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Peg Doyle | September 10, 2022
I’ve been a volunteer for an environmental action group for a while now. I recently received an invitation to their annual social with a note to bring a guest or guests. I RSVP’d that I would be there since it was a night I knew I wasn’t working and really had no excuse not to attend.
My husband, who anticipated he would know none of the other guests, agreed to go with me. When the night arrived, neither of us was enthusiastic about going, but because he knew it was important to me to be there, he went along with me.
Why the Hesitation?
Here are some of my feeble excuses: who will I talk with, and what do we have in common? Will I remember names of people I’ve met before? I’ve hardly done any work for the group; will they think I only like socials? What if it’s noisy and I can’t hear people?
My voice is soft – what if no one can hear me? What if my husband feels lost and can’t get engaged with anyone? What if we’re both ignored?
Have you come up with excuses like these? I call them excuses because while some of them may be true, none is the real reason. The real reason is I’m nervous walking into a social situation thinking I’ll have nothing to offer or will feel like an outsider. In simple words, I suffer from social anxiety.
It turns out we had a fine time. I reacquainted with some people I knew from the past and met a few new ones too, as did my husband. On our way home, we talked about how we felt before we got there and how we felt afterwards.
We both admitted to our nervousness about going and took a guess that the likelihood is strong that virtually everyone struggles with some degree of social anxiety.
Everyone Is Different
I talked with a few people about this since the event. Each and every one said they feel some level of anxiety before social events, even those where many friends will be in attendance. A few who I asked were shocked to find I feel that way since I have a calm demeanor, and even more were shocked when I told them that virtually everyone I asked has said they have these feelings of unease before a gathering.
Social anxiety may just be a part of the human condition. Maybe it’s our ancient brain remembering to watch out for danger. Maybe it’s our personality. What do you think?
Social Isolation Made It Easy (a.k.a. Worse)
The pandemic made it easy to avoid social interaction. Mandates required social isolation. While we social anxiety folks may have found a measure of relief in this imposed isolation, in the long run it has made us less comfortable with live gatherings.
If you used video calls as your major link with the outside world for two years, and even turned off video so no one could see you, coming back into the real world with live people may pose a real challenge. But don’t pass it up. Live human connection is vitally important.
Infants literally cannot survive without human touch and connection. When we’re in the midst of people who we know love and care about us, we thrive, even if we’re a little nervous before we meet. When we reach out and help a person in need, we thrive.
We Can Do It
When we conquer our social anxiety and realize most people share the same feelings, we open ourselves up to new communities of mutually caring people. It will change you and the world for the better.
For me, I’m going to keep saying yes to invitations. When I get there, I’ll introduce myself to one person and ask them what brought them there, or I’ll ask them about themselves. And I’ll do my best to stay calm, remember that person I’m talking to may have similar feelings, and be grateful that someone thought of me when they made up the invitation list.