As someone that has suffered from anxiety and shyness for years, it's commonly misconstrued as being rude, arrogant or weird. But unfortunately, it doesn't miraculously change overnight.

When someone is anxious whether it be social or regarding another circumstance, the person becomes noticeably withdrawn, however sometimes the most confident person could also be suffering from anxiety. Their way of dealing with it is to appear more extroverted than they actually are, even though deep down they aren't necessarily feeling that way.

Up until recently I would quite literally avoid people in fear of what they thought of me.  I wouldn't show up to important events, dinners, appointments all because I was so worried about what people would think of me and about failing, rejection or disappointing people. I would constantly replay thoughts in my head about previous times where I made an absolute fool of myself, or said something stupid or fell flat on my bum. I finally had enough, these nagging thoughts had completely consumed me, leading me to isolation from friends, family and work colleagues.

I was told once that people often see social anxiety as being completely arrogant. The mind of a socially anxious person doesn't work that way. It’s the fear of social criticism. Yes, understandably it might be portrayed as arrogance or a nonchalant attitude towards people. However, shyness or anxiousness is just the fear of something that might happen, but probably won't. Yet we still avoid it anyway.  We are so caught up on what people may think of us that we retreat into our safe haven, which is avoiding the situation, avoiding people, avoiding eye contact, avoiding something that could potentially fail or succeed. Fear of failure takes over, fear of rejection takes over and fear of embarrassment is so built up in our heads that it implodes.

If you misunderstand shyness and therefore hide or withdraw from people, they will most likely interpret that as you rejecting them. Even if your intentions are good and you are just avoiding rejection out of shyness, people can misunderstand those actions as an insult to them as a person. This can make them think you are rude or arrogant and they will, in turn, start rejecting you.

We all put on a facade to impress people but in the end who cares. Nobody. It's taken me this long to realise, that you live your life for you. I was living my life according to my perception of what other people would think of me. So up until now I hadn't really been living. It drove me crazy, to the point where I hit rock bottom and lost everything I loved.

As a child I was always shy, which is why my aunt suggested that I join dance class to build up my confidence. It did, initially. But only on stage, which is why I delved deep into the art form. It was an escapism for me, I could be someone completely different and not feel anxious or stressed. I could play an evil witch on stage and not feel bad about it. When I step into the studio I feel a sense of calm. When the music plays and I take my morning ballet class, the stress of daily life is a distant memory. The fact that I said something completely random to my boss disappears, or that I locked the keys in the car or dropped my favourite mug this morning. It disappears completely. Whatever it is that makes the anxiousness disappear even if it's just for a little while, keep practicing it. Whether it be meditation, music, bike riding, reading, every little bit counts so that you don't overthink the situation too much. 

Before you judge, before you laugh, or tease, before you disregard a person, know that every single one of us is fighting a battle that you may not know anything about.

Published by Alexandra Stewart