Thursday, June 21, 2012

Social Anxiety

If you've read my blog before, you'll realize that I'm a geek, or, if you prefer, a big nerd.  I'm cool with that.  It's who I am.  One of the reasons that I am who I am is because of social anxiety.  In high school, I would escape social situations by playing video games alone at home and only hanging out with the few close friends that I had.  I've always felt anxious in social situations, but only lately have I realized that even though work is obviously a social situation, I don't feel anxiety about going to work or meetings at work.

I started to wonder why this was true.  I thought that if I could figure out why I felt different about work that I could somehow apply that to normal social situations.  So far, the only thing that I can think of is that I don't see the people I work with as social entities.  That's hard to explain; even though I like most of the people around me at work, I guess that I don't feel like I'm there to be social.  I'm there to work.  I'm not a psychologist by any means, so I don't know if that's the right answer or not, but it presents a problem if that's true.  If that's true, it means that I can't apply it to other social situations because I am in those situations specifically to socialize.  I'm also not saying that I don't feel social anxiety while at work.  Running into someone you know just walking down the hall at work is quite an awkward situation for me.  Do I look in their direction?  When should I acknowledge them?  How do I acknowledge them?  I don't know how other people do it so effortlessly.

Just to be clear, the anxiety I feel about social situations isn't just a tiny amount of stress.  It's a nearly crippling, hard to breathe level of stress.  Just yesterday I had a company social event (we bowled at a fancy bowling alley place called Pinstripes).  Before the event, as I was driving there, I was practically in a panicked state.  I was thinking over and over that I didn't have to go and that I should just skip it.  Once I was there, the stress lessened, but I could still feel it in my gut the whole time I was there.

So, what do I do?  I push through the feelings as best I can.  Yesterday, I just forced myself to go inside and talk and bowl and try to have fun.  I still felt terribly awkward the whole time and hope that others didn't pick up on that.  In many social situations (such as parties), I can just stand around and not talk to anyone.  In these situations, I'm afraid that I come off as a pretentious jerk who doesn't want to talk to anyone.  That couldn't be further from the truth.  I would love to talk to people and get to know them, but I'm crippled by anxiety over saying the wrong thing, or not being able to follow social customs.  So, I just stay quiet and out of everyone's way.

Just writing about this is hard.  I don't even know why I decided to write about this at all.  Maybe I'm wondering how other people who have social anxiety handle it.  If you feel like sharing, leave a comment.  Maybe I hope that getting this off my chest will help me deal with the issue.  I don't know.  Sometimes I feel like Raj from The Big Bang Theory, but not as extreme and more general than just not being able to talk to pretty girls.


  1. Oh dude, I'm so with you on that. Why do you think I NEVER left the apartment when we were all on the LA project together? Dave has to force me to do social events sometimes. Sigh.

    And that's why you and I each married our respective social butterflies. :)

  2. This is an incredibly courageous entry. Many people feel what you feel at some time in their lives. And most of them try to hide it just like you did. In my late twenties I had social anxiety so crippling that I was actually housebound for several months. It took a lot of work and quite a bit of time for me to be able to function normally again in a social environment. It blew me out of a profession I loved and and messed up my life for a long time. But there is hope for all of us who suffer from social anxiety. They have a lot of techniques now that can really improve things very quickly.

  3. You do well! Someday, when the kids are older, it will be nice because you can have me around for a lot of those social outings. As Jess alluded, I can talk for both of us! You don't ever come off as pretentious, just shy/quiet. I love you!