Small Talk Is Actual Hell For People With Anxiety

by Jorrie Varney
Originally Published: 
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I’ve always been an anxious person. This often translates to awkwardness when I’m in the presence of others, more specifically people I don’t know well, or I’m not comfortable around. Friends who know my predisposition for being an anxious mess say I hide it well. It certainly doesn’t feel that way to me, but I’ll take their word for it. I’ve been faking it for most of my life, so I suppose, to a certain extent, I’ve gotten good at it.

Because it’s not socially acceptable to hole-up in your house with a strong Wi-FI signal and several pairs of elastic-waist pants, I venture out into the world from time to time. I’d prefer to lead the life of a shut-in, but my kids make that impossible. Thanks to their budding social lives, I find myself in uncomfortable social settings pretty regularly.

When we attend a sporting event or birthday party, I’d love nothing more than to hide in my car, behind my phone or a good book, but apparently, that’s not socially acceptable either, so I mingle. I wander into a group of other parents like the awkward baby giraffe that I am. Here is my truth: I would rather shit a knife than engage in small talk.

Who’s still with me?

Ok, you’re right, that’s a little strong, but it’s pretty close to accurate. I hate small talk, it makes me incredibly anxious and uncomfortable. I do it because I have to, but I spend the entire time over-analyzing everything that’s happening.

Am I talking enough? Am I talking too much? Was that question inappropriate? Do I seem interested? I’m not interested. Am I asking too many questions? How long do I need to talk to this person? Should I talk to someone else? How do I end this conversation? Does this person think I’m a weirdo? I am a weirdo. I should go.

Add in a fair amount of shifty eye contact and awkward body language, and you have a pretty good picture of my small-talk style.

Geez, I’m all sweaty just typing that last paragraph. Oh, that’s another fun thing—I’m sweaty when I’m anxious. Who wants to talk to the sweaty weird girl?! I don’t. I don’t even want to talk to a non-sweaty weird girl. Get outta here with your overactive sudoriferous glands!

So, yeah, I’m a lot of fun.

But really, I am a lot of fun. If you can get past first impressions, and any awkward comments I will most probably make, I’m fun to be around. I like to make people laugh, and I’m a fiercely loyal and supportive friend, I just happen to be a ball of anxiety in social settings. And Lord help me if there is anything around I might trip over, because I will find it and be on the ground before I even have a drink in my hand.

I’ve found that it’s helpful to have a buffer person in small talk situations. I do so much better when I’m with someone to mellow my awkward vibe. My husband is a great buffer because he is adorably charismatic and easy to talk to. So I take him everywhere I go. People love that guy. He is a small talk wizard, and I usually just stand by his side, and smile and nod until I feel comfortable enough to jump in. God bless that man. Why he hangs out with me is one of life’s greatest mysteries, but I’m glad he does.

I don’t imagine my anxiety is going to go away anytime soon, though that would be amazing. Which means my aversion to socializing is probably here to stay. If you enjoy standing around people-watching, sans small talk, I’m happy to be in your presence. Come find me at the next social event, and we can hang out. I’ll be the one standing in the corner, avoiding eye contact.

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