As Someone With Social Anxiety Here Are A Few Things I’m Anxious About

Caffeinated Thoughts
8 min readMay 1, 2024

The public sphere is a formidable minefield for those with social anxiety.

Photo by whoislimos on Unsplash

The world is a different place to different people. While we share the same physical space, each one of us mentally resides in a world of our own. On the surface, we might do similar jobs and come from places with similar upbringings due to traditional, religious, and cultural codes of conduct. But on a micro level, we all differ in the way we see and perceive the world around us due to variables including, but not limited to race and ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, the kind of city we live in, upbringing, lifestyle, financial status, mental and emotional status, childhood or adulthood trauma, the people who we live with, the people who we work and socialize with, and so on and so forth. And it would be wise to say that no two people perceive the world the same way.

Due to these differences and our personal cumulative experiences, some of us carry ourselves around with a heightened sense of awareness and perception of the world.

I’ve read tons of articles here on Medium where writers with social anxiety have no qualms dissecting the various problems they face while executing certain tasks out in full public view. I derive my confidence from some of these writers while reading some of their articles on how social anxiety affects them and their personal coping strategies for it. After all, social anxiety affects sufferers differently based on what their personal triggers are.

As someone with social anxiety, you might be able to relate to a few or all of these anxieties while performing certain tasks in public or presenting oneself in public in a certain way.

As someone who struggles with social anxiety, here are a few things that throw me off guard when I’m out in public:

Getting takeaway pizza

Some of my friends are atrociously extroverted. They don’t care about how appealing or unappealing they look and what people think of them when they’re out in public. They say that they would rather dress and behave for comfort and efficiency rather than catering to the gaze of a random stranger in public. And of course they’re right. However, they don’t get that some of us are picked on due to our peculiar quirks and eccentricities, especially expressions of ourselves which are gender non-conforming. And its the reason why we don’t possess the same amount of confidence to brazenly be ourselves in the public sphere. We learn to mask our true selves and toe the line for fear of instigating someone and getting picked on, not for committing any crime or misdemeanour, but just for being ourselves.

One of those things is getting takeaway pizza. Yes, I know what all you socially anxious folk might be thinking right now. How awkward would it be to walk back home from the restaurant while announcing to the entire world that you’re having pizza for dinner tonight. Its quite difficult for those with social anxiety to bring attention to themselves while walking on the pavement holding a big square box protruding out of their body that screams “I’m having Pizza for dinner tonight!”

Worse, you cannot even hold the box sideways as the toppings might fall off and you’d get home to a complete mess inside. Whether inside a bag, or on its own, you’ll have to hold the pizza box as upright as possible while walking home without the box hitting anyone on the pavement.

Maybe get two small pizzas instead of one large or medium? I can’t think of any other workaround to this.

You can replace the pizza example for anything that would make you stand out to the public while walking the streets. It’s basically about doing something out of the ordinary that would bring attention to yourself.

Not adhering to stereotypical gender norms on clothing

For some weird reason, the world has taken it as completely normal for women to wear revealing attire wherever they go, including professional environments. But the moment a man goes around in a sleeveless tee or tank top with shorts, he just won’t be taken seriously. That is unless he’s playing a sport, he’s at a beach, a tropical holiday destination, a theme park, a forest, or any other place or activity where it is deemed politically correct for him to do so.

Have you ever seen a man wear a sleeveless tee to an airport or to a mall? No, you haven’t. But women wear sleeveless tops to all kinds of public settings and no one bats an eye. Whether it’s going to the mall, to the movies, on a plane, on a train, to the office, or at the grocers, women are free to drop those sleeves and tight fits wherever they wish and enjoy the freedom of loose clothing to the fullest.

If there’s one unspoken rule that’s been uniformly accepted in most places, it’s that women can wear crop tops, bralettes, tank tops, skirts, and micro mini shorts to wherever and whenever. But the moment a man reveals even the slightest bit of skin, he’s ridiculed and made fun of for crossing the line on stereotypical gender norms and “acting all girly” and “looking gay”.

Ummm…excuse me! I thought clothing had no gender??

“One paper compared young people’s attitudes in China, India, Belgium and the United States. It was more acceptable for girls to push against the gender boundary than it was for boys.

In all four countries, it appeared to be increasingly acceptable for girls to engage in certain stereotypically male behaviours, like wearing trousers, playing sports and pursuing careers. But “boys who challenge gender norms by their dress or behaviour were by many respondents seen as socially inferior,” said the researchers. Both boys and girls said the consequences for boys who were perceived as adopting feminine behaviour, like painting their nails, ranged from being bullied and teased to being physically assaulted.””

