Wednesday, March 29, 2017

An Introvert With Anxiety Walks Into A Coffee Shop

I'd say a bar, but I don't really go to bars much because... people. Sometimes lots of people. Sometimes loud, annoying, drunk people who bump/push/fall into you. So, an introvert with anxiety, both general and social, walks into a coffee shop. That was me one morning last month.

I needed some headspace, and I didn't have to be to work until later than usual (woo hoo holiday hours!), so I thought I'd relax and write, sip some coffee, and have a granola parfait. For some reason, I thought that being a holiday, the cafe would be less crowded. I figured people stopped in on their way to work, or had their informal business meetings there, and being a (bank) holiday, they wouldn't be doing this. At first, I was affirmed.  I walked into only a handful of people there, dispersed throughout the shop, bought my coffee and parfait and sat down. I was about two minutes into writing when a pair sat down at my table and started talking - not to me, but still, talking. 

Now, the tables are "communal", but they aren't overly large tables - I think five chairs, and one of those is on the short end (head of the table style). In fairness, this pair sat on the corner, so I have to give them that. They didn't just plop down next to me and completely invade my large sphere of introverted personal space. But still, I ask before I just sit down. Maybe that person is expecting others. Maybe they're just having a really shitty day and need to not have two strangers sitting at the same table in relatively close quarters. Maybe they've been hermiting themselves away and finally had the courage to come out some place, but weren't ready to be sharing their table with people they don't know (or do), because being out with other people is about all they have in them. 

To be clear, I wasn't upset at this pair. They didn't do anything wrong. I was anxious. They didn't say anything, but I'm pretty sure that I was visibly slinking towards my little corner of the space. If I'd slid over any further, I would have fallen off my stool. I actually pulled my coffee, parfait, and notebook closer towards me, like some sort of invisibility shield. As the coffee shop continued to fill up, a line formed right past my table. People stood on either side of the line (and the space is not large) waiting for their orders. This included people standing almost immediately next to my table, like I could have reached out and touched them (I didn't, that's creepy). I actually felt like walls were closing in. My breath started to get shallow, as it does with anxiety. 

And then, something miraculous happened. A dog walked in. A good sized dog (my favorite!) that looked like a yellow-lab, German Shepard mix. And the people melted away. I looked imploringly at the dog. By which I mean awkwardly stared, hoping the owner would say "Oh she's friendly, you can pet her". It did not happen, much to my chagrin. But for that ten minutes while the dog was in the coffee shop, my anxiety was in the background.   I don't know why dogs are less intimidating than people. But I do know that I could have 10 dogs literally sitting on me, or two people sitting five feet away at the table, and I'd take the 10 dogs any day. 

Now, I get that extroverts without social/anxiety probably think: "Well, if you don't want to be near people, don't go to a place where there are likely to be people."  And they have a valid point here. Which is why I tend to like to be home and with loved ones. I'd rather spend a Friday night reading than out at a party.  In fact, I actively avoid social situations where there will be 1.) a lot of people  and 2.) particularly, people I don't know. Because those involve interaction and quite often, small talk/superficial interaction, which is tricky and unpleasant for the introvert side of me. Talking about unimportant stuff that I really don't care about because I'm obligated to seems rather pointless and soul dredging. But coffee shops, minus a quick "I'll have a black coffee and a parfait", don't tend to involve this. So they are a safe haven. They give me the opportunity to be out and about without having to be overly social. But when people start sitting at your table, holding conversations two chairs over from you, that blurs the lines for me. They're "kind of" in your personal space. They're not interacting with you, but they're at the same table, not far away from you, and talking. You could jump right into the conversation if you felt like it (of course I didn't). It's a weird feeling. 

