How to Deal with Social Anxiety
Really I would rather be at home all by myself
Not in this room
With people who don't even care about my well-being
I don't dance, don't ask, I don't need a boyfriend
So you can, go back, please enjoy your party
These are some of the words self-described anti-social pessimist Alessia Cara sings in her wallflower anthem, “Here.” You’ve probably sang along with them, too. The song skyrocketed up the charts, turning a 16-year-old newcomer into a misanthrope icon for everyone who’d rather be at home eating pizza and watching Love Actually alone.
She’s not the only one embracing the loner label. Girls like Lorde, and Rookie hero Tavi Gevinson have done the impossible; being an outsider has never been so in. But the line between feeling antisocial and dealing with social anxiety is finer than Alessia’s voice. There’s a difference between not wanting to go to a party (sometimes parties just really do suck) and not being able to physically and mentally get yourself to set foot inside a party.
It’s not just about being a little introverted. As Susan Cain, author of Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts, explained; “Shyness and social anxiety are really the same thing, though social anxiety often refers to a more extreme form of shyness that can be not only unpleasant but also get in the way of fully enjoying your life.” It’s about feeling terrified that you’ll embarrass yourself if you say or do the wrong thing. It’s being scared you’ll be judged in a social situation, or feeling excessively self-conscious in front of other people. It’s fearing interactions, not just taking a night off from going out because you feel a little lazy and/or Gilmore Girls seems like a better alternative to hanging out with real people. (Not that Lorelai isn’t real, but you get it.)
Data shows that 15 million American adults have social anxiety disorders, and it usually hits around age 13. It also affects women more often the men (Surprise…! Just kidding, actually not surprising at all, right?), and it’s more common among people who were shy as kids.
Both of those things are true for me; and yet, I didn’t even know social anxiety was a thing when a psychologist told me I had it. When I got past the initial shock of being diagnosed with a highly stigmatized mental health disorder—pamphlets and all—it was an enormous relief. What’s worse than being hit with a label like that is not knowing why you can’t do the same things everyone else is doing—raising a hand in class, walking across campus, going to study groups—without having a minor-to-major meltdown.
As scary as it can seem to book an appointment and actually step into a doctor's office (blame it on the social anxiety), seeing someone can help so much, not just for drugs, but also for what can feel like infinite kinds of therapy (cognitive! behavior! exposure!). No medication on the market can promise that parties aren't still going to suck sometimes. But the thought of going out doesn't have to cause debilitating fear forever. Besides, sometimes being social can be kind of fun. Even Alessia would probably agree.