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Human Interest

Why Black Women Aren't Allowed To Be Socially Anxious

A few years ago, I had dinner with my family, and some extended friends were invited. We had a great evening, and at the end of the night, someone at the table who has known me since I was a child said to me, "This is the most I've heard you speak since I met you." My response was, "When I'm with my family, I'm quite chatty." I think that was her way of saying I was much more social in this environment than she'd ever seen me at other events, and I understand why.


I've been a shy girl almost my entire life. Many people who know me intimately now as an adult would probably be shocked to hear this, but I was such a reserved kid growing up. I hated public speaking. I cried from nervousness after my first solo in church, and I was either extremely comfortable in settings or I’d shut down. As I got older, I realized that it wasn't just me being naturally shy or reserved; in some settings, my inability to feel comfortable was due to social anxiety.

@raquelmartinphd

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According to The National Institute of Mental Health, social anxiety disorder is a common type of anxiety disorder. A person with social anxiety disorder feels symptoms of anxiety or fear in situations where they may be scrutinized, evaluated, or judged by others, such as speaking in public, meeting new people, dating, being on a job interview, answering a question in class, or having to talk to a cashier in a store.

Doing everyday things, such as eating or drinking in front of others or using a public restroom, may also cause anxiety or fear due to concerns about being humiliated, judged, and rejected.

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Don’t feel alone in your struggles.. it’s more common than you think🥹 #fyp #foryou #socialanxiety #socialanxietytips #socialanxietyawareness #mentalhealth #blackgirlmentalhealth #allerapadgettandco #PostitAffirmations

How Social Anxiety Symptoms Can Show Up

  • Blushing, sweating, or trembling;
  • Having a rapid heart rate;
  • Feeling their "mind going blank," or feeling sick to their stomach;
  • Having a rigid body posture, or speaking with an overly soft voice;
  • Finding it difficult to make eye contact, be around people they don't know, or talk to people in social situations, even when they want to;
  • Feeling self-consciousness or fear that people will judge them negatively;
  • Avoiding places where there are other people.

What Can Cause Social Anxiety Disorder

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Like girl, leave me alone, I have social anxiety 😂

The risk for social anxiety disorder may run in families, but there isn't a specific reason to prove why some family members can experience symptoms of the disorder and others don't. Research has found that several parts of the brain are involved in fear and anxiety and that genetics influences how these areas function in tandem with stress and environment and how that plays a role in social anxiety.

As a kid, I often had many girls assume that I was stuck up, and it made me wonder for years if something was wrong with me. I found myself many times and even still now wondering how this woman who loves to be social in certain environments can, in others, clam up and not feel comfortable. Without having the language for my anxiety, I was labeled by many girls as "stuck up" or "the girl who thought I was better."

There are many layers to why that was the assumption, one being a suburban Black girl who was well dressed, so comments were quickly made if I wasn’t a social butterfly like “You think you better because you got on xyx, etc.”

It made it extremely difficult to be social in certain settings, and it wasn't until I got older and found community on social media with other girls who experienced social anxiety that I realized I wasn't stuck up or an introvert (as testing confirmed I was actually an ambivert), I was socially anxious. This realization made me feel comforted and helped me understand that as an entrepreneur and creative, I did have to network, but I could go about it in a way that made me feel comfortable.

I could research who would be in the room, practice my greetings, bring a friend to an event with me when I could, and overall remind myself that that shy little girl doesn't have to speak louder than the woman I am now. This realization and developing coping skills made me wonder why Black women aren't allowed to be socially anxious. Why do we always have to show up as the life of the party or ready to be the center of attention?

"There are many stereotypical biases that we have to go up against or manage, so we're taught that we don't have the room to be quiet or perceived as standoffish," licensed psychologist Dr. Shaakira Haywood Stewart explains. "There's this stigma and pressure to have to show up as a Black woman in the space. We don't have the right to be, sort of like the quiet, shy white girl in the back room. Like no, we have to go above and beyond. And there's a lot of pressure to have to do that in a lot of different spaces, and I can see how a lot of Black girls and women feel relieved when they find that they aren't alone in that feeling.

"There are many stereotypical biases that we have to go up against or manage, so we're taught that we don't have the room to be quiet or perceived as standoffish. There's this stigma and pressure to have to show up as a Black woman in the space."

"Even in our families and communities, there can often be a lot of pressure, even where you find a Black parent saying to a shy child, 'You better speak up,' and that creates a lot of anxiety. Parents are a bit more conscious now, not raising their children to believe they don't have room to be quiet or shy. Many of us weren't raised to have room to be shy; much of how we were socialized [were] with things such as speaking when spoken to, like when you were in the room, making eye contact as it pertains to socialization relationships."

How Social Anxiety Can Show Up in Black Women

The quiet Black woman who is socially anxious can easily get mistaken for being stuck up, "bougie," or even mean. "With my clients who are Black women that experience social anxiety, they're met with comments like 'Your face looks mean' or 'When I met you I thought you were mean but once I got to know you I realized you were nice,'" Dr. Shaakira Haywood Stewart says. "That sort of narrative happens a lot, especially in the workplace, which also contributes to how they're viewed in the workplace and where it can be assumed that they're not really a team player."

In addition to this perception having a negative impact on Black women in their work environment, this extends to how they are viewed in friendships and other forms of socialization. "You can receive comments like, 'Why are you so quiet? Why are you so standoffish? Why are you so bougie acting?'" she adds. "It really does create a barrier socially and even romantically.”

How Can Black Women and Girls Overcome Social Anxiety

In order to overcome social anxiety, Dr. Shaakira Haywood Stewart says that you must first understand what's happening to you in social settings. Understand that the anxiety you feel is a result of your nervous system becoming heightened when you're in large groups of people, at parties, etc. She also suggests therapy in order to find better coping skills to navigate certain situations as well as how to limit your social battery and situations with ease, although she notes that it might not be necessary in every case.

"If you're a Black woman dealing with anxiety, I see you, and I understand. Don't pick apart the anxiousness that you feel when you walk into rooms and instead focus on what you can control. How you look, your greeting, who you connect with, and how long you stay. Give yourself grace as you navigate social settings, and if you're someone who has passed judgment or assumed that someone was stuck up, ask yourself if they had an attitude or if it was anxiety. Extend kindness, and if you see a shy person, don't be afraid to speak first; it might just make their day and help them open up."

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Featured image by FreshSplash/Getty Images

 

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