Social Anxiety And How To Cope With Working, Dating And Socialising

Social anxiety sucks. It makes you a trembling wreck, you dream up nightmare scenarios in your head, you stand with a group of people feeling sick, your mind goes blank if you’re asked something and everyone’s staring at you.

Most of the time, you end up bailing on going out and getting into bed with Netflix instead because Archie from Riverdale isn’t going to judge you.

But a few months ago, I realised I had a week coming up where I’d be doing something social every single day.

What’s more, for half the week I would be required to do sociable things with people I either didn’t know that well or didn’t know at all for most of the day.

This was a terrifying prospect, but I couldn’t get out of it. Well, technically, I could have just switched my laptop and phone off, crawled under the duvet and hidden from the world, but part of being an adult is facing up to the sh*t you have to do.

And besides, this wasn’t horrible stuff. It’s not like I was facing anything truly terrifying. I was going on a Tinder date with a guy I’d had good chat with, doing a podcast with colleagues about a topic close to my heart, and going to America for the first time.

Monday – Tinder date, 7pm

Tuesday – Podcast recording, 6.15pm

Wednesday – Gatwick airport and travelling with strangers, 7am

Thursday-Monday morning – Partying in Vegas

I sat in my bedroom the weekend before, my mind jumping to the worst case scenarios for each.

The guy hated me and walked out. I tripped over my words in the podcast, my mind went blank and it came out sh*t.

I missed my flight. I didn’t know what to say to anyone. I sat in the corner feeling like a total saddo for 4 days.

But then I realised I was pre-empting stuff that hadn’t even happened yet. I didn’t know what was going to happen – but that didn’t have to be scary. I was just making it scary in my head.

So I decided to take a deep breath and jump in headfirst – dealing with any setbacks as I went, learning from my mistakes and knowing that, no matter what, I’d come out the other end a wiser, braver and more confident person.

6pm, and I was sat in my room wiping my hands on a flannel. I get sweaty hands when I’m nervous about social stuff, and it was making it impossible for me to put my makeup on.

I live near Shoreditch, and I only needed to go to Hackney, so luckily there was no long Tube ride where I could overthink things, bottle it and jump on another line home to hide in bed.

Whenever I got a message from the guy, asking what I fancied doing, I’d jump out of my skin and squeak like a frightened mouse. ‘Shut up Imi,’ I finally thought, giving myself a mental slap around the face and getting my things together.

Because I’m extra, I got an Uber up to Hackney so I could be casually lounging on a bench when we met. In reality, I was sat poker straight, scrolling through my phone with a very serious expression on my face, as if I was looking at some very important emails.

I was actually just typing ‘F***’ over and over to a mate on WhatsApp, but I like to think that’s very important business too.

Thankfully, the guy actually turned up, looked like he did in his pictures, and didn’t take one look at me then run away screaming. It was looking good so far.

I tripped over my words a few times when we spoke, but he didn’t seem to notice or care. After a few hours in a pub garden, where we discussed everything from politics to philosophy, I felt relaxed and like I was just hanging out with a friend.

I did take a toilet break before entering relaxation mode to type a few more anxiety-fuelled expletives to my friend, but they sent back words of encouragement and I wiped my hands, then carried on.

I’d expected the date to last until 10 or 11pm, but in reality….it lasted until 11am the next day, where I fell out of his bed and got another Uber to my midday shift.

What’s more, he didn’t ghost me, block me, ignore me, or tell me he’d had a sh*t time (all scenarios that run through an anxiety-filled mind). I even sent him a selfie while I lay by the pool in Vegas.

I got the Tube over to Kensington so I could meet some colleagues to record an interview for Metro.co.uk’s podcast, Mentally Yours.

As the journey took around half an hour, there was more time to consider bolting and seeking the comfort of my duvet, but I reminded myself that my story could end up helping others.

When I arrived, there was someone else recording, so I sat to one side and went back to my good old habit of spamming profanities to anyone in the cybersphere who would listen, but it was soon time to start.

So I sat down, took a deep breath and focused on my breathing while everything got set up. We also had a casual introductory chat to get me acclimatised, which helped.

I did have my mind go blank a few times when I wasn’t sure how to answer a question, and I was paranoid that I said ‘Um’ too many times, but I just tried to forget the recording equipment was there and imagine I was having a casual conversation with friends.

Besides, it was the Vegas trip that held the most excitement and anxiety for me – as I would be flying across the world with people I didn’t know.

