Standing Still in a Field of Flowers: Living with Social Anxiety

Monday, January 18, 2016 - 6:04am
Photo by Erika Layne

Standing Still in a Field of Flowers: Living with Social Anxiety

Living with social anxiety feels like being in a field of flowers that you can’t enjoy. You can’t truly see them for what they are. You can’t smell them, pick them, or love them as you wish. You just stand there in the field, with beauty around you and no way to experience it fully.

You just can’t, sometimes.

That’s the best way that I can describe it. That’s my social phobia put into words. The flowers are people. Lots of people. New people. New places. New things. An abundance of fear and sweat emits from my body each time. New hellos. New hugs. New energy. New handshakes. New pictures.

People in general are not easy for me, and I’ve felt guilty about this for so long. It’s so incredibly hard to enjoy it all. After exchanging energy with new people, I feel drained almost instantly. Even being around my own family takes effort. I feel like my body goes into hiding without my permission.

There aren’t any triggers for me, so I can’t prepare. It just comes, sinks in, leaves when it’s ready. The next morning and for days after I feel depleted and lifeless. Recovering from social stimulation is a process in itself.

I feel like my entire life has been a test. Throughout the entire journey, I've had to overcome obstacle after obstacle just to be able to face the grandest test of all: interacting with people. And in my line of work, I have to. Often.

I don’t recall ever being good at it. Nurturing new energies without feeling safe enough has always been tremendously trying and difficult. For years, I brushed it off, thinking that I just wasn’t a “people person.” Even after speaking with different doctors, I would say, “I’m just an introvert,” and “I’m not outgoing.” They were the first words to come out of my mouth when I talked about zodiac signs with friends. They told me, “You’re the most anti-Leo I know.” In my heart, I knew I wasn’t anti- anything. I can just be scared to death of people.

I know that the feelings I’m met with are irrational, but they remain dishearteningly real.

I've been managing my anxiety for a while. “Managing” means not going out much, especially to situations that present a lot of unfamiliarities. If I do go out, even to my own events and shows, I make sure that I'm always with someone who makes me feel comfortable. But feeling alright is fleeting when social anxiety is trailing close behind.

I’ve tried to show up for myself. I’ve learned how to honor this thing that I carry with me. No, I’m not anti-. No, I don’t not like you. No, I am not standoffish.

I am a woman who deals with a phobia that forces me to put up barriers and walls without my consent. I am a woman who has to talk to people and has to show up for a living, even when she feels like she just can’t. I’m a woman who has been living with social anxiety since before she can remember. It’s not easy. But I'm getting there.

It took me years to trust and believe that no one means me any harm. People aren’t out to get me or hurt me. Recognizing that is what helps. There have been many self-pep-talks on breathing through it, and self-reassurances that, “This is almost over.” And when it’s over, I’m always OK.

God has a way of pushing us. He has a way of using us in ways that we can’t quite wrap our minds around. This, among other obstacles, has been a building block for my resilience. People are so quick to judge and label others without the slightest understanding of what that person is going through. Sometimes it’s just not about you, and it’s not personal. We are all programmed differently. It’s hard for some of us to run through our field of flowers with no uncertainties.

There are moments when standing still in the midst of it all is all that can be done.


Share Post

Shortened URL


Alexandra Elle

is a full-time small business owner and published author whose career focuses heavily on writing and holistic healing. Her written work is an embodiment of her passion for self-love and advocacy of self-care. Read more of her posts at Another Sunday and quotations on Instagram at @alex_elle.

Share Your Reflection



Thank you for putting how I feel in words. I try to push thru these feelings that overcome me without warning or reason. I like the analogy of the field of flowers!

I am a woman who embodies social anxiety. First real memory is at 4, sitting on the curb, head in hands, saying to myself "I just don't know what to do."
I figured out what to do--temporarily quiet the social anxiety with food. Over and over again for 72 years. Now I know something else to do: sit with it, let it speak to me. I know it won't go away until I acknowledge its presence in my life and the role it has played in my survival. Even when I tell others, they don't really believe me because I have become so adept at covering it up.
I am hopeful and I am embracing the anxiety rather than fighting it, shoving it down with food. I feel more free and authentic than at any other time in my memory.
Thank you for this, Krista Tippett and Alexandra Elle.

This is so well put. It is so me. I'm 58 and still live with it/cope with it by breathing to walk through a door, into a meeting, into a gathering, into a room of 3 or more people. I like the phrase: "And when it's over, I'm always okay." I always am. Whew.

