Your Every Move Is Being Watched

The everyday struggles of Social Anxiety

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This is what it feels like for those who suffer from social anxiety. Every move you make, every step you take, they are watching, waiting for you to mess up.

This is what it feels like for those who suffer from social anxiety. Every move you make, every step you take, they are watching, waiting for you to mess up. (Emma Harris)

Your teacher forgot to give you a sheet when they were passing them out. It will only take a second to point out their mistake and ask for one. Not a big deal, right? Wrong. It’s a huge deal- at least to us. Your heart quickens, your breath shortens. It’s not a big deal. Just ask. You need one to take notes, which you need to study, which you need to do in order to become successful and achieve your goals and ambitions. But you just can’t do it, spiraling into these thoughts and a whirlwind of emotions. You’ve finally mustered up the courage, but it’s been five whole minutes since the papers were handed out: what will the teacher think? You know they’re going to interrogate you about why you waited so long, and when they do your face is going to be bright red. This isn’t being shy, this isn’t being ‘introverted’. This is social anxiety. 

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 6.8% of the US population is currently diagnosed with social anxiety. Unfortunately, the very nature of social anxiety means people who suffer from it usually never actually reach out to get a diagnosis and help, meaning this number is lower than the actual reality. Social anxiety disorder- abbreviated to SAD, in a bitter humor- is, also unfortunately, understated and described in a manner that doesn’t accurately depict what it’s like. Here’s what social anxiety isn’t: it isn’t just shyness. It’s like self-consciousness on steroids. Every move you make, every step you take, people are watching you, judging you. You are drowning in the intense fear and anxiety of being judged, and everyone is a potential shark circling their prey. To clarify, having Social Anxiety does not mean you think the worst of people, it means you think the worst of yourself. As a person who has suffered from social anxiety as long as she can remember, here’s some insight into what it’s actually like to live with SAD: 

Here’s a playlist of songs I can relate to, having social anxiety myself:

Every time you open your mouth, you set yourself up for a million different failures and a million different embarrassments. One single mistake will linger in your mind for months, maybe even years. Every “thank you” when someone opens the door for you can be so scary it doesn’t even come out when you try. You open your mouth and nothing happens. It’s too late now. They’re already gone. They think you’re a jerk- you just know it. You start to dread entering doors, knowing the anxiety that will ensue the experience. You wish people wouldn’t open doors for you. 

There has not been one report card in your whole life that didn’t say “doesn’t participate enough.” ‘Yeah, no kidding,’ you think to yourself. How are you supposed to raise your hand when you have social anxiety? Your heart starts to beat a million miles per hour, your hands shake and your voice audibly trembles (which makes the situation entirely worse), breathing becomes gradually more difficult as it feels like an elephant is sitting on your chest. 

If that’s what it feels like when you choose to raise your hand, one can only imagine what it’s like when a teacher calls on you in class when you don’t raise your hand. But we’ll make this example situation the best it can possibly be: luckily, you know the answer, so for the most part it’s okay, right? Wrong again. Your mind launches into a full panic and wipes your memory like it’s a computer with a virus. You have three choices: stay completely silent, stutter out a response that doesn’t make any sense, or fill the awkward silence with an ‘ummm’. You will regret all of them. Your face will turn bright red, everyone will notice, everyone will think you’re stupid, and everyone will scrutinize you. Most likely, the teacher will try to help and reword the question, but it doesn’t matter; your mind is already so crammed with self-contempt and hyper awareness of every single person’s facial expression, analyzing them for any sign of judgement or disgust, that you can’t comprehend a single word the teacher is saying. It only makes it worse, more humiliating, and for the rest of class you’ve completely shut down.      

You’re walking past people and become hyper aware of the way you’re walking. You don’t know how a person could possibly judge you for the way you walk, but anxiety doesn’t care and you begin to overthink it anyway. Yes, that’s right: you overthink walking. Nobody’s even paying attention to you, but because of this now weird, uneven way you’ve started to walk due to your hyper self consciousness, you know you’re at a higher chance of tripping. This only increases your anxiety. Meanwhile, you’re worried they think you’re drunk. 

No matter how many compliments you receive, you still feel the same way: like you’re inferior in pretty much every way, that people are annoyed by you. There’s maybe not even a real reason to believe your own cruel words and internal dialogues of self lamenting. It’s just ingrained in you, almost as if it’s part of your personality. In this regard, social anxiety is akin to wearing a virtual reality headset: your reality isn’t reality at all, but a twisted perception you can’t escape. Its trigger is simply being in the same room as someone, an unavoidable thing. This someone could even be a best friend, someone you know will love you no matter what mistakes you make. But it isn’t even just about making a mistake either- it’s simply about existing as a human being and knowing not everyone will like you, torturing yourself with repetitive and unrelinquishing thoughts about being an annoyance or weak or stupid or rude or any other negative trait you could possibly have. 

When you have social anxiety, the simplest tasks take an immense amount of courage. It’s no surprise that it can interfere with your whole life and keep you from living, social interaction being a necessity, but a terrifying nightmare. It’s also no surprise that this condition often leads to isolation and the development of depression. SAD is arguably the most self-sabotaging disorder, for not only do you drown in your own constant self-criticism, but the enveloping fear of being judged and rejected makes opening up and talking about it, the best way to get better, extremely and utterly terrifying. 

Nothing I just described is an exaggeration- without medicine, and even with medication if it’s a bad day, this is my reality. Sadly, many people suffer from the same reality without realizing it isn’t normal, being called ‘shy’, and they continue to miss out on their own lives due to an intense fear of rejection, humiliation, and negative evaluation. If you feel the same way and can relate to this article, reach out to someone and get professional help- this doesn’t have to be reality. If you’re a loved one of someone with SAD, you can try to put yourself in their shoes by actually taking tests to see if you have it. I hope this was helpful for gaining insight into what it’s really like living with the debilitating disorder Social Anxiety.