If you asked me in my early twenties whether or not I’ve ever sat alone at a café, I would scoff and say, ‘Of course not!’.
I used to think only loners would sit alone. Thinking back, I’m not sure exactly where this mentality comes from: that you have to be with someone, or else you may seem like a loser. Well, in high school no one wanted to be that person sitting alone in the cafeteria although not all adolescents care or mind it as there is nothing wrong if you sit alone. Yet, I believe my social anxiety developed during that time. Peer acceptance can be problematic since it often does bring about social anxiety in certain personalities.
Indeed, the way in which we handle social interactions nowadays is challenging. I do want to emphasise that there is nothing wrong, if you enjoy eating alone at a café but only noting that if you struggle with anxiety, it can be extra tough.
The idea anxiety often can be misconstrued so here I want to clearly define it.
Anxiety is the fear of rejection or being judged by someone else. Social anxiety, according to webmd, is the feeling of extreme nervousness in social situations. At times for me, it can be so overwhelming, up to the point where I avoided any social interactions altogether. That fear can keep you tight in a bubble and it is a real struggle to pop it, and just get out of it.
Talking to a friend about social anxiety, they said something that took me aback.
He said, “Why don’t you just do it and go sit at a restaurant by yourself”.
My anxiety had a fit. ‘Just do it!?” – what is this a Nike commercial? Easier said than done.
Although it was difficult at first, challenging my anxiety was the first step in conquering that fear of sitting alone in a café. The ultimate challenge in conquering social anxiety came when I went to Tokyo, Japan.
Imagine yourself in a strange, unfamiliar area. And not knowing anything about the language except to ask ‘Toilet des-ka’ and ‘Speak English?’. Plus being by yourself in a foreign place brings about a huge culture shock. Whenever I travelled, I was always with family or friends. My first real solo adventures ever, were in Japan.
I had just finished seeing one of the coolest digital art shows: Teamlab borderless (I highly recommend seeing that show if you’re ever in Tokyo)
And I had a lunch reservation and I had to transfer in Tokyo station to get to my next destination.
Tokyo station is the central terminal in Tokyo, that extends to numerous lines for shinkansen bullet trains. That terminal station is colossal that even locals can easily get lost.
Even though Tokyo is English-friendly, having lots of signs in English, it was still difficult to navigate. And being by myself, I really had to step out of my comfort zone and be confident in asking strangers questions. If you struggle with social anxiety, it can be very uncomfortable. Yet I just did it. And honestly, is not as scary as I thought it would be. Even though being lost was super frustrating, adding the fact I missed my lunch reservation and was starving.
Disclaimer: not every country you travel solo in will be as accommodating as I’ve found Japan to be. Always make sure you are safe when travelling solo. If you do get lost and need help, I highly recommend speaking to someone who is dressed in a uniform (someone who looks professional or a police officer) especially if you’re flying solo.
From this experience I’ve learned the anxiety-monkey on my back, can be taken off; that it can’t stop me from doing things I want to do, such as eating in a café alone. Travelling solo truly can give you confidence. It did for me.
It also gave me a chance to be in control and go in whatever direction I wanted, without worrying about someone else’s needs. I had a chance to truly focus on me and learn more about what I was capable of. It was very empowering to know that I got through it on my own. I eventually found my way through Tokyo station, even though I aimlessly walked around. I wandered around until I found an information travel booth. Despite being lost, I managed and got through it.
Now I really enjoy my solo adventures and I truly don’t mind getting lost. You learn a lot more about yourself when you get lost. If you’re brave enough to travel solo, I highly recommend taking the opportunity, it can be a fun adventure that can build self-confidence.