Beautiful! and all too familiar! I have had panic disorder much of my life and have had "weird" feelings about certain people and crowds I interested with. Most people would never guess this about me as I am also a Leo and can carry myself in a confident way, even when underneath the cover I just wanted to hide. I've always chalked it up to something being very wrong with me. I still struggle with this. I've dealt with the anxiety and periods of depression much of my life but the past 5 months have been much more extreme. The anxiety has amplified and I have been forced to deal with it 24/7. Its exhausting and crazy making. Reading stories like this really help! Thank you for sharing your story and beautiful pictures!

Have you read a book called "The Art of Doing Nothing"? It's a beautiful book that helps meditate during those difficult moments. It's helped me some...I've dealt with panic attacks and anxiety in the past.

This site and group has helped me "recover" from social anxiety along with many phobias, obsessions, etc. It's not the "being social," being out in the world, being around new people, unfamiliar social situations that we're afraid of, that we fear. We fear OURSELVES in those moments, in those places, with those people. We fear how our body responds out of habit. . .too much tension, too much resistance, too much struggling to "manage" our feelings of the moment and try to make it through without actin' a fool:) This knowledge has helped me so much to face these situations/people/places with more acceptance/surrender to the feelings that arise, and has slowly helped me to live a life of FREEDOM from the fear and just be myself, even if I'm afraid. (I love what you wrote. Relate to it all. A self-proclaimed introvert, but learning to love and look forward to new connections without fear.) Love, Liz

Thank-you for your response. Your insight about fearing ourselves made the author's article worth much more to me. My 23 year old son shared a similar insight that was meaningful to me : lying to oneself about oneself is what we strive to eliminate. It drives us to blame others and find fault with others and situations so we can continue to lie to ourselves. Situations may make us feel uncomfortable if we lie to ourselves that our social anxiety makes it uncomfortable. Really it's our unwillingness to accept ourselves. If we accept ourselves we will find a way to be comfortable. It may take more effort to get where we want to go, but we can find OUR OWN way.

Thank you Alexandra Elle and Krista Tippett. This piece resonates with me and I'm glad you shared it!

Ms. Elle, you are so brave and so strong and courageous.-every day.Thank you for writing about your experience. There are a few quotes that came to mind after reading this piece: Everyday courage has few witnesses. But yours is no less noble because no drum beats for you, and no crowds shout your name. -R.L. Stevenson. " To say: no person, trying to take responsibility for her or his identity, should have to be so alone. There must be those among us whom we can sit down and weep, and still be counted as warriors." -Adrienne Rich And lastly, an old Irish proverb-from my own ancestors, " The stars make no noise." You certainly are...

I can't thank you enough for writing this, Alexandra. You've penned down thoughts that I didn't know how to address. Thank you so much! And more power to you, to us :)

I love this. I am too a Gemini without being the life of the party. Always feeling guilty for being 'anti social' Have been working on it a lifetime now and making progress. Just baby steps. As a child I could not even go to the store because I was horrified I'd have to talk to people and now I live in a foreign country. Well, you would have to be there to my head.

This sentence resonated with me the most: "Even being around my own family takes effort." It is easy for people to understand social anxiety around strangers, but few understand this same anxiety around kin. What I feel towards my relatives and inlaws is the exact same as how I feel towards strangers, and I hate it. When my introverted boyfriend says, "I'm sad that you're not as eager to visit my family as I am to visit yours," my heart breaks. I tell him time and time again that it's not them -- his family is wonderful and I have no issues against them, but my assurances do not seem to convince him. Unlike me, he does not have the anxiety issues that accompany his introversion. Long story short, thank you for writing this article. I'm glad I'm not the only one that sometimes struggles to interact with people I ought to be the most comfortable with.

That sentence, too, hit ME personally ~~I think I have 2-3 people I can relax with..that's a lot of NOT-relaxing. I'm sure that stress is the main culprit in many dis-eases & makes anything unwanted ..physically or mentally..all that much worse ~~

At a workshop with over 200 participants, presenters and other staff/volunteers I was able to use my introversion to keep my self care balanced with my desire to engage. I am gratedul for the knowledge this Q group has given me.I 'see' the metaphor of the flowers, because I am legally blind, as not being able to see the beauty, knowing that others can. What for others is a pleasant experience for me is like getting poison ivy. I returned from the weekend with a viral eye /I infection.

Hello. Thanks for writing this. Mindful approaches are great for managing anxiety. In time the approach can lead the anxiety to fade away. However, I'd hope that people could find a way of dispelling the anxiety almost altogether. We all feel the occasional twinge of social anxiety but I help my clients to leave it behind them. Anxiety in such situations comes from the belief that we are somehow 'not good enough'. You and everybody else are good enough. I hope you can find a therapist who'll help you to believe it.

