Overcoming Social Anxiety

When I moved to Calgary this summer, I developed a type of social anxiety. I wasn’t sure how to make friends, I wasn’t sure if I was going to fit in, I wasn’t sure how to create a life here. I worried constantly. And it was weird and definitely out of character.

I’m an introvert but I’ve never had trouble socializing. I’ve always had tons of friends, and although I’m no social butterfly (introvert, remember?), when I wanted it, I could have a fairly busy social calendar. But here I was, internally a nervous wreck because I was in a city I didn’t know anyone in.

So at first, I did nothing except worry. Then I decided to tag along to the parties my family was going to (I refused to go anywhere in the first few weeks). At these parties and events, I just stayed quiet and tried to make myself invisible. I didn’t reach out to anyone and I’m sure I didn’t seem like anyone that could be approached. This was a self-fulfilling vicious prophecy. I thought no one would want to talk to me so I tried to be invisible and by doing so ensured no one did talk to me. This went on for a while, during which I complained to my friends over the phone and iMessage about my fears and nervousness again and again and again. Thanks for putting up with me guys, I appreciate it.

Then I started to make a little bit of effort. Not a lot. Just here and there. It started with asking for someone’s number and texting them. Then it was a very blunt, ‘Hey, I like you. Let’s hang out tomorrow,’ which lucky for me, went over quite well. It was a little bit here and a little bit there. Then I decided to make movie plans and invite a bunch of people. Some people came..some people didn’t. The movie wasn’t very good but it was something I organized and went to, and it was good.

One day, I hung out with my brother and his friend. We smoked sheesha and talked relationships. Apparently, my brother thought it was a bit weird how his sister and his friend were talking about that, but it was fun and turned out well. Then there was the Pakistani Student Society’s Eid party at University of Calgary, I went with a new friend and really enjoyed myself. It was my first such event where I didn’t know everyone, where I wasn’t in the thick of it all, and definitely a very new way to experience that sort of social event. But it was fun. I talked to a few new people here and there. I spotted a boy I met almost 10 years ago (but I didn’t talk to him), and watched some ridiculous people be ridiculous (there’s always a few of those at every event).

Then an old elementary classmate came into town and I was invited to go out with a bunch of people to hang out. I was the only girl..I was also not an engineer..but I enjoyed it. By that time, I was feeling more and more like my regular self. I didn’t feel the need to constantly contribute something to the conversation, I was content to listen if I didn’t have anything to say without internally freaking out about being the silent one.

I don’t know why I felt so socially anxious, and I mean, I’m not going to lie and say it’s all gone. It’s still there a bit, here and there. It’s that part of me that pauses and questions whether I should text this new friend again or not, the part of me that once in a while tallies up how many times I started the conversation and how many times they did. I don’t like it, but I accept that sometimes those thoughts creep into my mind. But a few months ago, they would have ruled my mind. Now, thankfully, I can acknowledge them and move on with my day-to-day life. As I mentioned before, if you want to talk to someone, do it. If they don’t want to talk to you, drop it. Sometimes thinking too much can ruin a thing.

But how did I conquer this social anxiety? For me, it’s very simple (although simple doesn’t mean easy), I face my fears head on by scheduling them into my life. I bought a ticket to the Eid party and because I had spent money, I knew I had to go. I RSVP-ed to the Calgary chapter of Social Media Breakfast’s October meet up (I even dressed up, guys, it was on Halloween), I made a Facebook event and invited everyone to the movies. I even went to a baby shower (I came away knowing the prices of a lot of baby items..haha).

I made it my goal to go to just 2 events for the month. 2 events that made me uncomfortable and nervous. In 30 days I would have to go to just 2 and probably only for a couple hours. When you put it that way, it seems pretty doable right? So I did, and those 2 things turned into a number of things, actually. After the 2, I could have just been like, nope, I did what I set out to do, and that’s it. And that would be okay. But the great thing was, those 2 events gave me the confidence to say yes when other social opportunities came up.

So I had a pretty social October. I also publicly launched PHOENIX|D (Edit: now known as Wanderoak) and had a 60+ hour work week. And I remembered that I’m a social creature too, despite the extended amounts of alone time I (very much) need in order to function normally. Going out with people, talking to people, these are things I need to; they benefit me in a lot of ways. By being moderately social, I became better in all arenas of my life.

And all of that meant this: I don’t hate Calgary anymore. I won’t go so far as to say I like Calgary, yet. But I don’t hate it. There’s some cool people in this city. I know that now because I went out and met them.

You don’t have to be social like other people are social.

One of the guys I’ve recently met is very charismatic and talkative. I’m pretty sure he could hold his own in most company, in fact, my brother is a bit like that too. I, however, am not. I’m very particular about the kinds of people I associate with and I find small talk a little too small after a while. And you know what? That is okay. You be social the way you’re comfortable being social, there’s all kinds of styles, and all of them are good. Just worry about your style being a good fit for you.

You don’t need to be a social butterfly.

I know people who need to go out at least once every weekend. They feel socially starved without it, like their life is empty and boring. I also know people who could go a whole month without talking to anyone they don’t work with or live with, and they are completely okay with that. There are also people like me, I don’t like to go out every weekend, but I feel better if I’ve been to 2 or 3 fun events in the month. Once in a while, I’m very social, which for me means 4-6 events in a month. All of these are okay. Don’t feel the pressure to socialize more than you want or can handle.

You are a social creature, so make the effort to be a little social, at least.

Are you human? Then you are a social animal. You cannot live your life shut away from the world with just Netflix and NBA games to keep you company. Or books. Or video games. Whatever your thing is. Sometimes we have or develop social anxiety. This is not a sign that socializing is bad for you or not for you, it’s a sign that something happened in your life that turned you away from it a bit. This is a negative thing and you should work to overcome it. Refer to the two pieces of advice above.

So that’s my two cents on socializing and overcoming social anxiety, have you ever had trouble with this? I’d love to hear from you on Facebook or in the comments!