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I have always been someone who is introverted. The thought of having to go somewhere where there will be a lot of people I don’t know is absolutely terrifying. When I am in those situations, I absolutely shut down. As my boyfriend puts it, when people come around who I don’t know, my entire mood changes and I’m like a different person. He says I literally unapproachable. This can come off as me just being rude, but the reality is I am literally frozen with fear. It’s gotten to the point where people know that if they’re having a party or get together, I don’t want to go. They invite me to let me know that I am more than welcome, but they know my answer before they even ask.
Obviously the people who know me know that I am not just some rude jerk. I do great in small groups. I am great one on one. Honestly, with people I know and who I’m comfortable with, I will talk non-stop. It’s not that I’m not social, because I really am such a social person. I have so many friends that I keep in touch with on a regular basis.
I love talking to people. But, the thought of initiating a conversation with someone I don’t know stops me dead in my tracks. It’s like all of those social skills I know and use on a daily basis disappear. I get really self-conscious about how strangers view me and I’m afraid of saying something stupid. The fear is so intense, it’s like I stop breathing just to make myself unnoticeable.
Social anxiety presents itself in other ways as well. It is present during my work. For work, we do ice breakers at the beginning of the meetings to connect because we have all been virtual for so long. These meetings include everyone from our company and even though I know all of their faces and I see them every month in this meeting, I still get extremely anxious. I panic because I never know if I’m going to be next because we popcorn it off to people. My breathing becomes rapid, my heart races, and I begin to sweat. I’ll think to myself thank god we’re not in person.
Before I speak, I run through what I’m going to say in my head and repeat it to myself over and over to try and ensure I don’t screw it up when I’m speaking. When it’s finally my turn to speak, my voice is shaking and it’s like I’ve forgotten how to breathe. I only vaguely remember my answer, and I begin to ramble in a panic, talking at lightning speed. I tend to talk a lot when I’m nervous.
Mind you, I am in the comfort of my home and this meeting is via Zoom. Still, the irrational fear of having to speak to all of these people sends me into a panic. They’re not strangers, they’re my coworkers, and they’re all so nice, yet having to speak and answer the fun question sends me into a panic.
In school, it was also an issue. I remember I was taking a news reporting class and there were several projects where we were supposed to go up to random strangers and talk to them to get a story and I had to talk to my teacher about my anxiety and how I literally was incapable. My portraits of strangers were all people I knew from my classes. My major news stories were both about my parents and their businesses.
I wrote a news story about my mom and her business (The Woman Behind the Successful Blog “Low Carb Yum”) and I wrote a post about my dad and his business (MarcAurele Wrestling: Not Your Average Wrestling Club). I was so lucky that I have two very interesting and very successful parents. I think that is one of the only reasons my professor allowed me to do my own family members for these major assignments. They were both great news stories.
The MarcAurele Wrestling piece was so hard for me because I had to get quotes from multiple people. Obviously getting a quote from my own father was no problem. But, I could not bring myself to go up to anyone in his gym. My dad knew this, my extreme shyness was not news to him. He sent people over to me and he told them before they got to me that I would be asking them a couple of questions. Even when they got to me, I was extremely nervous to ask them questions, even though I didn’t have to explain anything. I was so thankful for my dad that day. I would not have been able to finish that assignment without him.
Aside from the news reporting class, school was hard for me because of presentations. In middle school or high school, there was presentation I stopped mid-presentation because I started crying. I forgot literally everything I had prepared as soon as I got in front of everyone. It was horrible.
In college, I had a presentation to do about some new media studies topic and I remember as I waiting for it to be my turn I was in full panic mode. The physical symptoms were horrific. I felt like I was burning up, I felt nauseous, I was sweating and shaking, and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. When it was finally my turn to go, I stood up and I honestly thought I was going to pass out from fear. I didn’t, but it was awful nonethless.
When it comes to presentations, I feel like people with social anxiety get extremely invalidated. You always hear things like “it’s no big deal” and “everyone gets nervous before speaking.” But, being nervous is much different than the “fight or flight” feelings that my anxiety brings when I have to give a presentation. For me, it’s not just nervousness. It literally feels like I am going to die. Sometimes the anxiety turns into a legitimate panic attack and anyone who has ever had a panic attack knows that it literally feels like you’re having a heart attack/dying. I really wish neurotypical people would understand this. Sure, “it’s just a presentation,” but to me, it feels like a life or death situation.
If you’re someone who has social anxiety, please know that you are not alone. There are a lot of people who struggle with social anxiety. There are a lot of people who understand exactly what you’re going through.
Looking to learn more about social anxiety? Check out our Social Anxiety Disorder PSA.
If you’re struggling with social anxiety and need help, but you’re not sure where to start, check out our resources page.
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