Most people feel anxiety when entering into an unfamiliar situation or doing something they rarely do, such as public speaking.
However, that distress occurs before, during, and after the event for some. People in this second group have social phobia, more commonly known as social anxiety. If you believe that you fall into this second category, let's take a more detailed look at social anxiety, how to recognize it, and what to do if you have social anxiety. We'll finish with some tips to help deal with problems caused by this issue.
What is Social Anxiety
Social anxiety is a fear of being judged or evaluated by others negatively. For people with social anxiety, everyday activities like going to work or school or making small talk can be challenging. They may worry for days or weeks in advance about an upcoming event and feel intense fear and self-consciousness when participating in the experience itself. Even just thinking about the event can cause anxiety.
There are many ways to treat social anxiety, including therapy, medication, and self-care. If you're struggling with social anxiety, reach out to a mental health professional. It is important to remember that people will want to help you if you can make that first step – though we understand that that can be a substantial first move for people suffering from this disorder.
Recognizing Social Anxiety
Recognizing social anxiety can be tricky, as it is often disguised as other issues such as shyness or introversion. If you are worried that you may have social anxiety, there are a few key signs to look out for, which we go into further down this article.
Most commonly, people with social anxiety may avoid social situations altogether or only attend if they know someone there. They may also try to blend in and not draw attention to themselves. If they find themselves in a social situation, they may be reticent or may not speak.
Common situations where people experience Social Anxiety
Social anxiety can manifest itself differently, depending on the person. However, there are some everyday situations where people experience social anxiety.
Some of the most common triggers for social anxiety include public speaking, meeting new people, and eating or drinking in front of others. For some, even contemplating these situations can cause a great deal of anxiety. Other sufferers can cope with the event itself but experience crippling anxiety afterward as they critically analyze every moment and interaction.
Some people only experience social anxiety in specific situations, such as when they feel they are being evaluated or around people in authority positions. Of course, first dates and job interviews fall within this category and can cause significant problems for people with social anxiety.
The National Institute of Mental health estimates that around 7.1% of U.S. adults have suffered from a social anxiety disorder in the past year, with an estimated 12.1% of adults experiencing the condition at some time in their lives.
Signs & Symptoms
Symptoms of social anxiety can include feeling nervous or anxious in situations where you might be judged. You may experience sweating, a racing heart, trouble speaking, trembling, and avoiding activities you might enjoy because you're afraid of being seen.
· You may have social anxiety if you recognize many of these symptoms in yourself.
· You fear meeting new people or speaking to people you don't know on the phone.
· You avoid social situations, such as parties, company meetings, or group conversations.
· You find it difficult to function when being watched by others, and you fear being judged.
· You avoid eye contact and have low self-esteem.
· You have panic attacks, where a sense of fear and anxiety grips you for several minutes.
· You feel sick, resulting in sweating, trembling, or a fast heartbeat.
· You worry about doing something you feel is embarrassing, such as blushing, sweating, miss pronouncing a word, or not living up to expectations in general.
Does this sound familiar? If so, you may be living with social anxiety. The good news is that it is possible to work on the phobia, reducing its impact or removing the anxiety for good.
What to do if you have Social Anxiety
Studies show that 75% of people with social anxiety do not seek help, choosing instead to suffer in silence. But if you're reading this article, you already know that you don't want to be part of that statistic.
Asking for help can feel like an impossible task, but opening up to a relative or close friend can be the beginning of a journey out of your anxiety. They can support you through visits to doctors or therapists.
They can also be an open and interested ear to let you express your concerns. It is good to seek help from a medical professional if you believe that you have social anxiety. You may be referred to Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), widely recognized as an effective treatment for social anxiety. CBT is a collaborative, goal-oriented therapy that focuses on the present, rather than the past. In CBT, the therapist and client work together to identify and change dysfunctional thoughts and behaviours, through a series of steps.
The steps of CBT are:
1. With your therapist, you will seek to identify and confirm the problem. This can be done through discussion, journaling, and/or questionnaires.
2. You and your therapist will work to identify your thoughts, emotions, and behaviours related to the problem.
3. You will learn skills to help you challenge the dysfunctional thoughts and beliefs that are controlling your thoughts, emotions, and behaviours.
4. You will practice using these skills with your therapist, replacing the old thoughts and behaviours with new, more functional ones.
5. Continued practice of these skills on your own outside of therapy sessions helps to make the new thoughts and behaviours become automatic.
6. You will review your progress with your therapist and make any necessary adjustments to ensure continued success.
CBT is based on the process of helping you understand that it is not the idea of the social situation or other triggers that are making you anxious. It is instead a question of how you have interpreted the moment. You then examine those same situations and learn to overcome your fear. In essence, the situation cannot be changed, but through therapy, your thought processes can be.
Tips to help with Social Anxiety
Here are our top tips for beating back the fear that social anxiety causes.
1. Breathing Exercises
Breathing techniques can help reduce stress, anxiety, and panic. It takes only a few minutes, and you can do it anywhere.
Take a situation and break it down into smaller moments. Try and resolve each one, step by step, to reduce the impact of the problem.
A common theme for social anxiety sufferers is that they guess what people 'really mean' based on body language and paranoia rather than listening to the words used. Take what is said at face value, and don't assume the worst.
4. Remember everyone's worries
You aren't the only person that is self-conscious. In fact, everyone is, to varying degrees. Try to remember that there will be others there that feel the same way in any social situation where you feel awkward.
5. Don't anticipate
The worst part of social anxiety is the constant assumption that people will judge you, or that you might make a mistake, and so on. These are all future worries rather than present facts. Don't assume things will go wrong, and try to go with the flow. You'll discover that nothing goes wrong most of the time, and when it does, it often doesn't matter.
6. Consider getting help
As discussed above, seeking professional help is a very effective solution. While self-help will help you to cope event by event, seeking qualified help from medical professionals will see you on the right path much more quickly. Consider the proven process of CBT. It may be life-changing.
So, there we have it, our round-up of social anxiety and how to begin to resolve it. We want you to find a way to a healthy mindset. If you have questions for us, please do not hesitate to contact us. We'd love to hear your success stories if you have taken our advice and sought out help.