An Advice Piece on Managing Social Anxiety
“You Can’t Make Everyone Like You”
I guess high school was when the ball started rolling with this, although I didn’t know it was that back then. Social anxiety doesn’t always mean you are uncomfortable in social situations, I find that I am rather confident and comfortable in social situations, even meeting new people.
I am chatty, friendly and hate awkward silences, a lot of the time I don’t shut up. I’m opinionated, I always have a story and to be honest, I even have a naturally loud voice.
My weakness? The fear of not being liked. I was ALWAYS worried about people not liking me and it still gets me from time to time, it can really hold you back when you worry about how people will think of you.
For most people, they won’t bat an eyelid if someone didn’t like them, you just move on. But for some people, it eats away at them, it bothers them so much and worries them to the point where they feel sick and panic about what they might have done to make people not like them. It may sound stupid to some, but these symptoms of social anxiety are really common and for people with personalities like mine, it can be hard to believe they even struggle.
The NHS lists symptoms of social anxiety that include fearing criticism, always worrying about doing something embarrassing, analysing social situations after they have occurred and skin picking (also symptoms of GAD).
For this piece, I wanted to chat with someone who is doing something amazing for young people & mental health back in my hometown. I sat down with Harry, a founder of The Compassion Initiative, a non-profit mental health organisation based in Congleton, Cheshire.
Throughout our meeting, we got the chance to discuss social acceptance and anxieties and his thoughts on the process. “I think people are predisposed majorly, to want to succeed in a hierarchy…” Harry says “…where to stand in that hierarchy is where most people derive their worth from”. This is true for most people, in a basic principle of social situations, basing your worth as a person on the beliefs of someone else, or what your mind perceives that belief to be.
Harry goes on to discuss the beginnings of his anxiety, “...I suppose that I put so much pressure on myself to be that type of person…I need to be that person so other people perceive me as worthwhile…that’s when all my anxiety kicked in after that, it’s ‘cause I put too much pressure on myself”.
As I have grown older I have started to come to terms with the symptoms, although it hasn’t been easy. A lot of these stemmed from putting too much pressure on myself to fit in socially and to be liked. For a long time I remember thinking (stupidly) that because I was always so nice to people to avoid this exact scenario that no one ever bitched about me, ever.
When I heard people had, I used to take it to heart so much and it would really affect me. Was it something I said? Was it something I did? What did I do? Hoping and praying it wasn’t something stupid. For someone who talks as fast as I do, words can come out before I have a chance to think. This has caused me problems in the past, so I would always hope and pray it wasn’t something stupid.
The anxiety then follows. It’s the usual “oh my god, they are going to tell everyone this” or “oh my god they are going to tell everyone they don’t like me and then everyone else won’t like me” or “now I have to pretend I don’t know, are they even my friend, did they ever even like me?” It took me a long time to actually stop and just think, well, what is that person is thinking. The answer? Nothing, nada, zip, zilch.
They have their own things to deal with, and you know what else? Not everyone is going to like you. Analyzing the social situation you were just in, isn’t going to change how it went down. Worrying about what people who just met you think of you isn’t going to change how they feel.
I have learned, especially whilst growing up and moving towns or cities or starting new jobs or go to uni, is that you can’t please everyone. It is impossible no matter how nice you think you are being. You must understand that people will not like you simply because you are you and you have to be okay with that.
Unless you are a horrible, nasty person (If you are, I suggest you check yourself) they will never have a reason to not like you. Now, I want this to be a bit of a tough-love kind of piece, but I also understand this isn’t easy for people to come to terms with or even want to hear. So I want to pass on some advice and you can either take it or ignore me and go back to binging Netflix (I won’t judge you.)
What you do instead of worrying about it spiraling out of control, is learn how to manage it. As you progress in life and especially in work, you can train your mind to manage these thoughts.
Remember these things:
The first thing to do is put yourself in someone else’s shoes. EVERYONE is going through shit, even rich & famous people who look like they have perfect lives. We all have our own problems and struggles and we all handle these differently. Imagine, for a minute if every single person in the social situation you were just in, has gone home and had the exact same thoughts as you? ALL of them has analysed it? ALL of them are worried someone doesn’t like them? You are not alone in your struggles and you don’t need to worry about how other people view you, chances are, they are too busy worrying about themselves.
Understand what you really need from people. Are you willing to burn out running around being nice to Susan from accounts when she constantly ignores you, just to soothe your anxiety? Is it not making it worse? Some people are just NOT worth your good energy. If you are a people pleaser like me, this is a tough one. It’s like you challenge yourself to win over these impossible people. Don’t, it will drain you.
The most important – you will be okay. There is a big picture, you have to power through because life/work won’t stop for you and people rely on you, whether it’s family, friends or coworkers and whether you want to believe it or not, they do.
Once you start to change your mindset into a positive (and somewhat) selfish one, you can overcome your fears and just be happy being you. It’s not easy and it takes time. It takes a lot of truth bombs and I’m still working on it. My anxiety will probably never truly go away. But by managing it so that it works for me and not against me, I can overcome it and be okay in my day today.
It starts with love and self-care it took me probably up until a year ago to finally learn to love myself, no joke. If other people don’t like me that is their problem, not mine. And I feel sorry for them because I’m hilarious (obviously) and fun to be around and they will never get to enjoy being in my amazing company…not taking yourself seriously & sarcasm can help too ;).