Traveling with social anxiety
A lot of people might be surprised by hearing about me having social anxiety. To many people, I am seen as an extremely social and outgoing person, and I travel alone – how could someone like me be struggling with social anxiety? I want to share my experiences as I know that I am far alone with this battle.
As for everyone, it is sometimes harder and sometimes easier. And for me it gets easier with age. My confidence is growing by the day and it doesn’t really affect me anymore in the way that I let it hinder me or bother me too much – but I traveled solo for a couple of years with this problem so I want to share my experience to be able to help others with the same problem who might let it hinder their dreams to travel.
I also want to be open about stuff like this to help end the stigma and tabu around mental disorders or struggles. And also to be transparent and show that no one is perfect and you never know what’s beneath the surface of others, and even though my life might seem like a dream to many – traveling the world on my own with all these amazing experiences – but I too have battled with depression, anxiety and panic attacks for many years. That is not something I want to hide, I want to talk about it loud and clear, I want people to feel safe talking about it, cause there are so many people struggling in silence.
So, to those of you who don’t know what social anxiety is, “It is an emotion characterised by a discomfort or a fear when a person is in a social interaction that involves a concern of being judged or evaluated by others.” – Wikipedia
Practice make it easier
By traveling alone, I have been put in many new situations where I had to learn and cope with my problems.
The first time eating alone at a restaurant for example was devastating. I walked around the city for more than an hour trying to find a place that wasn’t full of people that I was scared were going to pity me for being alone. I found a small and very dark restaurant that was empty except for 1 couple. I sat down in a corner with the seat facing the wall and paid and left as soon as I had finishes my food and beer as quickly as I could.
Luckily something wonderful happened the next night. Just after ordering my food and getting my beer, a woman came up to me, asking if I spoke english, and if it was ok to join me to practice her english and to get to know each other. Of course, I said. Soon her friend joined us as well and I sat there having a wonderful time drinking beer and getting to know 2 strangers. This thought me that traveling alone opens up doors to amazing experiences.
Every time I went to a restaurant alone, it became easier. I also started noticing that I quite often see people eating alone at restaurants, and these days I am so used to eating alone that it is mostly no big deal at all.
Don’t push yourself too hard
If you don’t feel comfortable, you don’t have to interact with other people. I’ve been on several trips where I haven’t talked to anyone and just enjoyed my own company and exploring the new place.
Even if you do get to know people, it is perfectly ok to say no to going with them to a bar or activity to be alone if you need to be alone. And if you meet people who makes you feel uncomfortable or judged – they are not worth investing your time in. You will quickly get a feel with people if you feel safe and comfortable with them.
It is better to be alone than to be miserable with other people.
Be yourself and you will attract the right people.
They don’t have to be with you either
I can still doubt that my friends don’t like me or think I am annoying even though I try not to listen to that inner voice. If they don’t show it too often or clearly, or if I’m the one who gets in tough most often, I can feel that anxiety until they give me some sort of sign that they do like me, wether it’s with a random snapchat sent to me or a text or being asked to meet up soon.
Whenever I feel this anxiety arriving, I try to convince myself that if they didn’t like me – they wouldn’t want to spend time with me. And if they are my friends they obviously like me.
This anxiety has made me a very good chameleon, learning how to blend in to any type of crowd, which can be handy – but I would often feel miserable when I didn’t feel safe enough to be me. It was like I was smothering my inner self with a pillow.
I’ve gotten so tired of that and I really do try to tell myself every day that if I am my true self, I will attract the kind of people who like me for who I am and those are the people I want around me.
Just as you can choose not to be with someone you don’t feel comfortable, if people don’t like you – they don’t have to be with you either. So if they indeed want to hang out with you – it’s because they want to.
I am happiest when I let myself be me, and I choose happiness over the pleasing of others.