This Is What Social Anxiety Disorder Feels Like (To Me)

Are you wondering whether what you’re experiencing could be social anxiety, or just curious about what the disorder feels like on the inside?

I’m not a mental health professional, so I’m going to come at this by sharing what it feels like from my perspective as someone with social anxiety. The list is not exhaustive (though the symptoms themselves are exhausting).

The signs and symptoms of social anxiety disorder can be broken down into three groups:

  1. Physical what’s going on in your body
  2. Cognitive what’s going on in your mind
  3. Behavioural how you act (or don’t), what you do (or don’t)

The categories all work together and feed into one another. Let’s start with what goes on in the body.

Common physical signs (What your body does)

In anxiety-triggering situations, I often…

  1. blush (hard to hide as a ginger — during very stressful public speaking situations I often get red splotches all down my neck and across my chest too… which is a big reason why I avoid them most of the time) 
  2. sweat (a bit)
  3. feel my heart beat faster
  4. shake/tremble (I find this one pretty embarrassing — sometimes I can’t even smile without my lips getting all weird-twitchy)
  5. feel queasy/crampy (I spent most of my teenage years and early 20s thinking I had some kind of undiagnosed allergy or digestive illness)
  6. get lightheaded (and generally just feel very “out of it” or spaced out from reality)

Common cognitive signs (what you think)

The cognitive piece is what I sometimes call my brain bully. It is private torture but every bit as potent as the physical symptoms above. It’s gotten a LOT better through therapy, but at its worst, it looked something like this:

  1. They are going to think I’m [insert negative quality] and that I shouldn’t [do whatever or be however]. (I once told a counsellor that the title of my autobiography could be “The Lifelong Quest for Approval.”)
  2. I’m going to look like a complete idiot who is trying too hard and it’s going to be so embarrassing.
  3. I want them to like me… but I’ll probably just come off as [snobby/stupid/flakey/etc.].
  4. What if I’m overdressed? What if I’m underdressed? What if I was just invited as pity invite/courtesy invite? How will I know when it’s time to leave? What if they never leave my house and I need to go to bed but I can’t tell them that so we just sit there ALL NIGHT stuck in some sort of awkward social filibuster and then I DIE and THEY DIE and IT’S ALL MY FAULT and THE PAPERS ALL WRITE ABOUT WHAT A TERRIBLE, INCONSIDERATE HOST I WAS AND HOW IT’S AMAZING I HAD MADE IT THIS FAR WITHOUT KILLING ANYONE WITH MY SOCIALLY INCOMPETENT FOOLERY?!

….. that anxiety thought-spiral is an example of catastrophic thinking and definitely not likely to actually happen like probably not like almost certainly not or at least not most of it.


Common behavioural signs (What you do)

So we talked about the body and the brain pieces of the social anxiety trifecta. The last one is how you actually behave. Here are a few ways social anxiety influences my behaviour (during a bad anxiety flare-up):

  1. I am tempted to avoid many social situations. Like, I chose a job that lets me skulk in my basement office and communicate with people only via email. And also if you ask me to talk on the phone MY INSIDES WILL LITERALLY yes literally in the literal sense EVAPORATE INTO A PUFF OF TOXIC ANXIETY POISON AND THERE WILL ONLY BE A DRIED-OUT HUSK LEFT TO ANSWER YOUR CALL.
  2. When I am not ensconced in my fortress of hermitude and must interface with other humans, I tend to swing to the other extreme and be SUPER HAPPY AND PERKY AND CHIPPER.
  3. I apologize a lot. Like, even for a Canadian. If I could no longer apologize I’m not sure what I’d have left to say (I’m kidding… but not as kidding as you would hope for a functional adult).

If this sounds like you

You aren’t alone. You aren’t crazy (I mean, not more than me and I’m totally functional most of the time and more importantly I’ve made huge progress and so can you). It can get better.

There are people who can help. There’s medication if that’s something you’re open to.

You don’t have to display every sign and symptom in a description of social anxiety in order to “justify” getting support. (I didn’t experience every single piece of the description when I was diagnosed with very severe social anxiety a couple of years ago.) (I’m hoping I would fall into the “moderate” range now.)

If you think this sounds like you, then you’re probably right. At the very least, it’s a big enough red flag that there’s something worth looking into going on.

Reach out for help in whatever way you can. There’s too much at stake to just keep trying to soldier on alone. Believe me.

Good places for info:

You got this.

Have you experienced any of the signs and symptoms above?

Let me know in the comments!

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Welcome to Blushy Ginger, a Candid Blog About the Highs and Lows of Shy Life, Written by a Hermit Crab — I Mean Shy Girl

“Scientists have found the gene for shyness. They would have found it years ago, but it was hiding behind a couple of other genes.”

Dec 13 update: This post has been gently tweaked as I continue to figure out this blogging thing.

Let’s go around the room and introduce ourselves! (Cue nausea.)

*nervous throat clearing*

Um, hi. I’m Sadie. I’m a mom and I like to powerlift and, um…

*activate blush-and-rush mode*


Okay but for real this time

My name actually is Sadie and I do like to powerlift.

I spent most of my life thinking I was just “cursed with crippling shyness.” That was until about a year and a half ago, when I finally went through a formal diagnosis process to figure out what the hell was making me feel so… wrong. In my mind, in my body.

The diagnosis was that I was dealing with more than just a case of shyness overload:

  • Social anxiety
  • Generalized anxiety
  • Perfectionism
  • Depression

But the good news is that through mental health work and lifting heavy things at the gym, I have come a long way since that diagnosis. I’m stronger now than I’ve ever been, inside and out.

A big part of this journey has been removing my own blinders and seeing how fucking strong I already am, how resilient and brave I’ve been all along, without giving myself enough credit.

I am shy, but I don’t consider that a “problem.” It’s just a personality trait. Social anxiety disorder is NOT a personality trait.

Does any of this hit home for you?

Maybe you’re just starting out your mental health journey. Maybe you’ve been wondering if it’s “normal” to feel so unsettled inside your own body and mind. Maybe you’ve just always been shy and are tired of feeling like it’s a flaw. If any of this hits home for you, know that you’re not alone.

And know that you are NOT weak.

(We have to be strong, just to get through all the silly ice breaker games and crowded buses and torturous Costco excursions and countless other human-filled moments of the day.)

Blushy Ginger: My vision

I want this to be a place you can come to learn a little, laugh a little, and feel a little bit less alone on this winding journey toward recognizing your own inherent awesomeness.

I’m not a mental health professional and I’m not even sure I’m a success story. I’m a work in progress who has come a heck of a long way in learning about shyness, social anxiety, self-acceptance and body acceptance, and wants to help you find your next steps forward too.

And by “steps forward,” I don’t mean “getting over your shyness,” necessarily. Shyness is not inherently bad. What I mean is finding a way to accept who you are, and going from there.

I hope you’ll consider subscribing below. 🙂

Stay tuned for the next post coming soon:

6 Things I’d Tell My Shy Younger Self About Mental Health and Self-Acceptance

Do you consider yourself shy? Let’s chat in the comments!