A few months ago, I read an article in The New York Times, about how many people are becoming socially awkward during the pandemic. And it's true, my social anxiety has actually gotten a lot worse during the lockdown. (Read 'Suffocated.') I immediately texted my friend (who is also socially anxious) about the article, and we laughed about it, saying that we are both socially anxious pros by now.
One thing mentioned in the article is that "social skills are like muscles that atrophy from lack of use". I pointed this out to her, and she said that those muscles don't exist for us anymore. I agreed, saying that we are both socially anorexic. True story. (Please laugh, my joke wasn't that lame. *wink*)
So here are a few ways in which social anxiety has disrupted my life :
1. Over-analyzing social situations :
When I meet a person, I notice every minute expression they make (I am very observant), and that usually plays on my mind for the next week or two.
For example - If someone doesn't smile back at me, or fakes a smile (I can tell from their eyes), I start overthinking about what I did to irritate them, whether I said something wrong and why they hate me.
2. Meeting new people :
I have never liked meeting new people, because I'm very uncomfortable making small talk. I like having heart-to-heart discussions, which most people run away from, especially with strangers.
When I meet a new person, I'm usually very uncomfortable, and I end up being as quiet as a mouse. I simply look around at the people or the place, listening attentively, observing things and speaking very rarely. I also overthink about everything I do in front of them - whether I sat properly, did they find me too boring, did I sound/look too weird, etc. I do understand that most people overthink this way, but only in front of their crushes or people they look up to. But the thing is, I overthink interactions with every single person, and it drives me crazy!
3. Answering the phone :
I enjoy talking to my close friends, and I usually won't stop talking for hours, but when it comes to unknown numbers or people I don't know well, I freak out!!
Whenever my phone rings, especially when it is an unknown number, or when I'm particularly anxious, I'll stare at it till it stops ringing or hand over the phone to someone else to speak. I really respect it when people inform me before calling, so that I can be mentally prepared about what I have to say. (Please take notes. Hahaha.)
4. Walking :
My older brother keeps teasing me about the times when we used to go to Church as a family when we were young, when I would freak out about people staring at me as I walked into Church, or judging the way I walked or dressed. I never knew that it was my social anxiety at play, but I now know that I was socially anxious since I was a kid. Even now I keep thinking that people are judging me - even at the damn grocery store, and that's the reason why I stare at the ground when I walk.
5. Dancing :
"Dance like nobody's watching" - never say that to a socially anxious person, because he/she believes that EVERYONE is watching!! I can't dance in front of people, especially at weddings where there are spectators sitting at tables, observing every move one makes.
However, I love dancing like a weirdo when I'm alone in my room. Trust me, dancing/moving/jumping like a weirdo is superrrrrrr fun!! (I can only dance to songs I know, because I sing along and dance. That's the reason why I hate going to Indian clubs - they play mostly hindi songs, and I end up staring at the wall counting the flower pots, so as to while away the time. (that actually happened the last time I went dancing with my friends). Fun times! Hahaha.)
6. Emailing/Texting :
When I email/text someone I am comfortable with, I am very elaborate, and I will tell them my whole life story (remember, no small talk). I just can't be brief in my emails and texts (I've tried), and that's primarily because I overthink about everything, due to which I have a ton to write as well.
I feel extremely confident when I write the email/text and when I click on the send button, but the nightmare begins just after that - I start overthinking about why I wrote so much in the first place, whether I overshared and made the person uncomfortable, whether they'd think I'm a weirdo/creep, etc.
And to make things worse, when I don't get a reply soon, I start stressing about how I always make a fool of myself, and end up deciding to never overshare again. However, old habits die hard.
7. People Pleasing & Imaginary Arguments :
Being an empathetic socially anxious introvert, till a few years ago I rarely spoke up for myself, for fear of hurting the other person. I usually have imaginary arguments in my head after nasty interactions, where I come up with the most amazing comebacks. I then spend many days/weeks/years wishing I had spoken up instead of being a polite idiot.
Funny thing is, in Jan, 2020, I had decided to join a jazz club, so as to get over my social anxiety - meet new people, make new friends, have uncomfortable conversations. A few weeks later, the pandemic showed up, and humankind went into isolation. Fast forward to the present, and most people have become socially awkward. How ironic, right? Crazy, crazy times!
One good thing is that I am taking proactive steps to overcome my social anxiety :
1. I didn't turn my phone off on my birthday last year (read 'A Birthday To Remember.').
2. I've started to get less anxious about delayed responses to my emails/texts.
3. I've noticed that people have treated me badly even more after seeing how polite I am, and so I've started speaking up more, for myself and for my loved ones, to people who are intentionally rude and insulting.
3. I joined a Charitable Trust last month.
4. I'll be joining keyboard class this week.
Here's to a year of good health, happiness and overcoming obstacles.
Happy New Year! Cheers!!
Thank you for reading! Stay blessed!