Sometimes, in the comfort of my own room when I have time to think, I am able to step back from the anxiety I feel around people and examine it from a point of view outside of my own. It’s in these moments I actually feel silly for having social anxiety. Not silly as in being socially anxious is a completely preposterous thing and I should just “get over” whatever I’m feeling, but silly in the sense I can’t believe how much terror is incited within me just from seeing a person. I mean, it’s just a person, right? It’s not like I’m near a ticking time bomb, although it certainly can seem that way given what anxiety feels like at a very intense level.
The first clue is when my heart rate spikes. Gosh I hate that feeling. I could be walking down the street and see a person in the distance walking my way. My instinct is to cross over to the other side of the street but I’ve had enough practice to stay the course and make myself pass the person. I never know where on earth to place my eyes as I walk past. Do I make eye contact or not? The times I feel curious and want to glance at the person, I worry I will come off as creepy or intrusive. If the person doesn’t meet my gaze, I immediately assume I just made the other person uncomfortable. Or if the person looks back at me, I panic over how I am being perceived through that person’s eyes.
I think about two of the most instinctual things in humans. One, people are supposedly social creatures by nature. Two, people often look at anything and everything that catches their curiosity or attention. I read a while back that being stared at can trigger anxiety as the flight or fight response kicks in because our primitive ancestors used this biological instinct to fight back against predators and ultimately ensure their own survival. However, in the modern world, this biological response is more troublesome than helpful in situations like having to give a speech in front of others, which can cause stage fright. I am fascinated by the link between biological evolution and how these instincts have been adapted in modern life. I am quite sure if I had to live in a primitive world, I would probably perish early on.
Seeing social anxiety from a box outside my own mind, I consider how much simpler life would be if I weren’t so afraid of talking to people. If I take out the anxiety equation, talking to someone is just an exchange of knowledge and ideas. It is not supposed to be harmful or scary (unless people are discussing politics, which can get ugly really quickly). I could be speaking to someone, making eye contact, allowing the other person to look at me, and feel completely at ease. Ideally, this is what I wish for. I wish I could be comfortable being looked at and sharing things verbally. Instead anxiety twists the situation and tells me to perceive eye contact as dangerous and that every word out of my mouth is a heap of garage no one wants to hear. I’ve lost so many chances and opportunities in life because of this.