Luckily, they finished their drinks and left, hopefully no wiser to my massive level of discomfort. I felt bad - this wasn't their fault, and they were doing what many people do at communal, albeit barely, tables in a public space. So I tried my hardest to look pleasant and avoid any eye contact that might give it away. But I'm curious what other introverts with anxiety would feel. Would this type of thing make you anxious? What if they were dogs (insert favorite domesticated animal here) instead of people? Are there other situations like this that have given you bad anxiety in the past? Do you have tricks for getting past it? I'm all ears!


  1. Good post. I always find ones like this interesting. Though I’m more introverted than not, I probably would have been OK in your situation (for the most part). But when they starting lining up around you, I probably would have had issues in that spot and probably would have left. I’m not a fan of communal tables, though, so I may have tried to avoid that shop in the first place.

    That being said, I tend to have times when it really seems to kick in and other times when I can kind of block things out and just watch. I can usually last in smaller crowds (kind of forced to with my job at times), bit if it gets to “busy” around me I need to try and block out as much as I can. Animals, for the most part, wouldn’t have helped me and seeing a dog inside a coffee shop (or similar place) likely would have made it worse for me.

    I usually get more anxious when there is a lot of idle chatter around me and it starts just sounding like words and I am not involved. With just a couple of people at the table, I could have likely coped. When more add on, I start getting a little “woozy” and need to find an out. That’s all I usually do when I start feeling like that – I get out and find somewhere I can breathe a little and bring myself back to feeling comfortable.

    1. Thank you for your thoughts! I think for me, it can depend on the day. On this particular day, I was already having a rough time, which was why I think the people at the table bothered me a bit more. But yes, it was when the people started lining up all around and it got crowded that it really sunk in. The coffee shop is right next to work, which is why I tend to choose that one often, but there are times that I walk in, see it looking busy, and walk out to find something a bit calmer if I'm not in time/location crunch because of work.

      I think the animal thing 100 percent depends on the person. I am more at home with dogs than most people, so for me, it was calming (also the dog wasn't talking - obviously - so was about the only point of silence in the room). But for those that don't feel quite as exuberant about animals, especially indoors in public places, as I do, I can see that it would make it worse!

  2. First of all, thank you for this post. It is comforting for introverts who suffer from anxiety (such as myself) to know they aren't the only ones feeling this way. I am actually sitting in a coffee shop right now, it's one that I often come to because it's calm and leaves me in a peaceful state of mind. However, it's the weekend so I came here and got surprised by how full it was, I like to sit in the corner and have a wall behind me, I feel more at ease that way but because it's full I had no choice but to sit in the center, which is very very stressful. I opened my macbook and my notes and started working, but suddenly my heart started beating really fast, I felt faint and a bit nauseous and I knew that I had to do something to distract myself. I started lurking the Internet but nothing changed so I looked for any post talking about the feeling I was having and that's how I found your post. I started reading it then decided to audio message a friend and tell them I was anxuous abd want to talk. The combination of reading your post while listening to my friend's reply was calming, it helped me calm down a bit. I wish there was a dog here too haha, I really am more comfortable being around animals than peoplw.
    Ps. You talked about how some extroverts don't understand why we go to places like this when we can't take it, all I can say is that we're people too, we like to take a breather from staying cooped up at home, we want to see people (from a distance for me lol), see things and enjoy a quite, calm and nice afternoon outside.
    Have a good day.

    1. Thank you for your comment. I'm so sorry to hear that you felt such anxiety in a place where you usually feel calm - I know the feeling well, and it's no fun at all. I'm glad to hear that reading the post and talking to your friend helped a little. I agree 100% with what you said about going out even when we're anxious/don't want to be close to people. We do deserve to get a breather and get out a bit, and we even try to go to places that should feel "safe" (i.e. calm and now overly crowded). It is always frustrating, because I feel that people who don't understand are either telling us to 1.) just overcome it and get out, we'll "feel better" if we do, or 2.) Not to go out if we know we'll be anxious. It puts us in the very difficult spot of trying not to isolate ourselves too much, while also trying not to trigger our anxiety. It's a very thin tightrope to walk at times.