Social anxiety is a silent killer.
It saps the joy out of social interactions and makes even the most everyday interaction a nightmare.
People with social anxiety develop ways to hide what they’re feeling but if you look closely you’ll notice these giveaway clues that they’re struggling.
1) Declining invitations
Socially anxious people are uncomfortable in social situations and interactions.
This can be among those they know well, not only among strangers or large crowds.
As a result of this, those struggling with social anxiety tend to self-isolate and turn down social invitations of any kind.
Declining invitations is the first big clue that a person is grappling with serious social anxiety issues.
2) Fidgeting and shuffling
Not every invitation and social situation is possible to turn down, especially things like weddings, funerals, graduation ceremonies, training courses and work events.
Socially anxious people thus usually have to show up at least now and then to things they don’t want to show up at.
This is when the next of the clues come into play.
At the top of things to watch for is fidgeting and shuffling.
Nervous shuffling and standing in an unbalanced way, leaning on nearby furniture or against the wall, fidgeting their hands and doing odd things like frequently cracking their neck or stretching are all signs of real social anxiety.
3) Stilted and awkward body language
Awkward and stilted body language in general is often a sign of low-confidence and social anxiety.
Things to watch for here include the fidgeting and shuffling I mentioned above as well as things like:
- Pointing their toes together
- Leaning away from those close to them
- Pointing their feet away from the person they’re speaking to
- Standing with a slumped or “defeated” looking posture.
And then we come to another important indicator of strong social anxiety:
4) Avoiding eye contact
Eye contact is one of the most basic features of communication.
From the animal kingdom all the way up to human beings, making eye contact is a way of confirming one’s presence and standing behind it.
Avoidance of eye contact is usually an indicator of low self-esteem, guilt, shame, fear or malice.
In fact, part of why our eyes evolved to have a white area around the pupils was in order for other people to see what exactly we were looking at and judge whether or not we were a threat to their interests.
Those with less focused eyes got killed off for the most part, since rival tribesmen had difficulty seeing if they were trying to steal their woman or just eyeing a faroff bison.
That’s why avoiding eye contact is one of the strongest warning signs that sets off alarm bells for others that somebody is not sure of themselves or trustworthy.
Unfortunately, it’s one of the most common behaviors of a person struggling with social anxiety for the simple reason that they feel if they just avoid eye contact they can avoid social interactions.
5) Stuttering and mumbling
When it comes to speech, socially anxious people struggle a lot as well.
Giveaway clues of social anxiety include stuttering and mumbling.
Of course we need to keep in mind that some folks have speech impediments and issues that have nothing to do with their psychological state.
But for others, having difficulty speaking can be a classic sign of social anxiety.
They feel nervous so they start talking and their larynx gets locked up like a bank vault and out comes a croak or an awkward sound of some kind.
6) Talking nonsense
It’s not only phonetically that socially anxiois people have difficulty with speaking.
It’s also in the words themselves.
There are times in the past when I struggled with social anxiety, particularly around women I liked, and I remember saying things that made basically no sense.
I don’t mean random combinations of words, although it can get to this level for some folks.
It’s more likely to be something like repeating something which was just said or asking a question that comes out of left field.
For example, while talking about your class schedules at university and the conversation reaching a lull, you suddenly ask “what’s your favorite city?”
What does somebody’s favorite city have to do with their class schedule?
Social anxiety can make it difficult to bridge into new topics in a conversation and to link ideas and concepts when talking.
The result can be kind of embarrassing and humiliating which feeds directly into the loop lead that leads socially anxious people into self-isolating.
7) Standing close to the exit
The next time you’re at a big event or public occasion, take a look around.
You’ll likely notice one or two individuals who seem to be kind of lingering near the exits or along the walls.
The classic example is a teenager standing against the wall at his high school dance, awkwardly cradling a cup of grape punch.
In fact, those who stand to the side in dances are sometimes referred to as wallflowers (also the name of a great band that once existed headed by Jakob Dylan).
The point is that socially anxious people like to be near the exit so they can leave as soon as possible or if they start panicking.
If you see somebody acting like this it could well be that they’re struggling with painful experiences of social anxiety.
8) Sticking to their smartphone
In the old days, wallflowers would usually only have their watch to look at or a cup of something.
But these days we have smartphones.
Many pickup artists and life coaches urge insecure men and women to turn to their smartphone as a way to be calm and look like they’re busy and not needy for attention.
But the truth is that it’s patently obvious in any social situation who’s genuinely checking something necessary on their phone and who’s doing so to look busy or look cool.
People who are socially anxious will often be glued to their phone.
It’s as if there’s an invisible tractor beam connecting their eyes with their smartphone.
If you see somebody like this it may not be that they’re rude or anti-social, it may well be they are seriously struggling with social anxiety.
Something to keep in mind!
9) Wearing headphones all the time
On a related note, wearing headphones all the time is a giveaway sign of social anxiety as well.
There are times when headphones are very helpful, especially on noisy, crowded buses and subways when you just want a little peace.
But those who always wear their headphones are usually trying to block the world out.
The key here is when headphones are used in socially inappropriate situations such as during a work lunch break when everyone else is talking but this person slips in their earbuds…
Or when a person is on a cruise and everybody is socializing at dinner but they slip in their headphones and disconnect from everyone around them.
10) Nervous and insincere laughter
Social anxiety is truly painful and often misunderstood.
Socially anxious people struggle to fit in and be well liked.
Even when they are well liked, they may struggle with the idea or fear that they aren’t approved of or liked.
That’s why a common behavior of socially anxious people is nervous or insincere laughter to try to fit into social situations.
It can even go as far as laughing at hokes they don’t find at all funny, or pretending to like people they don’t like on the hope that being friendly with these people will lead to being more accepted.
11) Pretending to have fun
Have you ever been out at a nightclub or bar and seen people pretending to have fun?
It’s truly painful.
Part of the reason that it’s so hard to watch is that I’ve been there myself!
In fact, I tend to studiosly avoid most nightclubs and similar locales for precisely that reason.
I don’t like them.
People with serious social anxiety don’t just dislike these kinds of situations, they despise them.
But there are situations where they feel they have to show that they’re having fun.
Key signs include somebody being over the top in how much fun they’re having and also low-key looking around in order to more or less see what they’re “supposed” to be dancing, acting, drinking and talking like.
Saying goodbye to social anxiety
Social anxiety is hard to shake.
Saying goodbye to it is a matter of starting slowly and building on small but comfortable social interactions.
Those who are suffering with this issue often try to force themselves to feel “fine” and end up rebounding back twice as hard into their shell.
Saying goodbye to social anxiety is about respecting boundaries while still working to improve bit by bit.
Being shy and reserved is fine, but if you or somebody you know are struggling with social anxiety it’s important to non-judgmentally and gently address what’s going on and make improvements.