I’m currently reading I’m Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want to Come: An Introvert’s Year of Living Dangerously, which has made me laugh out loud and nod in hearty agreement lots, and I’m only a couple of chapters in. All of my adult life, I have been a shy introvert: or a Shintrovert, as Jessica Pan calls us. I have, I’m ashamed to admit, flaked on many, many evening plans when I became a homing pigeon to hang out in quiet contented solitude. I get myself all worried about whether I have any scintillating chat. I find the energy required to conjure up the goods in “small talk” type events leaves me feeling a bit depleted, and often feel the “I carried a watermelon?!” sensation of conversational gaffes. I’m a weird kind of introvert: with my deepest beloved crew who I feel my most “me”, I have been known to party till dawn dancing through the night with the best of ’em, but my inner granny is always calling from my bed at most other social engagements and I squirm at the idea of “ice breakers” and want to run if I hear about “mixing up the table settings so everyone sits next to someone they don’t know”.
It’s not that inherently I don’t like meeting new people. I clearly love that. I’m a weirdly extroverted introvert in that I love public speaking, I’m far happier addressing a room full of 100 people than walking into that room hoping to engage one person in a conversation. Some of my richest and funnest experiences have been with brand new acquaintances, such as the time I got thrown off a train in Romania in 1998 with a group of people I was going to teach English with, and had to sit through the night for 5 hours in a remote and cold train station floor with people I had met only hours before. That remains an unforgettably brilliant experience which draws a smile to my lips.
It’s just that I get The Fear, plus, frankly I like being on my own with calmness and early nights. It pays to be a bit more gregarious and go out of your comfort zone, as much as you can. Self-care isn’t just long hot baths and manicures, it’s pushing yourself to do what might not always feel like the easiest, most comfortable option. But that’ll ultimately feed your soul. Extroverts are proven to be happier with better mental health, and arguably society is geared towards celebrating extroverts over introverts or those who are shy – “shy” is used as a negative description, particularly about children, which has always intrigued me: surely it’s common sense for survival for children to be a tad discerning about new people and experiences…? So if we can celebrate our shintrovertness, but also push each other into the occasional discomfort of extroversion, everyone would be happier.
This is a blog post I wrote a couple of years ago which I felt might resonate for anyone for whom the words “the party season” brings you out in a cold sweat….
Just the word anxiety makes my blood pressure rise a little bit, do you feel that? I’ve always suffered from social anxiety, but it’s only recently that I’ve realised that’s what it is. I just thought I was maybe a bit weird because sometimes the idea of certain types of socialising fills me with a strange dread, with a pinch of introversion and shyness thrown in.
Feel the fear, and do it anyway…
It never occurred to me until recently that social anxiety is something a lot of people suffer from. That a lot, maybe even most people who are partying in that scary room are battling some form of feeling a bit awkward. I didn’t realise I was self-sabotaging and that it really didn’t have to be that way. What a revelation! Others might actually be feeling exactly the same way but just plough through and find strategies to get their brave face on?
When you think about it, we’re all humans, bumbling along in our lives trying to do our best and have as much joy as we can. Emotions such as anxiety can really put a spanner in the quest for joy. And sometimes exposure to the thing that you’re scared of is the only way to chase the fear away.
I got a last-minute invitation to a big launch party cocktail event last night, with possibly hardly anyone I actually knew IRL as opposed to in the squares of Instagram. I’d had a bit of a mixed and tiring day of PMT and the Mother Juggle. I felt shattered. I had a tonne of work to do after the boys were in bed. And yet around doing the dinner-bedtime dance with the boys I found myself getting changed and ready to leave for when my husband walked in the door. Even though in my head I had a soundtrack of “I won’t know anyone. I’m tired. My hair looks crap. I’ve just got my period. I won’t know anyone. My chat stinks. I’ve got so much work to do.”
I dithered even when Ben got home, but he told me to go (always good to have a cheerleader for going towards things that scare you). I found myself walking out the door. Wanting to turn back every 5 paces. Found myself getting on the bus, telling myself I could always get off and turn back. I imagined myself getting to the venue and just spinning round and not going in, heading back home. Safe. Safe and unchallenged.
As my mind was whirling around various needling points: Work to do. No chat. Bad hair. I also remembered something that Jody Shield said to me when I chatted to her for the blog series. When you’re feeling anxious, and like you’re far away from the perfect you want to be, just show up. Be there, be the imperfect you, bring yourself to the table. Show up. That’s what everyone else is doing. No one walks in without any insecurities.
I started thinking about walking into the room, where I would go immediately in that “errrr…don’t know anyone what should I do with my hands where should I look?” feeling when you enter a party and aren’t sure if you know anyone or whether anyone will deem you worthy of talking to – what are YOU doing here?? I just imagined smiling at people and saying hi. I thought – well, what’s the worst that could happen? I go in, no one talks to me. I leave. At least I went.
I thought of my Supermum Myth co-author Dr Rachel Andrew telling me that often she tells her patients to think about their anxiety as a small child. What would you do to coax it gently out of its fear? Smile, soften. It’ll be ok. Hold her hand.
Breathing and 5-senses grounding techniques are wonderful if your anxiety is really being a hard ass: take a deep breath in through your nose for a count of 7, and out through your mouth for 11. Ground yourself in the present moment by noticing something you can SEE, then something you can TOUCH, then SMELL, then HEAR, then TASTE. Create your own safety net by realising that the world is not a threatening place in this moment.
So I took a deep breath, put on some red lippy, and in I went! And despite feeling totally awks when I first walked in, I chatted to some wonderful people, had a really fun night with too many free cocktails. And today I have had a warm smile on my face knowing that I did something scary and it was totally fine, fun, even! Sometimes you just have to push yourself. And it’s usually much less awful than you are imagining it to be.
Do you suffer from social anxiety? What kind of steps to you take to knock it on its head?