Magic: The Gathering: A Different Kind of Relief for Social Anxiety
Social anxiety has been the bane of my existence for more years than I would like to count now.
Parties, no thank you. School events, I’ll pass. Family get togethers, I’m good on that too.
The first time I walked into a card shop with a friend was almost literal hell on Earth for me. It was a few hours before Friday Night Magic and the shop was already pretty packed. There was only one other female there and she co-owned the shop with her husband. Needless to say, I went into instant panic mode. Noticing this and knowing how my social anxiety worked, my friend assured me that he would stay by my side for the duration of the night and help guide me along the way.
This sufficed to calm me slightly while he acquired a couple of practice decks to run me through the basics with him before giving me the red burn deck he was going to have me playing and setting me up with another newer player so that I could get some practice in with the deck before the event started. The concept of my deck was fairly simple; murder everything in the opponent’s deck as quickly as possible and I caught on quickly. My opponent…not so much. I would perform a move nearly immediately and then he would take several minutes for just one action. If his turn required multiple actions, we were looking at upwards of ten minutes before I needed to think again.
Unfortunately, this meant that I became bored extremely quickly, which in turn meant that I spent much of time watching the other people in the shop and the games that they had going on because I could learn far more from them than I was learning from my incredibly slow opposition. This led me to notice something else; I was far less socially anxious than I had been when I first entered the shop.
After a few practice rounds with Mr. Slow as I had started to call him in my head, it was time for Friday Night Magic to begin. I was still a little nervous/anxious about it, but I had my friend beside me so at least I was no longer panicking. As the night progressed, I found out that by focusing more on the cards belonging to both parties, I would focus less on the being that my opponent and less on all the strangers surrounding me, making myself less anxious in general by proxy.
As far as wins go, that first night didn’t go amazingly, but it certainly could have gone much worse than it did. I won a match for each of the first two games, which still meant I lost overall, but I won both matches in the final round, meaning there wasn’t a third and I won that one. After that, I started going to the shop with my friend a couple times a week. As time went by, my anxiety decreased more and more for each visit. It certainly helped that everyone there; the owners and the other regulars were for the most part, all nice and super helpful. Honestly, I think it stemmed hugely from the fact that there were always cards that I had never seen before so I was constantly learning about what they did and how they interacted with other cards. Being so constantly focused on something left little to no room for much of anything else.
Eventually, there came a time where I could play matches with total strangers, even outside of events, and never feel my anxiety start to spike. The real beauty came when I realized I could take the knowledge I had learned from Magic regarding my anxiety and transfer it to other aspects of my life in order to form a counterbalance of sorts. If I was in a social situation, my best line of defense was to make sure that I was learning something, be it something to do with the environment around me, something to do with the people or even an interesting conversation that was being had around me.
I quit playing Magic about a year ago, but what it taught me is something that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.