even though you have close friends, that if you aren't able to spend much time with them, that the anxiety could come creeping back in. For me, I find that I have to do things frequently in order to keep the anxiety at bay as if I go a long time without doing something, the anxiety will come back. Familiarity, the same friends and seeing them often can be much less anxiety inducing than meeting new people/people you aren't close to, so you aren't alone in feeling this way.

When we are used to our own company, it can be difficult adjusting to socialising with others. There's nothing wrong with enjoying solidarity and it makes sense that if you feel you have some difficult socialising that you would feel ashamed about it. But try not to feel ashamed (I know that's easier said than done) as that only makes you feel worse about yourself and future social situations.

It may be that if you aren't engaging much in the conversation that someone will ask you something to try to involve you. But maybe they might be asking out of genuine curiosity? If you are still convinced that they are only asking you questions because they see you not talking then try not to take it personally (again, I know that's hard). You aren't responsible for how other people feel or behave. You aren't making others feel awkward around you or feel that they are in some way responsible for you. If they do feel that way, then that's their own feelings and they are responsible for them, not you.

It's entirely your decision whether to continue going to these gatherings. If you choose to continue going, I'm wondering if you can think of ways to break out of the cycle of not talking unless someone is speaking to you and then feeling bad about it? Perhaps you can try thinking beforehand of things you can talk about or ask someone else (it's good asking others questions as it allows them to talk about themselves and takes the pressure of you a bit). You can also look up resources online for social anxiety, how to socialise or social skills if you feel it might help. You might also want to try to challenge yourself and approach someone first. If all else fails, try not to feel bad if someone approaches you and tries to engage you. It seems like you prefer being with your close friends who know you well and there's nothing wrong with that (though I know it's difficult when you don't get to spend much time with your close friends).

Again, it's up to you how long to stay in the social situation. For anxiety, as said above, it can help to stay with the discomfort and try not to leave early as overtime you may notice yourself feel more comfortable. But if it's more to do with how you feel about yourself, you may want to try challenging those thoughts and trying to find a way to engage as you may notice that if you aren't engaging, you may be thinking and feeling negatively about yourself and that might just continue until either you are engaged and the anxiety lessens or you leave.

I'm wondering what you are interested in and what you enjoy during your spare time? Sometimes going to gatherings and socialising with chit chat aren't for everyone, and it may help to find meetups and clubs/groups that focus on your own interests as you may naturally come across others with similar interests which may make it easier when it comes to socialising.

You aren't alone in feeling these things. I definitely have felt that way and barely said a word all throughout school let alone when it came to meeting up with friends. I also have friends and family who feel the same too. For us, it's a mixture of anxiety and potentially aspergers.

I'm wondering if you have ever spoken to a professional about these concerns? It seems to be affecting you a lot so it might be worth getting it checked out. There's nothing necessarily 'wrong' with you that you need to 'fix' but it can help to talk to a professional and figure out if there are things that you can do to help ease what you are feeling. Personally, I find self-acceptance helps a bit. You are good and worthy person just as you are

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