The Rules of Anxiety
Generalized anxiety and social anxiety present very similarly and because of that, a lot of people tend to think they’re the same thing, but they aren’t.
The biggest difference is that social anxiety is situational. I don’t experience it until something triggers it. In general, that’s things that involve other people judging me. So while I feel anxious at school or meeting new people, I don’t usually feel anxious when I’m sitting alone in my room.
However, there are exceptions to the rules. One of the interesting things about social anxiety is I don’t always know what situations will or won't trigger it.
For example, talking in class usually makes me anxious. But in two of my writing classes last semester, I was never anxious. I was willing to talk in discussions and volunteer my work to be read. Now, in one of them there were only seven other people and I knew all of them and the professor well. But in the other class, there were seventeen other people and I only knew about half of them. I was still comfortable with them.
Those classes didn’t follow the rule. But I also took a psychology class last semester and I think I maybe said ten words the entire semester. I didn’t know anyone in that class, so it makes sense that I was anxious in there. It followed the rule. But I also didn’t know anyone in the biology class I took last year and I wasn’t anxious there, either. That didn’t follow the rule.
Sometimes it makes sense, sometimes it doesn’t.
The same goes for people. Not every person makes me anxious. My parents don’t. My sisters don’t. My best friends don’t. Some of my classmates don’t. I know all of them and I’m comfortable with them, so it makes sense.
But there’s also times it doesn’t. I met someone for the first time a couple weeks ago. Meeting new people makes me anxious. This particular time, it didn’t. I’d been anxious my entire shift at work immediately before this and still didn’t have a problem.
Maybe it’s because my anxiety has gotten a lot better. Maybe it’s because I was looking forward to meeting this person. Maybe it’s their personality that made me feel comfortable. Maybe it’s a million other things. I have no idea.
Anxiety doesn’t always make sense, especially situational anxiety like social anxiety. There are times I should feel anxious and I don’t. There are times I shouldn’t feel anxious and I do. There are things that didn’t make me anxious three days ago that did today. Or things that did make me anxious three days ago but are fine today.
Which can be frustrating for other people to understand, because I can't always explain what will or won't make me anxious. I don’t always know. I can give a general list of things that are likely to. Things like meeting new people and talking in class. But then there’s the classes I wasn’t anxious in last semester, or the person I met a couple weeks ago. They didn’t follow the rule.
So if I tell you that I’m anxious about something, believe me. Even if the same situation came up yesterday and I was fine. Even if I can't explain why I’m anxious. Trust me, it doesn’t make sense to me either and trust me, I’m frustrated too. Probably more than you are.
In the same way, if I say I’m not anxious, don’t question it. Just be happy for me.
Anxiety doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t follow the rules. Sometimes that really sucks. Other times it’s amazing. Either way, I can't explain it.