The group holiday was with a group of people, some of whom I knew, but others were complete strangers. We had a lot planned, so I focused on the stuff I was looking forward to more than what could potentially go wrong.

When you’re meeting with people you don’t know, it’s easy to become tongue-tied and paranoid that other people don’t like you, but I held on to the fact that they could be feeling the exact same way. And besides, it’d be silly for any of us to be anything other than friendly, as that would just make the holiday sh*t.

So when I met the other girls, I prepared some open-ended questions to ask, so they could take the reins and talk about themselves while I got my bearings. When I’m talking, I tend to ramble and go on for way too long, then get paranoid people think I’m being self-centred or arrogant, so I sat back and let other people talk where I could.

Sometimes I didn’t say much for a little while, and started to feel anxious. What if they thought I was being anti-social? Whenever I felt this way, I focused on grounding myself in the room, so I didn’t let my mind run away with me.

Taking deep breaths, focusing on how my coffee tasted, the patterns on the walls, and the hum of people around me, helped to keep me present – not lost in chaotic thoughts.

The plane ride was long, and we knew it’d be best to watch films then take a nap as we switched time zones, so I had 10 hours to myself.

It’s a good thing I made the most of it, as the trip was insanely busy and full of adventures – you can read about my experience with the Backstreet Boys, Magic Mike strippers and getting stranded in the desert here.

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Whenever I felt overwhelmed in the group of people I was with, or didn’t know what to say, I deflected conversation back to them, so they could talk and I could focus on my breathing, or I just absorbed the environment I was in, taking in the sights, sounds and smells.

More than anything, I distanced myself from my mind whenever it became chaotic. Thoughts like ‘they probably think I’m being weird’ ‘how am I going to get through the next hour’ and ‘I wonder if I can leg it back to my hotel room with nobody noticing’ got pushed away, and I tried to focus on the talk going on around me.

Due to being 8 hours behind the UK, I couldn’t text swear words to my friends and get instant replies, but after I’d left a few ‘F***’s for them to pick up later and lifted my head from my phone, the girls drew me into conversation and I found that soon I was talking and laughing with everyone else.

Sure, I spent the holiday battling my brain, feeling a bit uneasy from time to time and spending the odd 10 minutes in a toilet stall, wiping sweat off my palms, but when I landed back in London the following Monday, I felt like I’d really achieved something. I was proud of myself.

And when I loaded up Netflix, Archie was waiting for me.

Blushing

Trembling

Sweating

Feeling dizzy or lightheaded

Increased heartbeat

Upset stomach or nausea

Feeling your mind has gone blank

Fear of being judged in social situations

Worrying about embarrassing yourself

Intense fear of interacting with strangers

Fear that others will notice you’re anxious

Worrying about physical symptoms that could be noticeable such as sweating or having a shaky voice

Avoiding doing things or speaking to people out of fear of humiliation

Feeling anxious in anticipation of an activity or event

Being intensely scared or anxious during a social situation

Not wanting to be the centre of attention

Analysing your performance after social events and focusing on any mistakes or flaws

Expecting the worst possible scenario to happen

I mentioned a few tactics I used to deal with symptoms like sweating and thinking up the worst case scenarios for social events, such as breathing, mindfulness and taking breaks.

When I’m dreading an event but know I have to go, I sometimes do a 10-minute meditation – there are plenty around on YouTube and Spotify – and they help me feel more relaxed.

I used to sit at home afterwards and criticise my performance – but when I got into bed with a meditation track from The Honest Guys, I stopped beating myself up and visualised sitting on a beach instead. Much nicer.

Mental health charity Mind gave metro.co.uk a few more tips for those who are struggling with social anxiety.

‘Everyone can relate to experiencing anxiety from time to time, perhaps when speaking in public or meeting new people, but for people with social anxiety disorder it can be so overwhelming that it forces them to withdraw from social life altogether.

‘Lots of people with social anxiety are actually extremely sociable. Social anxiety affects everyone differently, but there are some commonly cited difficult situations, such as going to a party full of people you haven’t met before.

‘If you’re able to identify things that might trigger your anxiety, it’s easier to develop ways of coping. For example, if arriving at a social occasion on your own is particularly anxiety-provoking, you could arrange to meet a friend beforehand and travel there together.

‘It’s also key not to take too much on and to be honest with people close to you if you are finding it difficult to cope.’

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