Social Anxiety

Social anxiety is a topic that's been coming up a lot lately, for example, over here and here, both over on It's a disorder that is diagnosed independently, or as comorbid with ADHD. But I've also noticed that there is some social anxiety that is, for me anyway, built in to my experience of inattentive ADHD. I love working with people and talking to people. But I sometimes feel very shy. People who know me pretty well think I'm nuts when I tell them this because I can be so outgoing! And talking to people is what I do for a living. But I get shy or even anxious when:

  • I have to take a phone call and I don't know who it's from
  • I have a social event and I don't really know what to talk to people there about (like when people there have a connection to my husband but I don't feel like I know them enough to start chatting)
  • I need to talk to someone I have hired, like a housecleaner, babysitter/daycare, or contractor, and be assertive about what I need from them
  • I need to ask something of a neighbor

I've noticed that these things can definitely relate to my ADHD. Because of my ADHD, I

  • Can't always think clearly about what I want to say when I'm on the spot
  • Don't always feel comfortable consciously integrating social niceties into what I'm saying
  • Sometimes experience mental shutdown- that deer-in-the-headlights feeling- in the face of certain conversations.

I also can get completely overwhelmed by to much input- like too much cross-talk with too much of the wrong kind of noise in the background. I used to get a little queasy from this, and people would notice me get a little pale. (I really noticed this when speaking a foreign language with a large group at a restaurant with noisy acoustics!)

It's helped me a lot to know all of this about myself. Now, I can

  • Plan conversations that might be hard (even though they seem like silly little things)
  • Screen phone calls when I'm not ready to jump into a conversation with someone I don't know (or even someone I do).
  • Choose a quieter spot in a restauran.
  • Change my expectations. If it's a noisy party, I might sit on a chair in a quiet corner and not talk so much.
  • Change my beliefs. If I don't talk so much at a party, it doesn't mean I'm antisocial, or have some social phobia. It means it's hard on my little mind to be social in that context.
  • Take care of myself. If it's all too much, I can take off, claim I'm feeling unwell or tired, and just call it a day, without coming to any grand conclusions about myself.

Of course, it'd be great to be at ease in all social situations, but not being that way doesn't make me all that different from anyone else! I realize a lot of people have it harder. As I wrote about earlier in this blog, I do know that now that I know about my ADHD I like people a lot more often.