Editorial Notebook

How I addressed social anxiety

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on December 10, 2023.

As my family and I traveled to a friend’s house for Thanksgiving, my heart pounded. Thoughts raced through my head, screeching their concerns about going to see unfamiliar people. Internally trembling, I was soon greeted by the hosting family and realized I only knew one person, which terrified me. As we entered the house, I noticed the girls were extremely social amongst themselves. I was mostly standing next to their circle in an awkward position, scared to utter a noise smaller than a mouse’s peep. Observing that I was shy, they asked what school I go to. After barely managing to murmur a response, I later noticed my mother requesting that they include me in their conversation. They agreed with alacrity. While they were very nice, it seemed like they were all friends amongst themselves. As conversations progressed, I continued to be stiff and socially awkward around them. I was nervous to even move my feet and it was obvious.

Luckily, that was just an eighth-grade flashback. Many people feel the burden of social anxiety; it seems like everybody else is extroverted, leaving one person as the “strange outcast.” Over the years, I have successfully conquered my social anxiety. Or rather, I have successfully become friends with the caricature of my social anxiety. After countless conversations where I seemed to be in a distant world, I have come to realize that much of my social anxiety stems from either overthinking—especially negative self-talk—or personal insecurities. Social anxiety is frequently a reflection of a fear of not being liked or included. I’m not saying this fear is easy to overcome; I think it helps to make friends with one’s social anxiety.

Even after thinking I fully addressed my social anxiety, I saw it return in smaller forms. I would look at myself in the mirror, saying something like, “I’m perfectly confident in myself. I’m never nervous around people.” I tried to trick myself into believing I would never feel socially awkward or anxious again. Although I was more extroverted at this point, I realized these attempts to pretend social anxiety was not a part of me were futile. It is important to remind myself that social anxiety comes with being human.

When thinking about what to say, I find it helpful to just start talking. Due to insecurity, some often find it hard to do this because they fear what they say will be condemned. When I say “just start talking,” I mean, what did the last person say? Do I have an opinion on it? Maybe I agree. Maybe I don’t. Maybe I can steer the conversation in a different direction. As people, I feel like most enjoy having conversations. It’s usually not the conversation itself that gives me anxiety; I usually feel anxious before I’ve spoken at all.

For me, insecurity often came with the fact that I would idealize others. When I start to internalize a frivolous belief that individuals around me are “perfect,” I develop an inferiority complex, creating social anxiety. So, I take a moment to address why I admire them. I remember those highlights, but understand that many people are just like me. We all have our best traits. Navigating this path becomes much easier when I understand the fact that we are all human beings.