I walked into a bar full of young students with my stomach in knots. They were lounging in small groups, talking, laughing and being friends and I did not know a single one of them. All I could think was-
“How do I do this? Can I do this? What am I supposed to do here?
Do I go up to a group, hang around and act like I fit in? Should I be honest, walk up and tell them I am new here, have no friends, can I join your group? Should I look sexy?”
It was my first evening away from home. My father had dropped me and my belongings off at Earnshaw Hall, where I was to spend my first year at University, and waved goodbye. All during the summer holidays and until the moment he left, I had projected confidence and acted like I knew what I was doing, but I didn’t.
I had never been away from home. I felt out of place and scared that I would make the wrong move. I was like a little, lost kid in an 18-year-old’s body trying to act as if I were experienced in the ways of the world.
I felt so much pressure and panic in my mind and body. I remember thinking: “Navjit, do something. You’re sticking out like a sore thumb. Everyone here is going to know you are a fake. Nobody wants to be your friend.”
I quickly ordered a drink, but I didn’t know whether to stand at the bar or sit. I walked towards some sofas but changed my mind mid-step, deciding that the people sitting there would think it strange that a girl they did not know was now sitting next to them. UGH.
That, my friends, is a perfect example of social anxiety at play: self-conscious, hyper alert to any sign that you are being watched, judged, looked down upon. Not knowing what to say or do, the simple act of meeting new people can make you feel like you are going to die.
Oh man! Just thinking about that evening makes me sad and nauseous. Why is it that we don’t teach social intelligence classes to our young? Why don’t we have conversations about social mores, values and how to be ourselves when around others?
I could have done with classes like that. Classes on how not to feel like an outsider. Classes on being myself and upholding my own values. Discussions around how to interact with others in meaningful ways and not fall into one-upmanship battles.
How wonderful would it be to be able to engage with others in groups large and small, strangers or familiars and feel free to speak without judgement or negativity from others? To be encouraged and supported to develop your ideas and your place in the community?
In the memory above, if I were to ask the 18-year-old Navjit what would have helped her in that experience, I think she would say: “It would have helped to be reminded that I am full inside and not empty. That I am important to me and to value myself. It’s ok to not know anyone or everything. You don’t have to be afraid of these people. Probably, they are just as anxious as you. You can go over and say hello.”
Anxiety can be paralysing, but it doesn’t have to be that way. We can ask ourselves a simple question: what would help? If we know beforehand that certain situations make us anxious, we can ask that question: “What will help me to feel safe and present?” Then follow through by creating what you need.
These days I have gotten really good at voicing out the fear when I feel anxious about social situations or being around people in general. I say things like: “I am feeling anxious about the birthday party or I am anxious about not being able to help a client. I feel lots of expectation to be perfect, or I feel like I am going to fail.” I speak out my anxieties without judgment or embarrassment.
Then I remind myself. “You are full of love and you like being full of love. Feel that love filling you up now. You trust yourself and now is the time to be filled with that self-trust. You are here to be you. So be you.” Often times, I gently tap my chest with my fingertips to bring myself out of the mental nature of anxiety and into the stability of the physical body.
And just like that, I return to myself. I feel safe and calm. My body relaxes and an easy breath returns. I find that I can then walk among others uncluttered and with love and understanding in my heart.
Did you find this piece useful? Please share it with family and friends because you never know who may find it helpful with their struggles with anxiety. If anxiety is sabotaging your life then please think about having a chat with me.