What is it like to experience social anxiety?
Mental Health Awareness Week 2023 aims to increase people’s awareness and understanding of anxiety. In this blog, BSc Computer Science student Kyle explores how it can feel to suffer from social anxiety.
Intensely I stare, my focus not on what’s in front of me. “That was stupid, I shouldn’t have said all that”. All of a sudden I’m engulfed, not in what is, but what could have been. How am I supposed to act normal when it’s pretty obvious that they’re talking about me, laughing at me. Why else would they be whispering to each other?
“Haha” I laugh nervously, “What are you guys talking about?”.
“Oh something that happened the other night.”
Am I losing my friends? Why is it that when I go out nothing eventful happens, but on the nights that I don’t… “this” happens. Of course it’s me, I just bring the mood down. That’s exactly why I didn’t go in the first place, I didn’t want to burden anyone, and that’s evidently what I’m doing now. I’d better say something before they start to think that I’m upset or something. The last thing I’d want to do is ruin their good time.
“That sounds like a lot of fun, it must’ve been great.”
“It was! Remember when…” she says looking at her friend as she brings up more of the night. I’m not even in this conversation, am I? My heartbeat thuds. So loud that it’s all I hear.
“Okay this is fine” I whisper under my breath, knowing that I’ve been here before. I press my hands on my ears and they’re scalding hot.
“I’ll be right back; I just need the restroom.”
I get off the chair, frantically walking towards the nearest restroom. I get there gasping for air. I place both hands on the edge of the sink, staring at the floor, trying to regain my composure. Taking a deep breath, I gain the confidence to lift my head up and stare in the mirror. The look of desperation stares back at me. Pausing for a moment, acknowledging that I didn’t recognise who I was looking at, my eyes flood with tears. I rush to the tap to cover my face with cold water. I feel my face emitting heat through the water, yet despite the flowing water, none of it came from my eyes. Turning off the tap, I look back up to see my tomato red ears and messy hair. “Okay… okay”. Feeling somewhat in control again, I wipe my face and take one final look in the mirror. A different look stares back this time, one of defeat, as if I was sending a soldier off to their inevitable doom. I get to the door and before I open it I start to think of the mess I now look like. I can’t go back out there; they’ll know that something is wrong. Cowardly, but logically, I leave. I leave to go back home.
Once I’m back home, I take my laptop and lie down in bed with the show I’m watching. Just before though, I check my phone to see no new notifications. They didn’t even notice I was gone. Do you think now that I’m gone they’re having one of those ”memorable” nights? Trying not to think about it, I find myself constantly rewinding the show because I can’t seem to pay attention. Eventually, as the hours pass and the night deepens, I fall asleep.
Waking up the next day, I immediately check my phone. Still no messages. I start to blame myself as if I have that sort of control over my emotions. “You made your bed now lie in it” I say to myself. If only I didn’t get these stupid thoughts and my stupid ears didn’t get so hot. Why is it that no matter what I do, I do it wrong? Hearing my heartbeat raise a few decibels, I open my laptop to distract myself, knowing that it probably won’t help. As I constantly keep stopping to rewind, time just… elapses. Eventually though, my phone dings.
This time I do have messages. The one I fixate on reads: “Hey, we missed you last night. Didn’t get enough time to talk to you, it was kinda crazy. I’m going for ice cream a little later, wanted to ask if you’d like to come?”.
Silence. A few deep breaths later and it’s still silent. I ponder in thought, sticking my tongue in between my left molars. It’s still silent. My phone screen dims, and then eventually goes off. As if that was a trigger, I turn back to my laptop, lay down, and continue watching.
As of July 11, 2022, 36.6% of adults were categorised as having some form of anxiety. In the same year, 77% of college students were said to have experienced “serious psychological distress” with 35% of that being because of anxiety. If you are a student suffering from any form of anxiety, I just want you to know that you are most definitely not alone.
If you would like to talk to someone about how you are feeling, remember that University of London online and distance learning students have free access to the TalkCampus app, where you can access peer-to-peer support and a crisis support helpline with trained mental health professionals and clinicians. Find out more about TalkCampus and more wellbeing support in the Wellbeing section on your Student Portal.
Kyle studies BSc Computer Science in the UK.