My music is heavily influenced by my social anxiety. I’m used to constantly feeling embarrassed in social situations, and thinking (though I know it’s irrational) that nearly everything I do and say is the wrong course of action.
I wrote this song in the hopes that its message would help others with social anxiety (including myself) to realize that being open with others is so much more rewarding than living life in fear of others’ opinions of you. And I wanted other people, who have the power to make daily life arduous and miserable for those with social anxiety, to understand our plight a bit better, so that they might be more willing to open their minds.
So many people minimize social anxiety, saying it’s just “shyness”. I’ve been scolded by my loved ones, who tell me that I’m being childish, and I should just “grow out of it”. Well, it’s easy to say, not easy to do. And though I see where they’re coming from, and even though I know that I’m a victim of my own cognitive distortions, I still can’t shake my feelings of self-doubt and terror in certain situations.
The thing most people don’t realize is that social anxiety is like a snowball effect, and that’s why it can become so entrenched in people. Say someone (let’s call them “Fred”) gave me a judgmental look when I walked in late, or made a joke, or simply showed up. I instantly fixate on it and think that I did something wrong, and that, in turn, makes me more hesitant to loosen up and talk when I’m around that person. And since I’ll likely see that person with some other of their friends, I’ll get quiet when I’m around that whole group of people, and so on with their other friends. Do you see how it’s hard to break out of this vicious cycle, when you’re terrified of breaking others’ consistent opinion of you?
I want others to understand the social anxiety mindset better, so I made a short list of some “do’s and don’ts” of interacting with people with SA. The point of the list is not to create a misconception that people with SA require “special treatment”, but to encourage people to help others who suffer from SA, so that their anxiety might get better.
DO’S AND DON’TS:
- DO: include them in conversations, especially in small groups of people. I’ve found that a small group of friends (4-5 people) is the most comfortable size and doesn’t put a lot of pressure on someone to add to the conversation.
- DON’T: ignore them when they speak. It’s not only rude, it can also discourage them even more. At school, often I feel like people whose “social standing” is on the low side are not listened to as much as more popular people, and since people with social anxiety tend to fit into that category, that worsens this mentality: that their words don’t matter, because no one is listening.
- DO: show them you like being around them. This can be as simple as listening to them attentively and engaging them in friendly conversation. They are highly self-critical, and simply want to know that someone likes them for who they are (who doesn’t?). This will help them gain confidence in social situations.
- DON’T: at a social event, ditch them or third-wheel them for other people. It reinforces their belief that they’re not “good enough” and that they are everyone’s “second choice”.
If you do all these things and keep an open mind, you’ll be much more considerate to people struggling with SA!
I think that most people with SA are usually quiet because they think that whenever they say anything, it makes others dislike them. Eventually they stop talking because they think that everything they say is “wrong”.
Social Anxiety is truly crippling. In the worst cases, it prevents people from forming bonds with new people on their own. It limits opportunities because it’s hard to network, and it can make everyday life miserable and lonely. Even we genuinely want to be liked and to get close to new people, we can’t do it. Over time, it really wears a person down; SA is often accompanied by depression.
It’s the third most common mental health problem in the world. Most people also don’t realize that so many people suffer from it, even if they may hide it outwardly. In fact, you probably know someone who has social anxiety, but you may not even know it!
I made this short survey because it may help reveal how widespread SA really is:
If you're wondering if you have SA, I found this quiz helpful to take. Although it's not perfect, I found that the questions themselves helped guide me to my own conclusion.
Once SA takes root in your mind, it's terribly hard to ignore or remove, and many circumstances can trigger feelings of panic. In my experience, there are definitely certain situations that aggravate it. The things that perpetuate social anxiety, like judgement, stress and unfamiliarity, lurk everywhere. At my school, my grade level has a reputation for being "the bad class", because we are so divided into "cliques". I feel like there's a draining, black cloud of negativity hovering over people (more so for the girls, I've noticed) at my school, filtering into their conversations and interactions with others.
I've seen how girls are afraid to leave the lunch table alone because they think as soon as they go, the other girls will trash-talk them. I've had many people spill their guts to me about why they hate so-and-so, but greet that person with a friendly smile later. All these cliche moments are the picture of high school, but they don't have to be.
I wrote this song in the hopes that kids my age can learn to be open to other people, not closed off. Willing to be themselves, not fake. It may be naive to place this hope on teenagers, but I think it's worth a try.
The thing is, I'm sure a lot of the people who are "the problem" have social anxiety themselves, and mask it by being judgmental and rude to others in their efforts to fit in. I know it will be a long and hard road for them (and for myself), but I hope they can realize how wonderful it feels to be free of that pressure.