Everyone has those nights where they’re not in the mood to go out. You’ve had a long day and the thought of rallying for a socially-trying night out isn’t on your agenda. Totally fine! But what if you never want to go out? Meet new people at a tailgate? Hang out with your friends’ other friends? Maybe you’re not simply an introvert. Maybe you have social anxiety.
“Social anxiety is uncomfortable and distressing for the person experiencing it while shyness is not distressing and is simply reflective of an introverted interpersonal style,” says Dr. Ramani Durvasula, clinical psychologist and author of the book Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship with a Narcissist. The varying degrees of social anxiety affect people differently. You might enjoy hanging out with close friends, but then panic at large social gatherings; or maybe you have trouble making friends, and prefer to be alone most of the time. No matter where you fall on the spectrum, it’s important to understand your mental health so you can make sure you live your happiest, healthiest life. While you should always consult with a doctor to get an actual diagnosis, here are a few signs to look out for that can help you evaluate if you have social anxiety.
1. Meeting new people makes you nervous
If you’re a people-person, you probably enjoy getting to know new people. This can be the opposite for those on the shyer side. But there’s a difference between not liking to meet new people and having an uncontrollable mental reaction to the prospect of chatting with someone new, whether it be a classmate or a salesperson at Target. Dr. Ramani says “going to outings where they will have to meet with and interact with new people” might be uncomfortable for someone who’s socially anxious.
2. You hate being the center of the attention…for anything
Socially anxious people “may withhold opinions, agree with the crowd, ask for reassurance, or be very quiet and reticent,” Dr. Ramani says. Some people aren’t built for the spotlight, which is fine. There are plenty of extroverts out there fighting over it anyway. But sometimes being the center of attention is unavoidable. If you’re making a presentation, asked a question in class or being interviewed for a job, naturally everyone’s looking at you. If you find yourself freaking out in situations like these, you may be socially anxious.
3. Making phone calls can be a daunting task
You need to call the dean’s office to make an appointment, but you never get around to it. You also let all of your calls in general go to voicemail, even when you’re available to talk. Avoiding talking on the phone, which is pretty much essential for functioning in society, could suggest a bigger problem with social anxiety.
4. You avoid hanging out with people you like
Someone might be dealing with social anxiety “if a person is avoiding [social interaction] because they are anxious about being evaluated or looking foolish rather than not being social just because they want some time to themselves,” Dr. Ramani says. “In other words, if a person wants to be with other people but is avoiding it out of anxiety then that is an issue.”
Despite the paranoia socially anxious people might feel, odds are people do want to hang out with you. So if you’re saying no to a friend/crush/family member/whoever, you’re setting yourself up for even more loneliness and isolation. It’s normal to not be in the mood to hang out every once in a while, but if you’re saying no to people you genuinely like, that’s a sign something is holding you back. Relationships take work, and if you have trouble putting in your fair share, getting help might be a good idea.
5. You have to drink to feel comfortable around people
Drinking is a totally normal part of college and nearly everyone tends to be more social when they’re drunk. However, the latter shouldn’t be your go-to. “Lots of people with social anxiety drink to help manage the anxiety in social situations and it makes it easier for them,” Dr. Ramani says. “But this is a risky and problematic pattern because then they ‘need’ the alcohol to socialize and they may feel they cannot socialize without it and drink more than they want more often than they intend.” Don’t rely on alcohol to be yourself.
6. You have a physical reaction to social situations
Being shy is one thing, but generally your body doesn’t physically react just because you’re around people when you don’t necessarily want to be. “The person is concerned about looking foolish, feels awkward, and is uncomfortable anxious in such situations and may experience physiological symptoms of anxiety (racing heart, sweating, dizziness and even panic),” Dr. Ramani says. “As such their tendency is to avoid such situations or endure them with tremendous discomfort.”
A lot of people are introverted. Being shy is not a mental health issue. That being said, if your shyness feels overbearing and like it’s starting to take away from really living, think about seeing someone. No one’s asking you to be a social butterfly, but you could be a social you, however social that may be.