Thank you so much for sharing your experience of being. How many of us must live like this, trapped in ourselves, feeling alone in what we feel? I have had severe social anxiety all my life; I ate lunch in high school in the basement to avoid anybody seeing me eat; I walk away from most encounters thinking 'my god. shoot me'; ordering from a waiter, answering the phone--how brutal it all feels. How it must look to others: that I am shy, submissive, a bumbling fool, or standoffish. They don't see the fierce Scorpio woman that I am, passionate, intense, moody, alive in my imagination. In you, they don't see the queenly Leo, the deep power you bear. But you know it, and your lover knows (or will know) it, and your secret sisters know it as they know it in themselves. My own way of moving forward: when I see someone who is "shy", I tell myself, "no--shyness is not real. It is a mask covering someone full and deep, afraid to be themselves. Shyness is not a personality trait, it's a screen that hides the personality" . May we all look on each other with more love, more generosity, more imagination, more kindness . . .

I too am a scorpio and also am very interested and a big believer in the mystical elements of the Universe. When I went to a palm reader he had told me that I need to be stronger and be fully myself, fully powerful and fully scorpio but actually that is very difficult. I really like the quote about shyness, I think that too many times I cling to a phrase and use it as an excuse. I completely agree

You're brave and courageous for showing up and working through your social anxiety. You're so right, people don't always know what someone is going through...I'm sure you're a more compassionate person as a result of your own struggles. Bravo!

Thank you for your shared words. I am 64 years old, I am a beautiful, educated, successful woman who appears socially AT EASE, even peaceful (so I'm told). But I'm not peaceful, I'm afraid. And although I understand it's origins and have worked for years in therapy and through prayer and meditation, it still follows me into every room where there are groups of people. It's like a chronic illness or a distorted pair of glasses that I look through. I love it that you see people as flowers. I agree. And when I can focus on them and see them clearly, looking through the lens my heart, I fall a little bit in love with each one of them. Thank you, thank you.

Being afraid of clowns its easier. Except to someone working in a circus... Social anxiety can keep us from feel the flowers smell. We can try, but the perfume is not there. If you live all your life without social sense, you lost the references of how to feel good among others. Forgeting can protect us from traumatic events. Memory works like smoke. We forget the bad feeling, keeping just the image. But we can lost the good parts too, not knowing how it was to being ok. To feel really free. Most people are naturally protected. Some are not. They lost their frontgate. Everyone can enter, without permission. We just can't stop it. I feel, and belief, this is the main reason for social anxiety. Maybe the solution its rediscover our frontgates again. Coming back to our safe home.


It is encouraging to hear your story and know you have found personal and professional success within those walls. I fight for myself every day and the struggle is lonely - you have made it less so.
Counseling and medication offer an improvement, but the best remedy I've found so far is meditation. It helps to keep my "baseline" low. Breathing from the lower abdomen and approximating my meditative posture can also get me through some tough moments.
I am the guy so uncomfortable with himself that he often makes those around him uncomfortable. I have difficulty learning your name because when we meet for the first time my head swarms with too much information.
If I convince myself that I'm anonymous to help compensate I run the risk of disappearing in my own mind. On the phone I can be challenging because I'm working hard and fast to finish so I can hang up and be free again. Some may think that I'm rude and/or arrogant, but I'm usually just overly self-conscious.
Like you, I have also learned to limit my exposure and have found ways to help compensate over the years. I've also learned to recognize others like myself and try to give everyone the benefit of doubt when I'm met with some irrational behavior. I've been that irrational person so many times before.

You speak of something I have lived with all of my life. I can think of experiences that showed up in the first and third grades but it seems to me, it became full-bloom when I became an adolescent, maybe with the onset of menses. I, too, chose a profession that required me to "show up," "be present," "perform," and all I can say is that I have lived a life of terror: absolute, incredible, disabling terror. To cope with this feeling, I often became hard and argumentative. When I retired and the everyday terror left me, I relaxed and thought, "Wow, is this the way other people feel every day?" And, I wondered, "Why did I put myself through this?" And I answered, "Well, I was too old to be a dancer." Dancing was what I really wanted to do but I would not have been able to do that either because every time the teacher singled me out and asked me to demonstrate, I fell apart. Before I retired, I started studying Buddhism and that taught me how to fully experience the fear: allow myself to be consumed by it and stay with the fire of it until it burned through and out of me. This helped me more than anything else. I still have fear but it is more manageable and most times, I feel quite normal.

When I read the first lines I was hit by a reality which altered as I read on...
I am surrounded by beautiful wild pink flowers covering the hills all around me. They will not last long...I watch them, want to roll around, hug and absorb their beauty.......yet I stay apart, an outsider as this season I'm separate....not all times but now and this being one with and being locked out is a shadow game played as clouds shade the fields at times.....Patience in knowing that that too will pass and ecstasy of oneness will return!

