My palms sweat. My heart races. My brain talks with itself alternating between a pep talk of “you’ve got this” to condescending tones of “don’t be dumb” and “why are you so weird?” I’m not about to act on a Broadway stage or go parasailing. I’m going to a good friend’s house for a laid back brunch just to catch up. From the time I was about 10 years old, I struggled with these feelings. The overwhelming sense that I don’t belong. The desire to become suddenly invisible, wishing I’d never showed up at the party or event. Wondering why I agreed to host a playdate or a party. I now know that I have social anxiety.
When I was in college, my psychology professor questioned my results on the Myers-Briggs Personality Test we had to take. It said I was an introvert, and he simply couldn’t believe it. See, my cover for my anxiety is that I push through. I mean I’m the emotional snow plow in the blizzard of social anxiety you guys! (Also, I’m not saying extroverts don’t struggle with social anxiety - they can too.) For me, as an introvert with social anxiety, it makes no sense that I should be pursuing public speaking. It makes no sense that I should be passionate about hospitality. On paper, I should be a hermit probably. If people could see the inner thoughts I have when it comes to put my actions where my words are, they’d probably be astounded I didn’t cancel everything and run away to Barbados.
Therapy and determining the causes and sources of your anxiety are great steps to take. It’s essential to not sweep the social anxiety under the rug without treating the roots of it. Pray about it. Ask God to help you cope and/or overcome it. I’ve been able to recognize where much of my social anxiety is rooted…and I’ve also come to terms with the fact that it will likely be lifelong for me. That being said, my social anxiety does not give me a “pass” on hospitality. I don’t ever want my heart rate or sweaty palms serve as an excuse to not lavish love intentionally on the people around me.
So how do I do it? I have 3 not-so-brilliant tips to help you if you’re in a similar situation. Seriously, there’s nothing groundbreaking about these tips…but sometimes we just need to be reminded of what we know.
Pray about your social anxiety. Ask God to help you channel that anxiety as a tool to see others in the room who may also be struggling. Pray Scripture over yourself and the event. Prayer is how we put on our armor against the Enemy’s attacks - and that’s ultimately what social anxiety is.
It’s ok to be a leech. Ok, not like to the point of being totally annoying, but find a buddy. If you have a good friend coming to your house for a party, text the friend ahead of time. Let them know you’re excited to have everyone over, but you’re second-guessing it. Ask them to help you with conversations and small talk.
If you’re stepping out of your comfort zone to build a relationship with an acquaintance, latch on to Facebook and social media. In other words, do some research and then mentally have some questions tucked away. “Didn’t you go on vacation recently? Where’d you go?” or “Remind me of your kids’ ages?” People typically don’t mind answering questions about themselves. This allows for the conversation to keep flowing without lots of “on the fly” thinking from you.
The other thing to “latch on” to is an object. I totally understand Linus’ need for his blue blanket everywhere. For me, it’s often a cup of some sort. I can fiddle with the cup, use it as an excuse to get out of a conversation - “I’m just going to get a refill real quick…” - or simply take a sip when I need a second to think of a response or take a breath. (Now, I’ve let out my secret and people will be watching for this quirk! Oops!!!) Having something in my hands to mess with, helps distracts my brain from totally flipping out and short-circuiting.
Keep at it
If you have social anxiety, you likely feel far more awkward than you actually seem. So hang in there! Keep at it. Invite people over and take a sigh of relief when they leave. Go drop off a meal to that mom who just had a baby, and have an excuse handy if she asks you to stay and you mentally can’t. There’s nothing wrong with those things. There’s nothing wrong with having little things in place to help you out. However, we don’t get to simply give up on hospitality altogether.
Everyone struggles in different ways, and I’m by no means an expert on social anxiety. However, I want to encourage you to power through, friends. You, including your sweaty palms and difficulty breathing, are someone of value. You have love to offer neighbors, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances that others don’t. Your social anxiety may let you notice nuances to situations that others may miss. You may notice people that often go unnoticed, just because you are both ducking into that hallway or quiet room at the same time. We are uniquely made by the God of the Universe. Let’s refuse to give Satan a foothold. Friends, let’s let our social anxiety be a tool we use to lavish hospitality in unique ways, rather than as a hindrance that prevents us from biblical hospitality altogether.