Make no mistake. The patriarchal institution of religious conservatives hates men as much as women for stepping out of line and behaving as they please.

Having my name called out (Yes, we can’t go to Starbucks.)

One of the biggest fears harboured by those suffering from social anxiety is having their name called out in public. Whether at a coffee shop, a corporate interview, at a governments office, or just out with friends at a flea market, mall, or concert, we hate our names being yelled out and the spotlight of the public instantly cast upon us. How embarrassing! I particularly hate it when I’m the only one at cafes like Starbucks — where they call out your name to hand you your drink — and have no other friends by my side whose names I can provide to the barista to call out when the order is ready.

“For people with social anxiety, the spotlight effect can be much worse, to the point that it affects your ability to work or feel comfortable around others. It is not uncommon to find yourself feeling embarrassed. However, for people with social anxiety, this feeling can be overemphasized.”

In fact, I don’t even visit coffee shops alone for the very same reason: social anxiety. The presence of a friend, relative, or colleague by my side instantly soothes my nerves and calms all my apprehensions about being seen seated alone at a coffee shop.

Also, don’t you just hate it when some of your extroverted friends yell out your name in public to get your attention instead of walking up to you to talk to you?

Working at cafes and public spaces

It comes across as absolutely unbelieveable to those with social phobia that some people are capable of maintaining an office like zen in a public setting and working away on their laptops as if they’re still seated inside a quiet cubicle at work. I’m not one of those people. Squirrel!

Each and every single thing that can distract me outside can and will distract me. These distractions pull my concentration away from the work right in front of me and divert it to the action going on there. Some of us just cannot read or work at cafes or public spaces because of the distractions that patiently lie in wait for us, auditory and visual alike. I would never be able to take my laptop to a cafe and sit down to read some Medium articles, forget working on an existing draft or even writing an article from scratch. Each and every movement or sound within my range of perception is a potential distraction and a focus killer. Besides all the distractions, my mind would constantly be wondering if someone is secretly watching what I’m working on from behind and is about to judge me for it.

Sorry extroverts. Some of us just cannot work out of coffee shops, airports, co-working spaces, or any kind of public setting where people are constantly shuffling about and making as much noise as possible. The cacophony is just unbearable. It just isn’t a professional enough environment that would facilitate the deep focus required for continuous uninterrupted work. We just cannot get into that flow state no matter how hard we try. Besides, like I already mentioned, we’re afraid of being judged on whatever we’re reading or working on.

And lastly, one could also get approached in a coffee shop as people generally view it as a comfortable setting to do so. Why put yourself in a position that opens you up to being approached by a stranger, whether it is for a date or anything else, while you’re busy working? I just don’t get it. Maybe I’d go to a cafe after work (with someone else of course) to loosen up and have some fun. But office work belongs in the office.

“Social anxiety is much more than just nervousness. It reflects differences in brain activity and reactions to your environment. With social anxiety, you may know that your feelings are irrational, but you can’t change how you feel.”

Completing a task or making a purchase while someone’s watching

One can almost feel that invisible laser beam of impatience from someone’s eyes penetrating their skin as they wait for them to complete a task. The moment someone watches me do something that requires concentration and focus, I screw it up.

Whether it is bench pressing at the gym, cooking, eating, withdrawing money from an ATM, waiting in line at a petrol bunk, paying for groceries at a supermarket, or counting change at the bank, I can feel that aura of impatience emanating from people behind as if I’ve committed a major crime just for staying in line an extra minute to put cash back into my wallet.

Even while out to purchase stuff, I can feel the glare of the sales executive from behind (even though my back is towards him) as I’m trying on a shoe or testing out an electronic gadget. I completely lose my concentration and focus on the specs of the product if someone’s staring at me and my mind’s attention is quickly diverted towards getting rid of them as soon as possible, whether by making the purchase hastily or by telling them that I no longer require their assistance. It’s taken me a while to master the latter, but I ultimately got the hang of it. Even still, some sales executives are persistent and just don’t leave your side until you seem satisfied with the product or make the purchase.

I’ve made many hasty purchase decisions in the past just because I felt pressured by the salesperson to finish the task quickly.

Do you also suffer from social anxiety? Do some of these thoughts and feelings resonate with you? What are some things you feel uncomfortable doing in public? Do let me know in the comments section to the side.

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Caffeinated Thoughts

No niche in particular. I am a keen observer of society and gain my inspiration for new articles from observation.