People often have a perception of what anxiety is and how someone who is experiencing social anxiety may present themselves. There is a stigma attached to the word anxiety which suggests it would be obvious if someone was feeling that way; that it would be evident and noticeable. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I know from experience that social anxiety isn’t always obvious or visible at all. In fact, someone experiencing anxiety may appear bubbly and confident, but that’s not necessarily a reflection of how they feel internally.
I have spoken to people in the past about feeling shy and anxious in social situations and they often reply with surprise, convinced that I’m not really experiencing anxiety; ‘but you’re so confident’ is often the reply. It’s true, I put on a front and sometimes I appear to be happily engaging in conversation and I appear to be confident yet inwardly I’m feeling shy, awkward, uncomfortable and vulnerable thinking to myself ‘should I really be here’ as I look around the room at everyone enjoying themselves. I’m definitely not feeling confident, far from it.
There have been countless times that I have been so filled with worry about going to an event or a party that I almost didn’t go. Almost. I know that there is a good chance I’m going to feel uncomfortable in a room full of people. I know that I’m going to feel inadequate and unconfident but I also know that that’s ok. I attribute a lot of my inner strength to my social shyness. I wouldn’t be me without it and I’ve learnt to embrace that it’s a part of who I am. I trust that if anything gets too overwhelming, I can simply remove myself from the situation and step outside for a breath of fresh air. I also know that I won’t be able to control every single situation I find myself in no matter how much I want to. I have to take a deep breath and make sure I try to enjoy myself without worrying or overthinking.
I remember experiencing social anxiety from a very young age. I didn’t understand why everyone around me seemed so happy and carefree when all I wanted to do was get up and leave. I was in my early teens, at a party full of my friends, how could I not be enjoying myself? I found it difficult to speak to people, sometimes even the people I knew well so the thought of speaking to anyone new was terrifying. This fear followed me for many years and I found I preferred my own company as it was safer and less awkward.
Even though I preferred my own company, I still made sure I attended a few social events. It made me feel good at the end of the evening when I overcame my worries and achieved something that I found very difficult. It is that feeling that helps me now whenever I find myself feeling anxious. Most of the time the worry and the fear is worse that actually doing it so I make sure I remember this every time I feel nervous or shy.
Social situations are integral to my daily life both on a business level and a personal level. I attend events and business meetups and I interact with people I have never met before. I still feel nervous and anxious but I try to channel my nerves positively. I know that without my experiences, I wouldn’t be who I am today. Even though I still experience social anxiety, I’m comfortable in my own skin. I’m a firm believer in embracing your flaws and seeing the positive in every situation no matter how hard it may be.