Is Social Anxiety Ruining Your Fun?
Undoubtedly, social anxiety interferes with life and can ruin your fun (Social Anxiety: A Spectrum from Shy to Avoidant). Living with social anxiety means being on edge, unable to relax or let our guard down. Experiencing social anxiety means living in fear of doing something embarrassing or being judged as incompetent, inadequate, "less than." Social anxiety creates racing thoughts that are relentlessly self-critical. The anxiety, fear, and sheer exhaustion of all of this can make us shy away from people and social situations. In doing so, is social anxiety ruining your fun?
Recently, my husband and I joined a few couples for dinner. One couple didn't show up as planned; the woman's husband lives with social anxiety disorder and at the last minute backed out. It's quite possible that that night, social anxiety ruined this couple's fun.
As someone who experienced significant social anxiety in the not-too-distant past (and still experiences it mildly on occasion), I can empathize what this man was experiencing. His wife wanted him to join their group of friends for dinner. He likely wanted to do so as well. In the end, fear of judgment, anxiety over knowing what to say, when to say it, and how much to say, and other such worries prevented him from joining a group of friends in a restaurant for a couple of hours.
Did social anxiety ruin this couple's fun? Because we can't mind-read, we don't know with certainty -- and making assumptions about what people think and feel is dangerous for everyone (Mind-Reading and Projecting in Social Anxiety). What we can know is how social anxiety impacts us individually. Is social anxiety ruining your fun? The answer: it depends.
To Ruin Your Fun, Social Anxiety Must Be a Problem
Social anxiety is not an enjoyable experience. The symptoms of social anxiety are unpleasant, and this anxiety affects our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It's fair to say that in general, social anxiety can create problems in our lives. However, does it completely destroy our lives and ruin all chances we have at fun? Perhaps surprisingly, the answer is no.
In deciding how much social anxiety is interfering in your life, limiting what you do and taking away enjoyment (or fun), ponder these questions:
- Does it stop you from doing what you really want to do? Or rather, how often does it stop you from doing what you really want to do?
- To what degree does it interfere in your relationships, and which of your relationships are affected by it?
- How would your life be better, what things would you enjoy doing more of, if the social anxiety were gone from your life (Five Solution-Focused Ways to Beat Anxiety)? In other words, define "fun" and what it truly means to you.
In giving thought and honest, thorough answers to these questions, you'll pinpoint where social anxiety is a life-limiting, fun-squashing problem and where it's an annoyance but really not all that problematic.
This is key to rising above social anxiety. You can use your answers to the first two questions to dive into the third. Knowing what you truly want and how anxiety is stopping you are important first steps in taking action to beat social anxiety.
Sometimes Social Anxiety Ruins Fun, and Sometimes it Doesn't
The couple who decided not to join us for dinner might have been disappointed or angry at social anxiety for interfering. Their fun might have been ruined. On the other hand, not everyone enjoys going to restaurants, or a particular restaurant chosen by other people. Going out to dinner with friends, even though they like said friends, might not be something fun whether or not the man experienced social anxiety. If this is the case, then in this particular instance, social anxiety wasn't that much of a problem.
For me, there used to be things I missed out on because of social anxiety. I didn't like it when social anxiety stepped in and ruined the fun of a snowshoeing trip with a colleague, for example. Other times, social anxiety kept me from doing something that I wouldn't enjoy even without anxiety. In those times, social anxiety didn't ruin my fun and wasn't actually a problem.
Defining fun, knowing what you enjoy, and understanding when social anxiety is a problem and when it isn't can keep you from feeling completely crushed by it. Then, when you know where social anxiety does ruin your fun, you can narrow your focus to those situations and create action plans to beat social anxiety.
NCC, T. (2017, February 9). Is Social Anxiety Ruining Your Fun?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, June 25 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2017/02/is-social-anxiety-ruining-your-fun
Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC
Very well said about hope! Hope is that part of you (everyone!) that believes in yourself no matter what. Hope is the part of you that loves life, even when it's currently limited and there are things you want to change. Hope does get us through, and it's a very real thing.
As far as how long I've had social anxiety, I've pretty much had it to some degree my whole life. After a traumatic brain injury, it skyrocketed. Anxiety in general spiked, and with it, social anxiety disorder. After the injury I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. While this was intertwined with anxiety, I also think they were each there in their own right, as related but separate challenges. I've been able to transcend both, but social anxiety does rear it's ugly head more than I want it to. For me, it helps to separate myself from it. It's there, but it's not me. I can have the anxious thoughts and feelings but know that they're related to a disorder that doesn't define me. I accept them, and move forward past them. It's sometimes more difficult than other times, but it does work well.
Have you heard of the term agoraphobia? (I'm not diagnosing you! I would never insult you by doing that just based on this limited information. It's just that much of what you described fits the description of agoraphobia. Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder. It used to be a type of panic disorder (there was panic disorder, and there was panic disorder with agoraphobia). Now, though, agoraphobia is classified as its own type of anxiety disorder. Sometimes people with agoraphobia do have panic attacks, and sometimes they don't. If you're interested in learning more, check out http://www.healthyplace.com/anxiety-panic/articles/living-with-agoraphobia-homepage/ and http://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2016/01/avoidance-and-agoraphobia-come-from-fear-not-failure/. And always keep that very real hope!
Thank you for your comment and for sharing your wise tips on what helps you. Meds, a good diet, exercise -- all incredibly important and helpful! (Well, medication is a decision that must be made between each person and his/her doctor, but when a doctor determines that they are helpful, then they are a very good idea.) Getting care and support are helpful, too. Sometimes, there are big things in our life that we'd really like to change but we can't. That can be difficult. When you want a change but can't move from where you live, it can be frustrating and make mental health challenges even more difficult. Are there changes you can make in your life even though you can't move? A new interest or hobby to develop, or maybe some online classes to learn new things? Or doing something creative, something you've always been interested in (writing, painting, quilting, knitting, collage-making, learning to play an instrument, etc.) Creativity can be freeing. Pinterest can actually be a great place for ideas and inspiration. Browse pictures that related to your interests, click links and read articles, create boards of your own to gather ideas, etc. I do know that this isn't the same as being able to move, but these ideas might give you ways to expand your horizons right where you are. And always, keep up what you're doing with meds, nutrition, and exercise!