Wow. I love this piece and I resonate so strongly with Alexandra. I found the part when she writes..."I've tried to show up for myself" to be especially significant. It's interesting to think about socializing as an act of personal fulfillment; a display of courage. That each social opportunity with others isn't a test of friendship or relationship strength but a test. Can you move forward? Are you willing to play the game of life by leaving your box and entering into a new space? (chess metaphor below)

One thing I have to say is that social anxiety can be debilitating. Social anxiety is real and it's not casual. It should not be treated as such. Social anxiety is also not uncommon in our society. I imagine a chess table - each player in it's own box with it's own strengths and weaknesses - capable of statically moving from one box to another but never dynamically and never with the ability to share a square. Seeing the world in black and white, incapable of seeing the world in grey but only because that's how they were built - that's how the chess set was crafted.

This is what I experience - isolation and togetherness as black and white. One or the other, without an in-between.

As I read this, I am dreading an event that occurs one month from now: a relative's fortieth birthday party. I'm supposed to dress up and toss myself into that nefarious abyss a socially anxious introvert must deal with, that thing called "fun."

Thank you so much for sharing, Alexandra.

Thank you for your beautiful article. I would have recognized myself in it a while ago - I've been suffering from crippling social anxiety for more than 20 years. Now I have started doing neurofeedback and it's gradually going away. It's amazing - a new life.

Thank you for your heartfelt words. I am 44 years old and have just started dealing with my social anxiety that has haunted me for as long as I can remember (I "helped" the teacher during recess so I didn't have to play with the other kids). The irony for me is that while my anxiety keeps me away from other people, sometimes I also feel incredibly lonely and long for connection with others. A quote from "The Shipping News" by Annie Proulx has stuck with me on this point: "For Quoyle was a failure at loneliness, yearned to be gregarious, to know his company was a pleasure to others." I understand when you say "I've tried to show up for myself" as I've pushed myself into more social situations (with the support of a wonderful therapist, close friends and now medication). But I am also learning to be more gentle with myself about this issue - not berating myself for leaving an event early, not setting unrealistic expectations about what I can handle, and allowing myself to take some space when I need it. You talk about being in a field a beautiful flowers that we cannot see, but sometimes I think we can't see our own beautiful bloom.

You hit the nail on the head. This is exactly how I feel every single day. I am glad that you acknowledged the feelings of anxiety around family. It is real. You would think I could relax around kin, but it's like being with strangers. I too have a job that requires me to be social and network with people and it is hard. I tend to stay around the people I feel most comfortable and that keeps me from meeting new people. Thank you for sharing your struggle.

I wonder about the cause of our introversion. I'm certain mine had to do with my mother. Today at 62 I still feel uncomfortable, shy and fearful at social gatherings. I hide this well. Everyone thinks I'm funny, beautiful, kind and thoughtful, as well as confident. What I'd give to "feel" that way. Yet the minute I am in the door I look for a fast exit. I've done this many times, at work, parties, clubs, etc. Mostly I'll just sneak away as soon as I get the chance. The truth is, I actually am quite content being alone and since I'm retired I have that luxury (?). I can't stand when people latch on to me or when I see someone coming to visit, even if it's someone I like. This all makes me feel selfish. I can turn on the charm, but I'm lying to others. I don't want to lie anymore. I want to be myself. I want it to be okay that I don't like being in social situations. I don't want to hide when I see the gate open. My husband is the same way. He enjoys shopping and does errands, however. I am content at home with my dogs, living in a foreign country, enjoying nature and my art. That's it. But I still wish I wasn't introverted.

Thank you thank you so much for this article. I just started a new job at a grocery store and I am working customer service and I swear I was about to drop half way through. Being around people made me realize that I am nice, I am talkative, I can do THIS! Hell im even charming but then why the hell is it so difficult! The flower analogy was perfect, this makes me feel not alone.

Thank you, Elle. Your words touch my heart. Many times, people tell me that don't be anti-social, just hang out with others. So I tried to show up in social events, but it ends up being awkward.
But I started to think that maybe I am not awkward, maybe I just consider myself as awkward. Then I found that the problem is not about how you act nor your talks are interesting or not. The only problem is how you feel. Many times, I appeared to be really happy and comfortable in the social event with unfamiliar people, but my inner part knew that I am afraid of being awkward and feel so tired pretending to be outgoing. I hate it but I cannot resist this feeling.
I guess for me, the best way is to not think too much, just go out and do what you want. Pretending to be outgoing or trying to find interesting topics are tiring. I need to be brave enough to just go out and be who I really am.
Love, YAN

Living with Social Anxiety.

Only the shallow know themselves. Oscar Wild?

Thank you for sharing this.