What It Is Really Like To Have Social Anxiety

Published on October 19th, 2015

Updated on January 2nd, 2024

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Chances are you know someone with social anxiety. Social anxiety is a serious mental illness. People with social anxiety experience intense distress in social situations. This is due to fears of being criticized, rejected, or judged by others. 

Social anxiety is much more than introversion or shyness. It significantly impacts an affected person’s daily functioning. Many who suffer from this disorder are hesitant to seek treatment. They often do not tell anyone about their social anxiety. This sadly contributes to the ongoing stigma towards individuals with social anxiety. 

Because social anxiety is often misrepresented, it is vital that people have the opportunity to become educated about this mental illness. One of the most straightforward ways to begin to understand social anxiety is to explore what it is like to live with social anxiety every day.

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What It Is Like To Live With Social Anxiety

Social anxiety affects how an affected person’s day will be. It affects how they interact with the world around them, and causes a great deal of discomfort. The discomfort comes from fear, insecurity, and assuming that they are unwanted in a space. This can make someone with anxiety seem awkward, disinterested in conversation, or rude. In reality, they are doing what they can to manage their anxiety while also engaging socially. The following are common feelings and behaviors of someone with social anxiety:

Alienated. People with social anxiety often feel alienated. This alienation can extend to different social situations. Such social situations include:

Because social anxiety frequently creates a feeling of “not fitting in” an affected person tends to isolate. This becomes a vicious cycle because the more we isolate, the more we are alienated.

Clingy. A person with social anxiety tends to cling to a safe person. They are attached to the people who you are close with and feel comfortable around (which is often very few). 

Social anxiety typically goes hand in hand with a fairly isolated life. Due to this isolation, a person may seek to get their needs met through safe people in their life. This creates a sense of intense emotional need to cling to that person. 

This clinginess can be problematic for a person with social anxiety. The closeness and connection are not always reciprocal. This can lead to that safe person’s need for space, which often causes the affected person to feel rejected. In such a situation, the affected person has hurt feelings and negative self-talk.

Panicky. A person with social anxiety often dreads upcoming social events and running routine errands. These experiences can cause feelings of nervousness, apprehension, and fear. 

Panicky feelings can progress into full-blown panic attacks. The following may be experienced when a person has a panic attack:

Sensitivity. A person with social anxiety can appear sensitive. Other people’s opinions, critiques, and criticisms cause them stress, and they often internalize negativity. Even the possibility of judgment scares an affected person away from social activities and events.

Suffering from social anxiety means you most likely also suffer from low self-esteem. You often view yourself and other things in a distorted and negative manner. Thus, when others are offering helpful guidance or useful advice, you may take it the wrong way. 

Self-critical. Imagine trying to fall asleep at night and thinking about the day’s events and what tomorrow might bring. What mistakes did I make today? How did I embarrass myself? What did people think of me? Who do I have to interact with tomorrow? How will I get through it? 

Socially anxious people tend to evaluate their day’s interactions and try to anticipate what is to come. They criticize what they have done “wrong and what could have been better. This intense deprecation only fuels social anxiety.

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Lack of energy. Imagine having to mentally prepare for every possible social interaction or encounter that may happen in your day. It is a real energy-sucker, mentally speaking.

Lacking a voice. Because of the self-critical nature of socially anxious people, the tendency to not want to voice opinions, thoughts, or ideas is common. Feeling pressure to never say the wrong thing often chips away at an affected person’s ability to use their voice.

Muscle Tension. The constant worry that accompanies social anxiety can create significant muscle tension. Worry and anxiety not only affect people mentally but can also manifest physically. 

Example: People with social anxiety often go through their day with a clenched jaw, a strained neck, or a stiff back.

Social anxiety is treatable with the appropriate interventions. If you struggle with this disorder, do not suffer in silence anymore. Reach out to a therapist for help.

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