We are all led to believe that in this life, we have “all the time in the world”: We are told by older generations that we still have time to chase our beloved dreams, and to get back in touch with people from our past.
So, when old friends, acquaintances or relatives resurface in our life with an unexpected encounter or message; at some point in the conversation (if we do get back in touch) we reply with: ‘let’s catch up sometime soon!’ or ‘When are you free next?’
But we never have that long awaited catch-up. Instead it gets re-scheduled because you’re “not up for it” today, or something more important comes up that demands your immediate attention. And before you know it - weeks, maybe months - go swiftly by and you lose touch with that person again.
And while this is a normal occurrence for us in our daily lives, it really shouldn’t be. Because the truth is that we bide our time with almost everything in life: we procrastinate a lot of the time in some shape or form every day. This is especially true when it comes to our own goal-oriented tasks and work/academic deadlines, and the same can be said about people too.
The truth is that all these things take a lot of work and attention. They each drain our willpower and motivation, to the point where not even self-discipline can be our almighty saviour. We therefore end up prioritising our personal time over socialising with others – which is not a bad thing at all. Because who wouldn’t want to focus first on their own hobbies, interests or general work that will help them achieve progress in life?
Yet, the true issue here lies deeply under the surface. And a lot of us don’t want to admit it to ourselves. Many of you who are reading this, will have at some point, experienced social anxiety; The surge of adrenaline and cortisol that floods your body, evoking the all-too-familiar sense of fear and apprehension which looms over you like a dark cloud. It resists any attempt you make to seize the victory over that particular social situation.
Whether it involves conversing with a stranger, walking into town alone, attending that party with friends, going on that first date, or even participating in a group activity we do regularly – we have all felt that strange tension and dread in our body – and sometimes we let ourselves give in to it. We choose not to do it today. The well-known voice creeps in, ‘It can wait. There’ll be other opportunities for it soon.’
And it is completely understandable. Anxiety is a normal human response – much like any other emotion we experience. It is our body’s way of informing us that we are distressed about dealing with a certain scenario, because the thought of it makes us uncomfortable. It is nothing to be ashamed about, because everyone has to deal with it on some level: Whilst some individuals may be social butterflies, and others find the mere thought of “socialising” gradually churning a knot in their stomach – we all suffer from social anxiety.
And will we ever overcome our anxiety? Not quite.
Even when we become familiar with certain circumstances – whatever it may be - we are all still socially conscious about what we do or say to those around us; because honestly, we sometimes think we’re not good enough. And therefore, we feel as if we’re not worth anyone’s time, when we’re confronted by social situations.
We compare ourselves constantly with each other, wondering how others perceive us - if we do not do well in a social situation, we crumble inward from our own self-esteem and embarrassment. Thankfully, anxiety protects us from suffering this social relapse, by preventing us from doing the thing in the first place.
And it is the same situation when it comes to reconnecting with others: if we are not currently in a good place in our life, if it isn’t the right time, or if we’re generally busy with a myriad of things when this chance to reconnect arises, our anxiety convinces us to brush it aside for another day.
But actually, we do it because we’re afraid. We’re afraid that this person’s life update will put us in a worse mood, because we haven’t managed to even come close to where we want to be in life. We’re afraid that either one of us may have changed drastically since we last spoke. So much, that the other will not recognise – or even like – the new version of the other person. We’re afraid that we already have so much on our mind right now, that we won’t be able to catch up properly with one another – making the conversation seem absolutely pointless in the end.
We delay it once more, as one other thing to get back to someday. Yet, we unknowingly isolate ourselves as our self-esteem continues to hang on by a thread, and so our anxiety steps in, allowing the opportunity to reconnect slip from our grasp. But what is one more day, right?
However, the grim reality is that we don’t know how much time we actually have left. None of us know how long our life on this earth will last - A thought that has been ruminating a lot on my mind lately, when a close friend of mine passed away several weeks ago, in a tragic accident.
I also thought that I had enough time to reconnect with him, but unfortunately, fate had other plans. I believed that I would eventually get around to sending that message – an update on the latest news in my life, asking how things were with him, with the blend of casual banter and inside-jokes flurrying back and forth. I also believed that I would visit him someday soon this year, convincing myself to travel to the middle of nowhere to see an old friend from university.
And then I heard the tragic news.
The first thing that resurfaced in my mind, was immediate regret. The same regret that follows after anxiety has paralyzed us from living a social life. The frequent reminder which tells us that we should’ve tried this time, that we should be better than this.
As much as I’d hate to admit it: that thought will linger on my mind for a while, like an itch on the body that you can’t seem to reach. My mind will never be satisfied, because I didn’t make it count when it mattered – and I know a lot of people have felt the same way at some point. Opportunities to socialise in life surround us each and every day, and yet we still ignore them.
But funnily enough (in a bittersweet way), sometimes it takes a terrible tragedy to make you remember what is truly important in life. And for me, that was - and always will be - “people”.
So, I did what I should have done all along – I reconnected. I got back in touch, with the friends I met at university and even old friends from my high school days. I learned about all the things going on with them – from the heartaches, to the funny stories, and the joyful moments that currently occupy their daily lives. And I’m grateful that I finally reached out again.
Because, frankly there are times when we don’t have to give in to our social anxiety. Even if that knot grows tighter, the muscles in our body become rigid and we gradually feel nauseous. Even if we think we can put it off for one more day. Even if we think it isn’t the right time to reconnect. Even if we’re afraid about whether we still have a strong bond with that person, after so much time apart. Sometimes, we should just do it anyway.
When we make time for others, and actually reconnect with someone, our own insecurities slowly dwindle away as we chat amicably just like old times, revelling in the old memories we share with each other. And while it is perfectly understandable that life gets in the way, and sometimes we need to prioritise our own stuff before anything else, we should not push people away when they try to reconnect. Because we don’t know when, or if, we’ll ever run into them again sometime in the future.
Even if you’re someone who has become a social hermit recently, or you’re someone who is slowly trying to become more sociable – I urge you to try and reconnect with yourself first. Try to understand and identify what makes you feel socially anxious and address it with small steps. Reach out to the Populus organisation or attend one of their events if you pass by St Andrews sometime – you will be welcomed by a heart-warming, friendly community who will always make sure you feel comfortable around others. And hopefully by reconnecting in this way, you’ll soon feel less isolated, and maybe your social anxiety may diminish as well, in time.
So, take that opportunity to reconnect.
And maybe someday, you’ll look back on this moment and realise you wish you had done this sooner. But better late than never, right?
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