By Eunice Wu
Living in a world that celebrated extroversion, I’ve always felt like I wasn’t enough. It didn’t help that “speak up more in class” was the comment that most frequently appeared on my report cards, or that I was always deemed ‘the quiet kid.’ It made me loathe my introverted nature, and eventually I started fearing social situations altogether. The feeling gnawed at me, and I began to experience involuntary tremors whenever I was put under the spotlight. I decided to seek help and was diagnosed with social anxiety – this was three years ago.
I’ve found that focusing your attention on the present helps. Personally, my anxiety manifests in concerns about the future and my mind often hyperbolises the possible impacts of my current actions. Focus on your breathing, on the rhythm of your heartbeat, on being here in this moment. Fixate on a focal point from your physical surroundings, whether it be counting your own fingers or the CO2 monitors in the lecture theatre.
If you’re not provoked by specific stimuli or are experiencing a broader type of anxiety, I’d recommend hobbies that don’t require meticulous attention but aren’t low maintenance enough for you to drift off into distressing thought. I’ve been trying to get into crocheting recently. This is essentially the repetition of loops and knots except you’ll have to keep track of the pattern you are attempting. Listening to ASMR or playing games like Monument Valley can be useful, because these types of media have the intention of relaxing your mind and body. By developing interests like these which promote mindfulness, you become aware of sensations and feelings that you are experiencing in the present.
Another way I’ve dealt with social anxiety is to get involved in creative projects. Since I’m not comfortable with the pressure of small talk and crowds, I prefer to express myself through writing or graphic design. Within these creative outlets, my personality is not defined by merely what comes out of my mouth. It’s important to note that avoidance might not be the best way to deal with a phobia like social anxiety. After all, the key to recovery is to acknowledge that your fear is irrational. Nonetheless, I do believe that if you find the right balance for yourself and aren’t being a complete recluse, it’s okay to seek solitude.
I’ve been spoon-fed the idea that only social butterflies go places my whole life. I’m now in the process of dismantling that view – that being loud in thought can be just as powerful. After the past year’s series of lockdowns and quarantine periods, I do think socialising brings positive effects to your wellbeing, regardless of temperament. We’ve all realised the significance of companionship.
At the beginning of my diagnosis, I let my social anxiety define me. It was my excuse for rejecting invites to gatherings, or performing poorly in interviews. I had this “not like other girls” mindset. I thought no one understood me and I was having it harder than others. Anxiety is one of the most common mental disorders in the world, so I am certainly not alone. I’ve come to acknowledge that people have their personal struggles which they don’t speak of, but that is not a cue to invalidate your own issues.
This piece is my acceptance of social anxiety as a part of who I am. It’s one of the reasons why I chose to pursue a psychology degree, and I’m enjoying myself so far. While I have reached remission, I still get the jitters for a presentation because I’m just naturally shy, or I’ve had somatic reactions due to stress. This is how I function as a person, and I’m glad I can say that with confidence.
It’s been an especially nerve-wracking time for me following the return to “normal” at the University. My normality was Zoom lectures and an empty Bailey. I’ve been easing myself into this and only attending socials that I genuinely want to be at. It’s also been pleasant for me to have met a couple of lovely people simply while walking through Durham (shoutout to the girl who recognised my BT21 charm on Cardiac Hill). It’s good to know people won’t eat you. All jokes aside, I consider myself to be handling this first month well.
If you are reading this, congratulations to you, too. You have survived the first month of Michaelmas term, picked up a copy of Palatinate and pumpkin spice lattes are back – life is good.
Illustration: Adeline Zhao