Anxiety Spaghetti

Women eating spaghetti

I hate going to the doctor. Not because of the actual exam portion, though that has plenty of reason for discomfort. Actually, it’s the waiting room that gets my social anxiety pumping every time.

It does not matter what time my appointment is scheduled, nor on which day. I always walk into a very large, and very crowded waiting room, in which half of the sea of arm-to-arm chairs are facing me.

And, being a prototypical SAD’er (Social Anxiety Disorder), I walk in with the overwhelming impression that everyone is looking at me. I feel (not think) they are all judging me…. oh the judging. So, this is me practicing some good old self-focused attention.

Is it logical? Absolutely not. And I know this. So as I’m checking myself into the self-service kiosk at the front of the room (of course I don’t go to the window where a live person can check me in), my head becomes a big tangled mess of internal negative talk spaghetti, which goes something like this:

“No one is looking at you.”

“Are you really that conceited?

“People could care less.”

“You look fine. No one is judging.”

“What is wrong with you?”

Pretty destructive, right? And, from what I’ve been reading enhanced self-focused attention and enhanced self-evaluation is pretty common for people like me. According to a study by researchers at the National Institute for Health Research and Mental Health Biomedical Research Centre in South London, people with high social anxiety overestimate the number of people looking at them. They often feel like everyone is watching, when actually very few are.

Enhanced Self-Focused Attention Is Typical

The study consisted of “Faces In A Crowd” computer simulation featuring 18 headshots of strangers. Some of the strangers were looking at the participants, and some were looking the other way. Researchers used mirror manipulation to measure how much participants would focus on themselves versus focusing on the strangers in order to differentiate between “self-focused attention and being the center of attention.”

The result? “The more socially anxious you are, the more likely you’ve miscalculated” the number of people actually watching you. Participants with high social anxiety had both “enhanced self-focused attention” AND “enhanced self-evaluation.” While people with low social anxiety only had enhanced self-focused attention, but not enhanced self-evaluation.

Translation? Everyone gets a little self-aware when they walk into a crowded waiting room. But, socially anxious people tend to be “overly critical of themselves and project these thoughts onto others.”

So if you’re like me, next time you walk into a sea of people who are all staring at you but really they aren’t, it’s okay. Just know that you’re not alone. And, know that you are just a normal SAD’er 🙂

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