Have you ever made plans to go out with friends or arranged a Bumble date and then suddenly felt like not going? Well, it may be more than just laziness.
After a long year in lockdown, it’s natural that we’d feel some anxiety and stress before going out. Even though we’re excited to see our friends in person or go on a nice (or trash) date with someone, we might also struggle to fight the strong temptation to stay home and postpone our plans for another day. Another day that never comes.
The thing is, you’re not the only one feeling like this. Post-quarantine, a lot of people have developed a fear of social situations. This is called social anxiety, and it’s a disorder that’s usually defined by feelings of fear, stress, and anxiety surrounding social situations—and it can happen to anyone.
But what does social anxiety look like, especially before going out? It can manifest differently in everyone, but some of the most common signs include backing out of plans last minute, avoiding people or their messages/DMs, and feeling overwhelmed even by the thought of leaving the house. While self-diagnosing isn’t recommended, understanding these symptoms better can help us navigate the ups and downs of our mental health.
What can you do about it? Once you’ve identified the root of your anxiety, try doing something to make yourself more comfortable. In general, people tend to feel socially anxious due to the fear of being judged by others, embarrassed in public, or suddenly attracting too much attention.
These anxious thoughts can pop up before or during a night out, a date, or lunch with friends, to name a few common scenarios. Some of these thoughts might sound like:
“Why is eye contact so hard?”
You might feel uncomfortable or weird while making eye contact with your friends or feel like you need to make eye contact to let them know that you are listening.
“What if the waiter catches me off guard?”
Sometimes, anxiety forces you to look up the menu before going to a restaurant to prevent others from waiting on your decision. (But you could also feel embarrassed for taking this extra precaution instead of living more “in the moment”.)
“I bet they think I’m so stupid.”
When talking to someone, you’re probably self-conscious about what you should and shouldn’t say. You think that nothing you say matters, and people are either going to ignore you or react badly. But if you don’t speak up, then you regret it and dwell on it for hours after—or days, or even weeks.
There are countless other situations in which overthinking results in excess anxiety, making going out more of an exhausting job than a good time. In the end, it might seem easier to cancel your plans and stay at home, but then you’re missing out on potential fun. It’s frustrating to deal with these worrying feelings every time you want to enjoy yourself, or break into your local dating scene, or see those friends you haven’t seen in a while. And even if you don’t struggle with social anxiety frequently, we’ve all dealt with these conflicting feelings at least once.
So, how can you manage feelings of social anxiety when going out? We got you! Here’s what you can do in a social situation to feel more confident:
Avoid checking social media.
Before an outing, focus on yourself. Instead of scrolling through Instagram or TikTok, calm your mind with something you enjoy, like meditation, reading, writing, good music, or even your favorite comfort movie/TV show. It’ll help you relax and distract yourself from the anxiety.
When you’re listening, you can’t “mess up”. By the time someone has answered your question, you’ll probably feel more confident talking about yourself. If not, don’t be afraid to ask another question. (People love talking about themselves.)
Focus on the moment.
If you’re alone, look around and focus on details, or listen to music until your friends or date arrive. If you’re with someone, really try to focus on what they’re saying. That might help you block out what’s happening in your head.
Identify your trigger situations.
When and where do you feel anxious? Is it in a specific place? Is it around certain people? Once you know your triggers, you can work on building up small amounts of exposure. For example, if you feel anxious about going out with your friends to a new club, you could start by hanging out with them in a place that you’re already familiar with, so you feel safer.
If you don’t feel comfortable with the situation, remember that is totally fine to stay home and cancel your plans. Change takes time, and if you feel like your anxiety is too much to deal with alone, it’s likely a good idea to talk to a friend or, if possible, a professional. In the meantime, these tips might help you regain some control over your social life.