How the playground makes my social anxiety worse

I’m sorry my social anxiety makes you feel uncomfortable. I am a huge introvert with an anxiety disorder, it’s the perfect storm which makes social situations a real challenge for me. I know I’m not the only one who struggles, but sometimes it can feel that way.

Walking into any social situation makes me anxious. Even if I’m meeting good friends for a drink I can be anxious and struggle to speak. Busy places and crowds make it worse. Going out is a real love/hate thing for me and I suspect working from home and the social isolation that brings probably makes that worse. 

Last week I went out for a drink with a friend, our children go to school together. We had a very lovely evening with minimal social anxiety. Later that week I bumped into her in the playground and something awkward in my brain kicked in and I could hardly speak or make eye contact with her. It’s not deliberate, it’s something inside of me.

Doing the school run and being in the playground is a real challenge for me. As soon as I turn the corner to go to the school at hometime I start to feel incredibly anxious. I know my mission – to locate and extract my child as quickly and safely as possible without me getting spoken to by his teacher, without him running off and without either of us causing a scene. 

I try and time it just so, so I am there half a minute before he leaves the building and I’m positioned so I can grab him and leave. There are a few mums I get on really well with, but in the confines of the playground I suddenly become near mute and struggle to make conversation with them.

I usually wear sunglasses, partly because I don’t want wrinkles and partly because it means I can avoid eye contact. Eye contact means conversation, conversation means realising I can’t speak and I end up looking and feeling like an idiot. I also have terrible eyesight, so if you’re more than a few metres away from me then you’re just a fuzzy shape and it can look like I’m giving you the stink eye. I’m not.

I know my behaviour probably marks me out as weird, I don’t know what I can do about that. When I first got to know some people I told them about my social anxiety and that it was me and not them, so most of my good friends know that on a one to one basis I’m usually fine, and that I’m fun and I can string lots of sentences together. In a social situation – the playground, a party, whatever, not so much.

I don’t think it’s the sort of situation I can easily manage. The playground will typically have a hundred or more people in it, you never know who you will see there so you can’t mentally prepare and run through the list of small talk questions you might have if you were going for a coffee with one of them. 

So I appear at the last minute. I wear my sunglasses so no one can look me in the eye. I fake some confident person in a rush body language and I extract and escape with the small boy as quickly as I can. It’s the only way I know to survive the school run and the crippling social anxiety it brings me. 

It’s pretty uncomfortable knowing that almost daily I’m in a situation where I can hardly make eye contact with or speak to my friends, let alone anyone else. I know that my trying to keep my head down has made some people feel like I’m anti-social or stuck up, but it’s very much the opposite. So I’m sorry if my social anxiety has made you feel uncomfortable, it’s pretty uncomfortable just being me.

social anxiety

Similar blog post – Mean girls – how playgroup destroyed my confidence

6 responses to “How the playground makes my social anxiety worse

  1. This is me too. I know I come across as weird when I do pick ups (which isn’t often) as most of the mums in the playground chat to each other while I stand in the corner looking at my phone. Or I’ll go to a blogging event and barely be able to say two words to people I was chatting to online for hours the previous night. I know it doesn’t really help you, I wanted you to know you’re not alone and real friends do understand.

    • Thanks Jen. It’s funny how we are so much more confident online than in real life. Often online I am uber-confident, but in real life can struggle with eye contact. You’re not alone either xx

  2. Bless you my lovely – I’m sorry I am not a ‘playground ite’ any more ….. I think there’s a fair bit of social anxiety hovering over any playground – good thing is that – yes – lots of us DO know how funny and lovely and caring you are – so that’s all that really matters xx

  3. I feel the same. I am perceived as ” stuck up” though .Luckily for me my 2 older boys make their own way there and back. I am back on playground pick up next year when my youngest boy starts school. I no doubt will leave it til the last minute to pick him up to avoid posdible interactions.

    • Oh Della. It’s horrible isn’t it? I suspect like me you’re great with people you know well, but in the playground less so. Good luck with the school run, get yourself some big sunglasses 🙂

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