Social Anxiety: Deciding Whether to Stay in or Go out

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Doctor Neha: Hi and welcome. Today we have a wonderful guest. Hi, Katie.

Katie: Hi.

Doctor Neha: You’re a brave soul willing to ask your question so other people can learn. So what’s on your mind?

Katie: So I have a history with anxiety, and the last few years I’ve noticed social anxiety specifically. Often when I’m home for the holidays at my parents’ house and visiting with old friends. When everyone’s getting together, I have been noticing myself feeling this anxiety about socializing. And so my question is that I don’t know if it’s something that I should listen to and, therefore, stay in or if it’s something that I should do outside of my comfort zone and push through it.

Doctor Neha: So I’m sure a lot of people struggle with this. This is pretty common. And the real question is when did you start developing social anxiety? When did this begin?

Katie: I would say…I’m 28…maybe three or four years ago.

Doctor Neha: Okay, so about when you were getting out of undergrad and kind of getting into the world. Do you remember anything happening then?

Katie: No, I just noticed myself not wanting to go out as much.

Doctor Neha: So not wanting to go out as much is different than social anxiety. For instance, I’m a homebody.

Katie: They might go hand in hand a little bit.

Doctor Neha: Yes, they could. And you want to tease that apart first before you label yourself with “social anxiety.” You might be someone who just prefers a night at home on the couch with a movie after you’ve worked all day.

Katie: Of course.

Doctor Neha: The other thing you want to pay attention to is that you might be outgrowing some relationships. So it might not be as fun for you when you go out. It might take a lot of energy to get ready. Then when you go out you may think, Ugh, It’s the same stuff we always talk about—if it’s something like that, it’s different. You may be outgrowing your relationship. Another possibility might be that by nature you may need more downtime and be more of an introvert. So if you’re being extroverted part of the day and meeting people, then you need your own time to recharge. The third possibility could be that something happened or you had an experience that changed your desire to go out—or there’s someone or something you want to avoid by not going out. Do any of these ring true for you? Or could there be a different option?

Katie: Probably the first two. It’s not a feeling of wanting to avoid someone but more about trying to find balance in my downtime.

Doctor Neha: Okay. So now what you want to ask yourself about is the balance in your own time and who is in your social circles whom you used to think was fun to hang out with and now you’ve grown and changed. You may come away from time with them feeling a little bit disappointed. So you want to notice what people, interactions and tasks give you energy and what experiences, people, interactions and topics drain you of energy. Think about it for a moment, and give me some topics and some experiences that used to energize you, but now you realize that they drain you. What would some of those be?

Katie: Well, what I’m thinking of is going out to the bars at night. I don’t know if they ever energized me, but I used to be able to bounce back a lot easier. So that’s probably it.

Doctor Neha: Being able to bounce back from having a drink or two?

Katie: Yes or even from a night out. So, yes, and being in crowds, being around more people is more draining to me now than it used to be. So there is reason to want to stay home with a cup of tea.

Doctor Neha: And feel good the next morning when you wake up and not feel the disappointment of putting out all that energy and realizing that situation is just not me.

Katie: Yep.

Doctor Neha: So that’s a big difference than labeling yourself with social anxiety because I’m not sure that that’s what you have. I think what’s happening is you’re growing and changing, and new things are more exciting to you. If it was worth it, like a concert of someone you wanted to see or a party for your parents’ anniversary, you’d be there for a big bash, right?

Katie: Yes, you’re right.

Doctor Neha: I think you’re really shedding some old skin and transitioning into the new you.

Katie: All right.

Doctor Neha: Tell me any of your thoughts or reflections you have.

Katie: It’s good to reflect on trying to decipher what this feeling is, whether it’s just growing and changing rather than an anxiety, but it’s still a sensation and a feeling in your body.

Doctor Neha: In whose body? “In my body.” So tell us how you know that. When it’s time to go out or people are asking you to go out, how do you know that you start to get that feeling?

Katie: My heart starts racing.

Doctor Neha: So you know right away that your heart is racing—because you’re going to have to say no to somebody. It doesn’t sound like there’s been a bad social incident. You didn’t get trapped in a nightclub or have a bad interaction with someone. It doesn’t sound that way.

Katie: No.

Doctor Neha: No one humiliated you or embarrassed you or any of that kind of stuff.

Katie: No, no.

Doctor Neha: You’re just growing and changing. Welcome to your thirties. They’re coming around the corner. Do you feel like you got what you needed?

Katie: I did. Thank you very much.

Doctor Neha: You are so welcome.

For all of you out there who are wondering why you’re avoiding social situations or why you’re starting to do that, make sure you don’t label yourself with something like a social anxiety until you’ve actually asked the question, “Am I changing? Am I outgrowing the things that I used to find enjoyable?” One way you can do this is by taking what I call a seven-day energy inventory. What you do is for seven days, keep track on your smartphone or a piece of paper the people, interactions, tasks and experiences that give you energy and the people interactions, tasks, topics of conversation that drain you of energy. Start to notice if, for example, you’re really an evening person but you’re putting a lot of things in your morning. When I was younger, did I enjoy the bar much more? And now every time someone asked me to go out to the bar, it’s like “Zap!” and I’m drained of energy. Do you feel really good because you stay in and the next day you’re really productive? Is it the people you’re hanging out with and the topics that they’re talking about that feel like an energy suck?

It’s time for you to do a little investigative work to figure that out. I think Katie and I just got started on that for her. We hope this gives you a good jumpstart if you’re struggling with the same thing.

All right, thanks again, Katie, for being our guest.

Awareness Prescription

Social Energy Inventory

For 7 days, keep track of the following:

  1. What gives you energy?

    • Environments:
      People:
      Topics of conversation:
      Experiences:

  2. What drains you of energy?

    • Environments:
      People:
      Topics of conversation:
      Experiences:

  3. Are you making choices that give you a net energy gain or drain?

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