When we are living with social anxiety, it makes socialising really difficult. We might find ourselves feeling very isolated and lonely. Loneliness is damaging to our overall health. Feeling connected and having a sense of belonging are needs we all have. When we have social anxiety and feel lonely, the two can feel at odds with one another with conflicting needs and feelings.
How Social Anxiety Feels
Social anxiety can be exhausting, overwhelming and frightening. When we socialise, our body can go into ‘fight or flight’ mode, we feel on edge, and our thoughts can become loud and chaotic. Our senses heighten and we can feel floored by sounds, noise, smells and crowds of people. We might find that our breathing becomes shallower and some of us might experience pain in our chest and a light-headedness.
Because anxiety is such a horrible feeling, we often avoid spending time with others in order to avoid these feelings.
Social Anxiety Doesn’t Mean We’re Anti-Social
A common misconception about social anxiety is that we’re antisocial, or we ‘hate people’. This isn’t usually the case. We aren’t normally antisocial, we just get incredibly anxious being around other people. This means that social interactions can be phenomenally exhausting.
The level of exhaustion we feel can impact on how much time we’re able to spend around others. We often have to be careful to balance everything in order to make sure that we don’t tire ourselves out completely. This can mean that we have to say no to certain social occasions in order to look after ourselves and balance our energy levels. Turning down events doesn’t mean that we’re anti-social, it often means that we’re trying to manage our condition.
The Rise Of Loneliness
Unfortunately, when we have to manage how much time we spend around people in order to manage our anxiety and energy levels, it can mean that we can begin to feel increasingly lonely. Some of us with social anxiety are extroverts; we get our energy from the people around us. Others are more introverted, but nevertheless, we can still feel lonely if we spend too much time alone.
This sense of loneliness can be frustrating and confusing because it’s so contradictory to the levels of anxiety we feel when around other people.
Some social events will cause us more anxiety than others. Some of us have no problem being in a room of 30 people but give us a situation where we’re 1:1 with someone, and we will want to run a mile. Others of us can feel okay being with a couple of people, but crowds totally terrify us.
Once we’re aware that we have different levels of anxiety at different types of events, it’s something that we can begin to reflect on. This reflection can allow us to improve the balance between our ‘people time’ and our ‘alone time’, consequently improving our levels of loneliness without pushing us beyond the limits of what we feel we can manage.
It can be a slow, ongoing, process. There can be a fair amount of trial and error involved. But over time, reflecting on how anxiety-provoking we find things, and jiggling things around, can allow us to better manage our anxiety and loneliness.
We Feel Differently About Different People
Our relationships with others vary considerably. There will be some people that we feel comfortable around them and don’t feel as drained or anxious as we normally do when we’re around others. We might find this comfort in a partner, or a child, but it could also take the form of a friend or another family member. Spending time around these people can help us to combat loneliness without experiencing too much anxiety.
When we’re struggling to socialise, social media can be helpful. Though we may still feel some anxiety when using social media, it’s unlikely that we will feel it to the extent that we do when we’re out and about with people. Social media isn’t a replacement for human contact, but it can be a helpful ‘halfway house’ between being totally isolated and physically socialising. When we’re feeling lonely, it can be a way to connect with other people, where we’re in total control of when and who we communicate with.
Not everyone likes pets or is able to get a pet. But for those of us who are pet-fans, and are able to have a furry friend in our lives, pets can help us to feel less alone without putting any pressure on us to be part of a social event or conversation. They can be a real comfort when we’re feeling anxious or lonely. Additionally, our pets can help us socially, particularly if it’s a pet like a dog gets us out of the house. Pets can be a great talking point if we’re struggling for conversation starters.
Social anxiety and loneliness can feel at odds with one another. It can be incredibly uncomfortable to feel both at the same time because they can be so conflicting. There are some ways to manage them, though, and there are people who can offer us some more support should we need it.
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